Nobody would have begrudged seeing Roger Federer lift his eighth Wimbledon title last year, nor would anyone have felt the Swiss master didn’t deserve to hit Slam number 20 in Australia in January. In a similar fashion, we sat back and marvelled at Rafael Nadal taking his 11th title on the clay of Roland Garros in May.
However, while we are lucky to live in an era of greats in the men’s game, there was something processionary about the Grand Slams in recent times, as if we were simply waiting to crown Federer or Nadal, even before the tournament started.
Last month at Wimbledon, Novak Djokovic served us a timely reminder that he too should be mentioned among the all-time greats. His 13th Slam was wrapped up with the minimum of fuss against Kevin Anderson, but it was the semi-final, a five-set epic against Nadal, that really showed us how much we missed the unflappable Serb.
Bookmakers were quick to act on Djokovic seemingly putting those injury woes behind him and making his way back to the top, with 888sport putting him as favourite in the 2018 outright US Open odds. The Serb comes in at 11/4 at the moment, with Nadal and Federer both at 7/2. That’s pretty tight, suggesting the odds-setters feel anyone of the three could win. Indeed, any suspicion of a niggle or slight injury, and those odds could change.
Odds show competitiveness is back
However, seeing three players right at the top of the betting markets is good news for the men’s game. We must remember that that in the last two Slams, Nadal was odds-on for the French Open and Federer was a very short price (around 13/8) to win Wimbledon. Having Djokovic back adds another dimension to the elite level of the game.
Of course, nobody is ruling out a push from players outside this celebrated trio: Alexander Zverev, a player who keeps promising to fully bloom, is priced at 9/1, Del Potro is available at 10/1. Andy Murray, whose injury problems are hopefully behind him, is also available at 10/1, but match sharpness may elude the former world number one.
Put simply, the upcoming US Open (27th August – 9th September) feels like the first Grand Slam in a while where we do not have an overwhelming favourite from the outset. Having Djokovic, Federer and Nadal all fit will also open up some subplots: Can Federer extend his record of Slams to 21? Can Nadal rein Federer in by winning his 18th? Can Djokovic equal Pete Sampras’ tally of 14 titles and regain his place at the top of the game.
‘Big 4’ could return to dominance
For all the talk of dominance of individuals over the past 15 years, it is also the rivalry within the ‘Big 4’ that has made men’s tennis, at times, unmissable. You’ll have to go back to 2012 to see the last time when the ‘Big 4’ each won a Grand Slam in the same season, but it was also an era when it was also incredibly difficult to predict who would come out on top, Nadal at Roland Garros excepted.
With Djokovic seemingly back to full fitness and, hopefully, Murray also getting healthy, we could be in for a treat over the next couple of years. Wimbledon sewed the seeds of some great rivalries to be re-established, let’s hope we, as fans, reap the benefit, starting in New York in a few weeks.