DESPITE the heavy bearing of inevitability attached to the exit of Roger Federer from professional tennis, a tinge of dejection and a dollop of anxiety have kept pricking tennis fans. There is a palpable despondency in the Swiss Maestro’s fans who could never get enough of the legend parading his art on the court. Federer had become a habit for them as he kept finding ways to dodge the talk of retirement for one more serve. This time, however, the champion heeded to the body’s call to leave the court open for the next generation players. This is the anxiety that the tennis fans are talking about. Will there ever be a worthy challenger who could command the love and respect that Federer got from the game’s lovers? The answer, sadly, lies in a long pause which has some names but not the confidence of putting a bet on any of those.
After the retirement of Federer, the immediate future still has only two claimants to the top slot -- Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. Once the triumvirate ruled the circuit with one or two talents stretching them to the limit. Yet, all of them would find new winds to restore ‘normalcy’ in tennis! The FeDal Slam had the stamp of two great warriors while a long stretch of the Open Era clearly belonged to ‘FeDalOvic’. Nadal and Djokovic, with 22 and 21 Grand Slams respectively, would keep carrying the high flag till their mental and physical strength stays intact. Given their dodgy bodies, they may or may not continue longer which leaves the game’s die-hard connoisseurs worried about the next line carrying on the great legacy.
There is an illusion that the Gen Next does not have enough talented players. The reality is there is enough talent available on the circuit but there are hardly a few who have the capacity to channel their energies into a sustained campaign. Time and again, the game has seen sprinkles of excellence but those sparks had remained too few. The fact is, the new generation has found it extremely difficult to breach the triumvirate shield which they have guarded meticulously with a never-say-die attitude. The issue, therefore, is not of lack of talent but the new players’ mental ability to turn themselves into a constant. This remains the biggest difference between the Big Three and the rest.
The game still possesses some brilliant performers who can rise to a different level on their day. The Next Gen has the German Alexander Zverev, the temperamental Australian Nicholas Kyrgios, the Austrian Dominic Thiem, Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas, Spain’s Carlos Alcaraz and Russian Karen Khachanov who can easily achieve the next level if they marry consistency. All of these have run into the Big Three some or the other time and returned smarter from that experience. The problem is that priceless experience has not be channeled into a hunger for excellence that their illustrious opponents have done throughout their career.
Tennis has seen only a few like Andy Murray, Stanislaus Wawrinka and Andy Roddick who could stand up to ‘FeDalOvic’. There is still no steady stream of players who could consistently put up a challenge like the 80s and 90s saw when Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg, Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi were up for a fight. The search for a new challenger might take a bit long for tennis fans.