Back when the tennis season began everything looked so good. Andy Murray looked like he was continuing his 2016 form in Doha while Novak Djokovic showed signs from early 2016 in their amazing final in Doha. Despite early losses at the Australian Open from both, we were treated to a thrilling five-set final match between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, the first Grand Slam final between both for five years. It seemed realistic that for the first time since 2012 we could actually have all four members of the “Big 4” playing well at the same time.
What was even more promising is that this time around we had the likes of Stan Wawrinka with three Major championships on tour, along with Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori both at career highs. Plus Grigor Dimitrov finally looked like he could actually be the real deal, winning in Brisbane, narrowly losing to Nadal at the Australian Open in five sets in the semis, and then winning his home tournament in Sofia all during the first six weeks of the season. So not only did 2017 look promising for the Big 4, it looked even more promising as we could have actually had others joining in and winning Grand Slams.
However, we’re in mid-August now and we all know how the season has turned out. After the Australian Open, the Swiss superstar won Masters events in Indian Wells and Miami before winning a 500 event in Halle and then Wimbledon without dropping a set. Not to say that these achievements are unimpressive but while the media asks questions like “Is Federer better in 2017 than 2007?” (http://www.wimbledon.com/en_GB/news/articles/2017-07-08/wimblewars_2017_is_federer_better_than_ever.html) there is obviously something very wrong.
There’s no doubt the 19-time Grand Slam champion is playing great, but part of that is due to the state tennis is in with injuries all over the place and no younger players contending for Majors. To even compare the Federer of ten years ago to a mid-30s 2017 Federer level-wise is insane when you consider that at the Swiss’ peak he was dismantling everyone on hard and grass without any external factors assisting him–not to mention how much more dominant he clearly was in the matches, which is obvious to anyone who actually watches him both now and then.
Meanwhile, the top-ranked Spaniard won Monte-Carlo, Rome, and then Roland Garros without dropping more than four games in a single set. Like mentioned just before with Federer, these achievements are insane but the media is ignoring the real fact of why this was possible–his biggest rival on the surface Novak Djokovic being injured and far from his best. But instead we hear talks of if Nadal is back to his best despite tennis fans who have watched for many years knowing his 2008, 2010, and 2013 counterparts were all better.
Everything has just turned pear-shaped and tennis is in a poor state–just look at last week where the quarter-final lineup in Montreal looked like something from an ATP 250 event with the likes of Denis Shapovalov, Adrian Mannarino, Kevin Anderson, Robin Haase, Diego Schwartzman, and Roberto Bautista-Agut all featuring. Just three top 10 players started Cincinnati this week with the rest being injured in some way. I doubt any Masters event in history has had such a low turnout and as it currently stands one of those top 10 players, Alexandr Zverev–on the back of winning back-to-back titles–lost in the second round. Only Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem remain in the event, with three eight quarter-finalists being unseeded and outside the top 30.
Furthermore, if we look at the top players, current World #1 (until Monday) Andy Murray has only made one semifinal in a Masters or Grand Slam this year (Roland Garros), hasn’t played since Wimbledon, and will quite possibly miss the final Major of the year in New York. Additionally, defending US Open champion and World #4 Stan Wawrinka has called an end to his season due to a knee injury, and former World #1 Novak Djokovic will also not return until 2018. The same also applies for Japan’s Kei Nishikori while 2014 US Open champion Marin Cilic and last year’s Wimbledon finalist Milos Raonic are questionable for the US Open after withdrawing from Cincinnati. To make matters even worse, even Roger Federer withdrew this week with a back injury so his participation isn’t guaranteed, depending on the severity of his injury.
We’re essentially looking at what may very well be the weakest field in recent history at a Grand Slam at the US Open in just a few weeks’ time, and given that after the final major of the year is mostly when players start taking breaks due to tiredness after a long season, who knows what sort of fields and quality of tennis we’ll get in the last few months of the year. Let’s not even think about the World Tour Finals, where the gap between the top players and those who barely qualify will be larger than ever given the amount of withdrawals already. Right now the likes of former World #4 Tomas Berdych could potentially make the “elite” field despite having by far his worst season since 2009.
To summarise, I’m not against the likes of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, or anyone else dominating but when it’s mainly because of the state tennis is in it’s simply boring to watch. In 2007, 2010, and 2011–when Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic all dominated–the rest of the field simply had to say too good and accept it, but now is nothing even close to that. There are good players on (or above) Federer’s and Nadal’s level right now–they’re just not playing due to injury.
Meanwhile, on the other hand, sure it’s nice to have newer names making runs in “big” events, such as Canadian 18-year-old Denis Shapovalov beating Grand Slam champions Juan Martin Del Potro and Rafael Nadal last week at home, but when it’s constantly happening every event because of injuries and weak fields it makes events uninteresting. Hopefully those injured recover and 2018 is a year of higher quality more competitive tennis because right now tennis is suffering from many great names being absent due to injury woes.
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