London | Alcaraz leads the New Generation

Men’s professional tennis has been blessed. Been able to produce a series of captivating elite performers, rivalries and characters generation on generation. A smooth transition whereby new replaces old with the game’s global profile increasing rather than lowering from when it went professional along with the women’s game in 1968. From the time of Rod Laver and Roy Emerson, through John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg, Boris Becker and Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras and Stefan Edberg and, with Novak Djokovic extending it to a three, Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal.

And Wimbledon has provided the most prestigious stage for all the good and great to display how they are improving the product.

The biggest question going into this year’s tournament, though, could be: is it possible to maintain the bumpless ride ever upwards in the men’s game with the last rites set to be given to what is considered by many the greatest era it has known?

The Big Three have won 66 majors, including 17 at the London SW19 event, between them in the past two decades with one or the other of them world No1 for around 18 years. But Federer is retired, injury-plagued Nadal has prioritised the Paris Olympics in July/August over Wimbledon and Novak Djokovic is 37 and has had to battle a knee problem sustained at the recent French Open. If you extend the three to four, which is often done, you have home hero Andy Murray, twice All England and Olympic champion and also, a world No1, alluding to a last hurrah at The Championships which made his name. having battled back from hip surgery.

Rafa Nadal is skipping Wimbledon this year

(Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images)

Nadal, 38, is hanging on. He said at the recent French Open: “It’s a big, big chance that it is going to be my last Roland Garros, but if I have to tell you it’s 100% my last Roland Garros, sorry, but I will not, because I cannot predict what’s going on. I have been going through a long process of recovery with a very difficult injury, almost two years of suffering, a recovering process that seems like I feel better now. I am not a guy that reacts because I lost there or I lost in the other place, no? Reacts about my personal feelings, and my personal feelings are better now than one month and a half ago, without a doubt.”

On missing Wimbledon, he added: “During my post-match press conference at Roland Garros I was asked about my summer calendar and since then I have been practicing on clay. With this goal, we believe that the best for my body is not to change surface and keep playing on clay until then.”

The domination of the Big Three or Four, which also spreads to Davis Cup, has been immense, but nothing lasts forever. Reality is, as we have more than suggested, kicking in.

The next generation are certainly making a fist of trying to fill their shoes.

Carlos Alcaraz has quickly stepped up to the mark

Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Charismatic Alcaraz, 21, defends his Wimbledon title after winning the latest renewal of the French slam at Roland Garros by overcoming German Alexander Zverev in the decider in five sets. Jannik Sinner, the Italian defeated over the full distance by Spaniard Alcaraz in the semi-finals is another. The 22-year-old surged by Alcaraz and Djokovic to world No1 after claiming his first major at this year’s Australian Open.

And there is Norwegian Casper Ruud, who made the last four in Paris, plus Dane Holger Rune. There is, of course, also the likes of Stefanos Tsitsipas, from Greece, and Zverev to back it up. There’s a lot of jostling but it seems, as things stand, it is all secondary to the achievements of Alcaraz who looks destined to become a bona fide great.

Roger Federer winner of a record eight Wimledon titles

(Photo by Jo Hale/WireImage)

Federer said to the ATP Podcast “He’s still young and everything he’s achieved is fantastic. Not only on clay, but also on hard court and beating Djokovic at Wimbledon (in 2023) is no joke. It’s another big plus on his CV. I see power on the forehand, a bit like Rafa, although perhaps the technique is more mine. Look at his drop shot, that is due to the fact that he can play from behind, like Rafa.

“His defensive skills, these rival those of Novak, but Novak is obviously at another level because when you do it for so many years, you’re alone, like Rafa on clay. That defence is second to none, but if Carlos continues to do that, we’ll talk about him even more. He has the potential for that. But Carlos is Carlos, like Novak is Novak and Rafa is Rafa.

“I think Carlos has done as well as he can so far. He’s going to lose from time to time, but he’s got an incredible game and an incredible future.

“We all hope that every generation produces the best tennis every week, but it’s difficult to achieve that.”

Alcaraz, 21, was asked immediately after his French Open final win whether he can emulate Djokovic in winning a record 24 majors.

He said: “I don’t know. I hope so. Well, I talked to (his coach) Juan Carlos (Ferrero) yesterday before facing this final. He told me, ‘you’re going to fight for your third Grand Slam title, with everything you have been through’. Djoko has 24. So it is unbelievable. Right now, I can’t think about it. I just want to keep going, and let’s see how many Grand Slam I’m gonna take at the end of my career. Hopefully reach the 24, but right now I’m going to enjoy my third one, and let’s see in the future.”

Rune, 21, said: “It’s amazing to see what Carlos has been doing. You know, winning French Open and already three Grand Slam titles at such a young age is crazy. It’s good for the sport. He’s doing a great job with his team. All credits to him.”

Djokovic said: “Carlos, Jannik and Holger are the big three. The next Big Three, if you want to call them. They are going to carry this sport. I will hang on for as long as I feel like hanging on. As long as I’m able to win against them on the big stage, I’ll still keep going because, why stop if you’re still winning the biggest titles? Once they start to kick my butt, then I will consider probably having a little break or maybe a permanent break from professional tennis.”

Andy Murray, the first Briton to win the title in 77 years

(Photo by Simon Bruty/Anychance/Getty Images)

Can the new guard carry the baton as high as their illustrious predecessors for the long haul? Are their shoulders broad enough? Is their talent good enough? Is their appeal of sufficient sustainability? Time will tell. But we will have another sample or two towards making a judgment as the All England Club celebrates its 150th anniversary this year.

* Author/award-winning journalist Mike Donovan has written on tennis for more than 30 years, working for national newspapers and the official Wimbledon website as well as Tennis Threads with whom he authored a soft-packed publication on Andy Murray. He has also written a series of authorised Tottenham Hotspur-related books and has an updated version of Spurs Greatest Games coming out on Pitch this year. He is also working on a book based on his personal experience called Fever Paunch: 60 years Attempting To Play Football



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