Rewind to January 2017: Murray is the World No.1, Djokovic a close second, Nadal is struggling to find any form, and Federer has taken a six-month break to recover from a knee injury. If we told you Federer and Nadal were to share the next five Grand Slams without having to beat Murray or Djokovic, you would have scoffed in our faces… Fedal may have had a resurgence, but recent events suggest the ATP tour is entering a transition stage.
The likes of Murray, Djokovic and Wawrinka have all been injured for a significant amount of time now, paving a way for new faces to show their worth in the bigger events. We saw this only last month when Isner triumphed over Zverev to lift the Miami Open trophy… a Masters final without any of the “Big Four” would have been unheard of a couple of years ago, but such events have become more frequent in recent times. This happened twice last year, but before 2017 you’d have to go back to 2012 when David Ferrer defeated Jerzy Janowicz in the Paris Masters final.
The Early 2000s – An ATP History Lesson
There was a period post-Sampras era and pre-Federer domination, where Grand Slams were anyone’s. For four seasons straight between 2000-2003, no player won two Slams in the same year. Agassi, Safin, Hewitt, Ferrero, Kuerten and Kafelnikov were all pushing each other during a very exciting and open period in men’s tennis. Sure, we haven’t seen such variety in recent Grand Slam winners, but the same cannot be said for Masters 1000 champions.
The average age of the top 50 in April 2003 was 24.9 years. Compare that to 28.1 years of today. What does this say? Whilst there are exciting ‘NextGen’ players on the horizon who have made inroads in the bigger tournaments so far in 2018, it’s the more experienced players that have stolen most of the headlines. Juan Martin Del Potro (29) and John Isner (32) won Indian Wells and Miami respectively. Kevin Anderson (31) is at a career high of world No.8. Interestingly, all three have a serve-dominant/big-hitting style of play that has proven effective in a period when some of the best baseliners in the game are absent through injury. Though we cannot discount impressive performances from younger players such as Zverev in Miami, it seems experience on the tour is more valuable now compared to 15 years ago.
What can we expect for the clay-court season?
The ATP flocks to the picturesque Monte Carlo Country Club next week to kick-off the European clay-court swing. Let’s be honest… this stretch of the season is entirely dependent on the fitness of Rafa. If he’s fit, he wins. It’s not surprising to see Thiem second-favourite for Roland Garros having had a wonderful 2017 clay-court season. Watch out too for the rapidly improving ‘Next Gen’. Chung, Zverev and co. are starting to regularly go deep at the big events and their aggressive baseline style might help claim some spoils on the dirt. We saw this last year when Zverev bullied Djokovic in the Rome final to claim his first Masters 1000 title.
It’s certainly an interesting time for the men’s game and we think a wave of new champions could well be on the horizon.