Thursday, August 28, 2014
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The new golden era of men's tennis

The slams in men's tennis, in their greatest eras, have always been like this. The same names were in the semifinals and finals every time. It kept tennis in the center of the sports universe.

The new golden era of men's tennis

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have always shown each other friendship and respect. But while Federer has led in the chase for history, Nadal has had Federer´s number head to head.
Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have always shown each other friendship and respect. But while Federer has led in the chase for history, Nadal has had Federer's number head to head.

The slams in men’s tennis, in their greatest eras, have always been like this. The same names were in the semifinals and finals every time. It kept tennis in the center of the sports universe.

Here is a decade of grand slams in the golden era of mid-1970’s to mid-1980’s: Borg vs. Connors; Borg vs. McEnroe; McEnroe vs. Connors; Connors vs. Lendl; McEnroe vs. Lendl.

Does any tennis fan doubt what a must-watch era that was? Watching the contrasting styles and emotions of McEnroe and Lendl, Borg and Connors, McEnroe and Lendl, was like witnessing well-written stage plays. Who would add to his place in history this time? It didn’t matter that it was the same players every time because that’s the way we wanted it.

This golden era may be even better, except the sports universe has long ago departed. The number of sports media that send writers to the slams is rapidly decreasing. The onslaught of 24-hour sports news and videos has left this tennis era in the dust, forced to rely largely on its four grand slams – and really, we’re talking about Wimbledon and the U.S. Open – to lure the universe back for a short time.

So as history is hammered like thunder, the real sound in the sports universe is a whisper. Here is what sports fans may be missing:

Roger Federer is arguably the greatest player in tennis history. Rafael Nadal is also one of the greatest, and may someday surpass Federer. And now Novak Djokovic, long known for his easy and comedic manner, is on the verge of becoming the world’s best.

Three men, with rivalries between them all. Djokovic beat Nadal four straight times this spring, including the amazing feat of two straight on clay. He had beaten Federer in last year’s U.S. Open semis, a hurdle so tall yet not enough to get him past Nadal in the finals, Nadal’s first Open title. Federer, of course, returned the favor on Djokovic in Paris, winning an epic semifinal until he too could not finish off the tournament against Nadal.

You have the historically amazing dynamics of Nadal and Federer. These friends have played in nine grand slam finals, and although Federer has won an all-time record 16 slams, Nadal is a staggering 7-2 against Federer in slam finals.

So which is bigger: the total slams, where Federer is unmatched, or the rivalry, where Nadal has been dominant?

In the last 25 grand slam finals, dating back to the 2005 French Open – Nadal’s first slam title – Federer (12), Nadal (10) and Djokovic (2) have won a staggering 25. Only Juan Del Potro’s five-set win over Federer at the 2009 U.S. Open breaks that string.

So who will win Wimbledon?

Let’s take a wild guess it will be one of three players. But the guessing ends there. You have a Wimbledon legend (Federer), the defending and two-time champion (Nadal) and the best player on tour this year (Djokovic).

It makes for another epic tournament of this golden era. Bring on the thunder.

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Reach Sports at jquinn@phillynews.com.

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