In the aftermath of another edition of Wimbledon, a certain question has been making the rounds within the ATP so much so that even Roger Federer was asked about it, barely twenty-four hours after his championship victory.
What’s happening to the new generation?
Federer certainly gave his honest opinion touching on the ATP points structure, the improved health and fitness regiments that keep the older guys competitive. He also noted that the younger generation hasn’t been “strong enough to push” them out. I do agree with Federer on the new generation not being strong enough to cause the big four much worry on a consistent basis. I also believe that’s the bigger issue here.
The question is why isn’t the younger generation producing players strong enough to really test the older guys.
For starters the guys coming through now, aren’t as good at their best, as the dominant players were at the same age. They can’t hit the same shots with the same degree of crispness or move around the court as well. Their games are not well rounded. Take Raonic for instance. As much as he has taken strides to add more wrinkles to his game, he still does one thing exceptionally well. Serve. It is possible to ride a serve all the way to the top 10, but it won’t keep you there. Raonic has fallen two spots to world no 9, and is barely ahead of Grigor Dimitrov who is ranked tenth in the ATP rankings. The other way to look at the games of this younger players, is the way they construct points and adapt their games to different opponents. Can they discover and exploit weaknesses within the match? Can they work angles from the back or control the forecourt with well timed forays to the net? The answer is “not consistently enough.”
Speaking of consistency, that’s another reason the younger generation is faltering so badly. While I realize the bar has been set really high, it is no excuse. Sampras, Agassi, Kuerten, and a few others, set the bar really high and Federer’s generation responded to the gauntlet being thrown down at them. This generation has largely cowered from that challenge. No other player has embodied this more than Dimitrov. The Bulgarian is supremely talented and yet just when you think he’s poised to fully actualize it, he starts losing early again as though losses are his comfort zone. He had tennis fans believing in 2014 and quickly took a dash into the wilderness of underachievement right after Wimbledon. He played terrific tennis in Australia to start the year and once again had most people believing. No one can fault his five set loss to Nadal. There’s no shame in pushing one of the all time great competitors to the distance. However, I fault him for not sustaining the level he showed in Australia. Greatness is defined by week in week out performances and not flash in the pan tournaments.
Finally, there’s the attitude and mental toughness. None of these guys are mentally locked in. After being spoiled for so long by classy champions like Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray, who understand the history of the game and respect that history, we get Kyrgios and Tomic. In a way, their lack of consistent success has been good for the game. The game does not need ambassadors like these. The game does not need quitters or people who are “bored” while playing a grand slam match that could take them one step closer to greatness. If you are bored, retire. If your real passion is racing, put your driving skills up against Lewis Hamilton. Just don’t taint the game.
Still waiting for a real future champion to step up and really go after the dominant guys. The game deserves continuity that sustains this level. There is some promise in Alexander Zverev and Dominic Thiem. They’ve made some strides, but there’s still a ways to go.
Here’s hoping that those two will take the road less traveled and chart a new blazing trail to success, while staying true to the path.