SUDDENLY, the Big Three who charmed tennis lovers for over a decade have been double faulted by Father Time. Age and the health ills it inflicts on a human body have combined for a conspiracy to rob the game off its much-decorated sheen. A creaky knee has prodded Roger Federer to take a break for the rest of 2021 and his chronic left foot pain has pushed Rafael Nadal on the same course. The Big Two of tennis will be off the courts for the rest of the year and perhaps more. One wishes their absence is temporary but it does feel like the end of an era. The withdrawal of Federer and Nadal from the US Open Grand Slam and rest of the season has come as a rare double fault for the circuit as it looks up to The Big One remaining in fray -- Novak Djokovic.
The Serb now has an open field to take home the elusive 21st Grand Slam and pip Federer and Nadal by one extra triumph. It looks easy at this point, considering the absence of the the Big Two playing to the advantage of Djokovic, but the Big One, too, has a plethora of problems to overcome before he takes another shot at a record-breaking Golden Slam. Djokovic has to work his way through a shoulder problem, fatigue and a surprising failure at the Tokyo Olympics though he has the Wimbledon triumph to back his stakes. Djokovic remains the only one now to carry forward the legacy he has created with Federer and Nadal. The trio ended the year-end rankings with top three positions and looked on course for another phenomenal rivalry before being trumped by injuries.
This unprecedented run and the healthy competition they had among themselves with tremendous respect for each other will be sorely missed not only by the game’s fans but also by the Serbian who always thrives on a challenge. Overcoming that vacuum of facing a worthy contender will be the first big task for Djokovic before he takes on the new crop that has hardly matched the Big Three. While no one can rule out the return of Federer and Nadal in the coming year, the fact also remains that the dominance of the trio seems to have gone for the good. The Big Three might have run their course. It was a spectacular ride where competition among themselves elevated each champ higher than his own talent. Their rivalry, their fights, their respect for each other’s efforts lifted the game to greater heights. It provided soul to the Grand Slams spread across continents.
It injected energy and passion and romance in their followers. The Big Three ruled hearts like darlings, leaving the fans to crave for one more. And then, suddenly, Father Time forced a double fault... Of course, this is not the end. Every athlete has a right to practice his trade till he feels able to carry the craft in a manner befitting a competitor. Federer and Nadal may come back to the court after tending to their bodies. Djokovic may still have company in the top league. But each of this wishes is string-attached with the big IF. Tennis lovers would be eager to bid adieu to 2021 and welcome the GOATs to the court once again. They have been witness to their comeback from wilderness. One wishes that the great era’s expiration date is pushed further, one more time.