The Start of the Next Chapter of Men's Tennis

The first Grand Slam championship of the decade ended early Sunday morning. If you were in the mood to wake up at 3:30 in the morning, you saw Novak Djokovic defeat Dominic Thiem in a five-set championship match. Despite Thiem taking an early 2-1 set lead, Djokovic was able to win the final two sets to secure his 17th Grand Slam title. 

As we enter the new decade, nothing on the surface of this win for Djokovic seems out of the ordinary. We’ve now seen Djokovic win 17 Grand Slam championships. If I sound nonchalant about the number, don’t expect me to apologize. When Pete Sampras won his 14th and final Grand Slam championship, I was a young seven-year-old kid who had no idea what was going to unfold over the next nearly two decades.

Sampras retired from tennis as the greatest winner in the men’s tennis history. I was barely old enough to understand the significance when he won his final match. The next year, Roger Federer won his first. Since Federer’s first major win, there have been 67 championship matches. 56 of those matches have been won by three men: Federer with 20, Rafael Nadal with 19, and Djokovic with 17.

All three men have soared past Sampras’ now shattered record. The entire time since Sampras’ retirement, Federer has been the king of the sport. But just like Sampras, Federer’s reign as the all time leading winner may come to an end. 

Federer turned 38 this past August and hasn’t won a major since the 2018 Australian Open. With Nadal trailing by only one major at the age of 33 and Djokovic trailing by only three majors at the age of 32, it’s likely both men will pass Federer.

But will that change anything? Is there a chance if Nadal and Djokovic pass Federer, one of them will become the new face of the sport?

Let’s say they both pass Federer. They have about five years to at least match his numbers at the same age he is now. It doesn’t sound like a tall task. They surpass Federer’s 20, but by how much do they need to pass it and for how much longer do they need to push their careers in order to legitimize themselves as the superior players? Does it matter if they pass 20 but it somehow takes them until age 38 to do so? Or what if they pass 20, but by the age of 35 they’re done winning?

Sure there was McEnroe and Bjorg, and Sampras and Agassi. You surely couldn’t forget Rod Laver, the only tennis player to twice achieve the Grand Slam. Yes those players were great.

No matter what the final standings will look like in five years, Federer’s, Nadal’s, and Djokocic’s numbers speak for themselves. They are the greatest generation of talent and have provided us with the greatest era for the sport of tennis.

Jacob Recht is a producer for ESPN Pittsburgh and Steelers Nation Radio. You can follow him on Twitter @jakeyrecht

(Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

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