Close your eyes. The year is 2006. When you think of tennis, there is really only one man- everybody else is a tier below. Despite the second ranked player now being arguably the greatest player in history- 3 of the 4 biggest tournaments on offer in tennis (Australian Open, Wimbledon, US Open) seemed to keep going straight to the pocket of just 1 man. In the same way that golf or formula 1 only seemed to revolve around Tiger Woods and Michael Schumacher taking the leaderboard-tennis was blessed (or at the time, cursed) with the mundane reality of one individual sweeping three-quarters of the majors on offer. At the time it may have felt incredibly tedious-but now more than ever tennis wishes Roger Federer could somehow turn back the clock 15 years.
If you want to imagine what prime Roger Federer would look like in the 2020s, picture a player who made 10 consecutive grand slam finals in the 2020s. This player wins 3 grand slams in 2020, 2 grand slams in 2021, 3 grand slams in 2022 and 3 grand slams in 2023. The tournament he didn’t make the final of? He loses in the semi-final of the 2021 Australian Open. In the one out of the four majors he doesn’t win (but makes the final of) -picture this player only being beat by a younger and more energetic version of the greatest clay court player in history.
A hypothetical scenario would have this 1 player winning Australian Open, Indian Wells and Miami back to back. With the clay season coming up, the real question would be whether this player just blasts through the clay season or only makes the final of Monte Carlo, Rome and the French Open. Now on the the grass season. Let’s imagine Halle and Wimbledon are both won by this same player, followed by the Montreal Masters, US Open, 1 more hardcourt Masters event at the end of the year. This player then goes on to win the ATP finals. A few other titles are also won along the way such as Doha, Japan and Basel to cap off a 12 title season.
However, in the 2020s, yet another hypothetical player who competes against him. This other player beats our first hypothetical player in Dubai, as well as the Monte Carlo Masters, Rome and Roland Garros. He then loses on grass at Wimbledon to the man who has ‘won’ Wimbledon in 2020, 2021 and 2022 already. This player already seems out of this world-winning a number of titles against our hypothetical behemoth. Theoretically, this player is so good that last year he ‘won’ the Brazil and Mexican Open- followed by losing the Miami Masters to the guy at the top of the rankings for the past 2 years. He then manages to win Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Rome and Roland Garros in succession- beating the best guy in the world for the last 2 years in the semis. He then caps of his season winning 2 more Masters titles and a couple other more other titles- finishing his season with a tally of 10 titles.
This is a close analogy to what Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal were doing to the tour in a bygone era. With the amount of talk about how bright the future is- it seems like tennis at the moment is struggling to match this kind of duopoly in the biggest tournaments that tennis has to offer. This can bode as good or bad thing, depending on which way you may look at it. What is undeniable though was that the the mid 2000s was an era in tennis which will be a tough act to follow. Hopefully next gen can match it.
All in all, what do you think prime Federer and Nadal would look like in 2023?