Is tennis entering a new golden age? We can only hope.

There was something for everyone. The linen grace of Roger Federer. Rafael Nadal’s Punishing Power. Novak Djokovic and his unwavering determination. The unwavering way Serena Williams dismantled the tired tradition.

For two decades, professional tennis has been bathed in the golden glow of an unchanging hierarchy of players with distinctive styles and personalities that together shaped the game in the 21st century.

But time, and the coronavirus, changes everything.

For the second major championship in a row, as the Australian Open plays out in the scorching Melbourne heat, Federer and Williams find themselves at home, recovering from injuries at the age of 40. We may never see them play top tennis again.

Gone is of course Djokovic.

It’s unclear when the world’s No. 1 will return to the major championship, and how fan disdain will affect a player who has spent his career longing for adoration. Depending on how the pandemic develops, tennis’s most famous vaccine refuser could end up being banned from travel to the countries that host the biggest tournaments of the year, pushing his quest to get well past the 20 Grand Slam blockade in which he and Federer and Nadal sits, endangering.

Of the golden quartet, only Nadal made it to Melbourne. A worn 35, he comes from a foot injury that kept him out of the mix for most of last year.

He looked sharp during the Australian’s early stanza, perhaps good enough to summon greatness again and raise the championship trophy a second time. Even if he does, how long can the Nadal we’ve known be the Nadal we revere?

What else can you count on in tennis?


The days when the game could lean on the astonishing power of its rock star quartet to lure fans and add excitement – ​​the days when they were put down as locks to at least make it to the semifinals of every major title – those days are gone. .

Remember when Naomi Osaka had to be the next big thing? Right now, her last major title win, last winter’s Australian Open, looks in this twisted stretch as if it happened a decade ago rather than a year ago.

She left last year’s French Open midstream and took the opportunity to open up about the anxiety and depression that weighed heavily on her shoulders. She skipped Wimbledon and needed time to get away from the grind and the stares. She lost early at the US Open and the Tokyo Olympics. Last week, Osaka’s attempt to repeat in Melbourne ended in the hands of the world’s 60th player.

Do you remember Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez, the upstart teens who won the US Open last summer by making it to the women’s final? Neither has done much since then. Fernandez lost in the first round last week. Raducanu was thrown off the field in the second.

Perhaps there is a silver lining to the game’s newfound uncertainty. Without the shadow of the biggest stars, it’s easier to get excited for a wider cast.

The first week at Melbourne Park meant marveling at Amanda Anisimova, 20, as she tore backhand winners past Osaka in an upset win. Or watch Carlos Alcaraz, 18, sprint, slide and stretch to keep a point alive before suddenly driving off and smacking a full throttle winner.

Uncertainty added brilliance to young Italian Jannik Sinner, who was just such a stunningly gifted upstart as he made his way through the draw.

It put more emphasis on Ashleigh Barty, last year’s Wimbledon champion, possessor of the smoothest play this side of Federer.

Will Daniil Medvedev, who crushed Djokovic’s Grand Slam dreams by beating the Serb to win the 2021 US Open, top the world rankings? What happens when he becomes one of the game’s consistent flag bearers?

In Melbourne last week, Medvedev flashed his quirky and almost inscrutable game. Several of his strokes look as if they were self-taught and enhanced in a rough public park by playing with duffers – the one-handed reflex volley on the throat of the racket, the lanky forehand that sometimes ends with spread legs and a choking follow-up. through .

As Medvedev has often done on Flushing Meadows, he showed that he can be a captivating champion – witty, open and more than willing to play the villain with a wink.

This year, the typically rowdy crowd of the Australian Open used Cristiano Ronaldo’s famous “Siuuu!” celebration screaming during matches. That has angered several players, including Medvedev, who thought the chants were booing during his win over Nick Kyrgios. As we’d expect based on his previous shenanigans at the US Open, Medvedev raised bristles at the crowd when he scolded them for the chant in a court interview.

He later explained with his usual willingness to provoke anger, “Not everyone does it. But those who do it probably have low IQs”

Imagine if Federer said something like that about fans. Impossible. But perhaps that is a good and stimulating change.

It’s hard to let go of a generation.

A new era has arrived. All we can do is embrace it, wait patiently and hope for the best.

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