Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon wonders if we’ve finally arrived in a new era in professional tennis.
Don’t look now, but maybe this is it for the current golden era of tennis?
Well alright, we should clarify what we mean here. Basically, we’re saying that yep, the kids are alright.
The current era of women’s tennis has been mostly defined as the reign of Serena Williams while men’s tennis has been dominated by at least one of four specific players for about a decade.
But on both the men’s and the women’s side, this 2017 season brought with it a wind of change, one that the sport had been anticipating for quite time now. After making history at the Australian Open earlier this year with a 23rd major title, the most ever, Williams announced that she would be making a different kind of history and that she was pregnant and taking time off from the sport.
Well deserved too for Williams, and yet suddenly women’s tennis was without two of its biggest stars, Williams of her own volition while Maria Sharapova’s absence was a little more, erm, the self-inflicted type. (Though the truth is a little bit murkier.) Oh the Russian didn’t miss the 2017 season in full, of course not; she came back to action in May but, you know, she didn’t really come back before she was granted a wild card entry in the US Open main draw after missing out on Roland Garros and Wimbledon.
This relative lack of star power made everyone realize that tennis would probably be fine when Sharapova and Williams, who’ve come to define the sport for so many years, leave for good. A trio of relative newcomers in 20-year-old Jelena Ostapenko and 24-year-olds Garbine Muguruza and Sloane Stephens captured the other three Grand Slam titles of the season, while 26-year-old Simona Halep is the clear top player in the world. To top it off, Caroline Wozniacki won the biggest title of her career at the 2017 BNP Paribas WTA Finals.
For years, we had wondered what women’s tennis might have if the sun at its center that was Serena Williams were to leave, and now we know there’s plenty.
On the men’s side, this isn’t a topic we’ve had to wonder about for over a decade because, maybe you’ve heard, we’ve been blessed enough to live through the golden age of the sport, with four of the maybe 12 players in history all competing at the same time and, especially, conquering more or less all that stood in their paths.
The dominance of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray over the years needs no reminder, what with all the titles, all the millions in prize money and all the weeks spent at No. 1. But we caught a glimpse into the future in 2017 when a number of players, including Djokovic and Murray, either struggled with their level of play, injuries or both.
As the saying goes, one man’s struggle is another man’s opportunity to step up in their place, and this past season was full of such opportunities for the likes of Alexander Zveerev, Dominic Thiem, Grigor Dimitrov, Denis Shapovalov and others. For the most part, the youngsters delivered. Sure, this 2017 season will be remembered for Federer’s and Nadal’s dominance but it also introduced to the mainstream a slew of new players on the rise.
It’s their time now.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG