Editorial: Men’s tennis in GOAT phase

Kyrgios is a tricky customer on grass courts, armed as he is with one of the most devastating serves in the modern game.
Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic File photo

CHENNAI: Records, as the adage goes, may speak for themselves, but they rarely tell the whole story. With his four-set victory over Nick Kyrgios in the Wimbledon singles final, Novak Djokovic has added a number of them. These include equalling Pete Sampras’ achievement of seven Wimbledon victories and that of the fourth man in history to win four consecutive All England titles (the other three being Sampras, Bjorn Borg and Roger Federer). Djokovic, with 21 Grand Slam titles, now trails Rafael Nadal (22) by just one in the men’s all-time list for most majors.

But astonishing as these are, the truly outstanding thing about the Serbian champion lies in his extraordinary all-court ability and his seemingly limitless reserves of mental strength. The latter was on full display once again after Djokovic went down in the first set to a buoyant and aggressive Kyrgios. If there was a sense of quiet assurance within the crowd that this was but a temporary setback, it was only partly because of the recent pattern of Djokovic’s matches – where he turned it around after being down 0-1. It was also to do with a confidence that he would delve into his years of experience and his vast mental reserves to find the rhythm and fluidity to pull back and then dominate his opponent.

Kyrgios is a tricky customer on grass courts, armed as he is with one of the most devastating serves in the modern game. The reputation he has for being a one-stroke wonder is unjust, as he has shown time and again, that he can hit other strokes, most notably the quick smack of backhands down the line and a range of dinky drop shots. But he was up against a man at the height of his genius, one that was able to get a measure of his service as the game got underway and then eventually able to dictate the course of the match.

The view that he could be “the greatest player of all time”, one held by the great Pete Sampras, will only take firmer root after this Wimbledon title. Yes, it is true that Nadal has earned more Grand Slams, but a very disproportionate 14 of his 22 have come from the slow clay courts at the French Open. As for Federer, his athletic ease and his fluid genius, will always make him a contender for this title. But given his age and his health, Djokovic is more likely to add more Slams to his career, an opportunity that is bound to be hit unless the US Open and the Australian Open alter their rules about Covid vaccinations and allow this resolute anti-vaxxer to play.

The last has not been seen of the ageing triumvirate of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic, who have more tennis left in them. But this period, when the three dominated the game is bound to give way sooner or later. There is great potential among the younger players, reflected most strongly in the games of young men such as Jannik Sinner and Carlos Alcaraz. Djokovic graciously suggested that Kyrgios would be a contender for Grand Slam wins in the future, but there is no doubt that men’s tennis is approaching the end of a wonderful era. Which young players will replace the great three and how far they will go is not clear, but tennis promises to morph into a new and exciting phase.

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