PARTAB RAMCHAND | 28 APRIL, 2020
Time is Running Out for Federer, Serena
Coronavirus turns tennis world upside down
The tennis world like the world of every other sport has been turned upside down in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. The French Open has been put off to September, Wimbledon has been postponed for a year and the whole tennis calendar has gone for a toss. Indeed there are serious doubts whether any tennis will be played around the ATP and WTA circuits for the rest of the year. Tennis Australia chief Craig Tiley has said that it will be tough for the sport to return before 2021 while All England Lawn Tennis Club CEO Richard Lewis agreed that it was not unrealistic to believe that tennis might be done for the year.
All this also puts into perspective as to what happens to The Big Three of men’s tennis and their duel for supremacy with the GenNext of players represented by Dominic Thiem, Alexander Zverev, Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas which was developing fascinatingly over the last couple of years and was heading for a climax this year with the latter steadily closing the gap. It is another matter that the only Grand Slam played this season the Australian Open was won by Novak Djokovic but at the same time it should not be forgotten that his opponent in the final was Thiem who is now a three time Grand Slam runner-up. Another factor of great interest is how many more Grand Slams the Big Three will win and whether Djokovic and Rafael Nadal can overtake Roger Federer’s all time record of 20 Grand Slams. At the moment Nadal has 19 and Djokovic 17 and the three between themselves have won the last 13 Grand Slam singles titles.
There has also been considerable interest in the women’s singles and much of this has centered round whether Serena Williams can equal Margaret Court’s all time record of 24 Grand Slam victories. Serena has been tantalizingly poised at 23 for quite a while now not having won one such event since the Australian Open in 2017.
The fact remains that if there are no more Grand Slams this year by the time the action resumes in the majors in 2021 Federer and Serena will be in their 40th year. Time is already running out for them – Federer himself hasn’t won a Grand Slam since the Australian Open in 2018 – and however great a player may be the body can take only so much. Also the competition is pretty strong. Federer has to put up with Nadal and Djokovic and the GenNext set of players while Serena is facing a huge challenge from a very open women’s field where the majors over the last couple of years have been shared by several players.
If the season doesn’t resume the most affected would appear to be Djokovic. Besides winning an eighth Australian Open he was on a 18-0 winning streak since the start of the year. There was talk that the Serb, who turns 33 next month could match his 2011 and 2015 seasons. In 2011 he built a 41-match win streak before ending the year with a 70-6 record and ten titles including the Australian Open, Wimbledon and US Open crowns. Four years later Djokovic won the same three Slams again out of eleven titles in a win loss record of 82-6. This year after taking the 79th title of his career in Dubai on the last day of February he proclaimed ``one of the targets is to go unbeaten the whole season and I am not kidding.’’ However with the French Open which he has won once and Wimbedon where he was the defending champion respectively postponed and scrapped has his bubble burst? Former world No 1 and seven time major winner Mats Wilander put it succinctly. ``The big loser is Djokovic. He hasn’t lost this year yet but this virus has stopped him in his tracks.’’
However that may be Nadal too must still be nurturing hopes of getting the opportunity to draw level with Federer’s record 20 Grand Slam titles. He has never been just one behind his great rival and seems to have a realistic chance of achieving the goal after having won both the French Open and US Open last year. But now with his favourite French Open – which he has won 12 times – postponed to September he has to bide his time, Of course in the present scenario there is always the chance that Nadal who turns 34 in June might get the opportunity to clinch Grand Slam No 20 only next year. As for the GenNext of players they will probably have to wait till next year before relaunching their bid to end the domination of the Big Three.