Selfishly (and rightly so), many fans of the game wished Roger Federer would win just 1 more major- and then he could ride of into the sunset. However, what most people don’t realise is that riding off into the sunset is the hardest part. Reading numerous stories of retired athletes from various sports around the world, a common theme is often retired athletes wake up feeling like they want to play again.
Such a realisation that it’s all over, this is it, this is the end, is a concept that it hard to swallow, and it is not different for either members tennis’s big 4. As life progresses for the average tennis fan, one thing has been a common theme: Nadal, Djokovic or Federer being the favourites for majors in any year of the last 17 years.
In 2017, without Djokovic, it was Federer. In 2021, without Nadal, it was Djokovic. In 2022, without Djokovic in the draw, it was Nadal. Another interesting point also stands: if you told the average tennis fan back in 2011 that Nadal and Djokovic would, in 2020, be the number 1 and number 2 ranked players- coming out onto stadiums wearing face masks- most would break into hysteric laughter.
The sacrifice that these 2 athletes have had to make to continue to play tennis, as each calendar year rolls on, is out of this world. It is baffling to realise just how many different players the big 3 have had to play against. They say time is the biggest test. Isn’t that the truth!
For Federer, he toppled Pete Sampras in 2003. Nadal toppled Andre Agassi in the final of the Montreal Masters in 2005. However it is not all glamorous. In terms of the schedule, what most tennis fans also don’t appreciate, is that each year on New Years Eve, tennis players, for the most part, are holed up in some country in a hotel- waiting to play a match on New Years Day.
Take for instance the ATP Cup, which commenced on January 1 2022. Or prior to that, the Hopman Cup, which traditionally commenced from the 29th-31st of December. As well, a tournament like the Channai Open/ Maharastra Open (India), prior to the ATP Cup, would commence on the 31st of December each year.
Often fans don’t realise this game isn’t just played when they feel like it, it is a career, and a job, where they must suck it up the unglamorous aspects, and miss out on many normal things that most people have the privilege of doing. For instance, so many men’s and women’s players were homeschooled during their schooling years, and did not have the fun of school friend’s, or meeting people their age during weekend sport.
It’s why players like Ash Barty probably wanted out of the robotic, and often soulless grind of the professional tennis circuit, where milestones in life go by just like that, time with friends and family is virtually non-existent, and players are often left bouncing between hotels for months on end.
Packing and unpacking between cities and towns, catching flights and warming up with tailored nutrition and massages, plus training and recovery can often cause players to lose track of where they are, what time it is, and even at extremes, what season it is.
Tennis players often feel the soul-crushing time warp which is work, from a young age, and often that is when most are hitting milestones in their life. The blend of events and work is not something most envy, and often fans forget that at times there is nothing glamorous about the sport.
Imagine for a moment, not being a top paid player, turning up to a country, losing a match, and then realising you are there because it is your job, and you are balancing bills of accommodation, food, coaching and flights. Tennis is a grind beyond belief if you are not in the top 100.
However, back to the the big 3
We could very well find ourselves in a time far in the future (perhaps even 10 years from now) where one of the big 3 is beating the number 1 ranked player in the world, who is currently in preschool at the moment. It is why we must appreciate the small facts
That a 36 year old is currently number 1 in the tennis race.
That last year a 34 year old finished year end number 1.
It is the little things we must appreciate before it is truly over.