In a couple of weeks, the WTA and ATP Tours will get back underway with top-level tennis events taking place across the United States. They are, for all intents and purposes, warm-up tournaments, though; a chance for players to get some much-needed match fitness ahead of the US Open at the end of August. Doubts still hang over the year’s second, and final, Major at Flushing Meadows on August 31st, but it seems more than likely that it will go ahead.
It is a little strange, however. Usually, we have the form guide of Wimbledon, the French Open, and various other tournaments to give us an idea of the players that should be contending for the title in New York. It’s now around five months since we have seen top-level tennis; a much longer break than we usually see during the winter offseason. Will that impact players’ performances at the US Open? We can argue that everyone is in the same situation. But some will benefit from the layoff, whereas others might prefer a longer season to get into peak fitness.
Doubts hanging over Nadal’s participation
Of course, certainly for the men’s tournaments, it matters little to the bookmakers. Novak Djokovic leads the tennis betting markets for every event he plays in, and Rafael Nadal will be close behind him when both are fully fit. If current media reports are to be believed, the Spaniard looks set to miss the US Open, and it will leave us in the strange position of having no defending champion at the tournament.
Another former champion, Roger Federer, is set to miss out after having knee surgery. Andy Murray, a player who might benefit from the long layoff as he battles to return from what was thought to be a career-ending injury, is likely to feature in New York, but his days at the very top of the game seem numbered. In short, it looks like we will get more of a taste of what the future of men’s tennis will look like, as only one member of the Big 3 (Big 4 if you include Murray) is likely to be in the title hunt.
As for the women’s event, it seems that Serena William’s hunt for a record-equaling 25 Grand Slams is slowly fading away. It seems strange to think about it, but it has now been 12 consecutive slams since we saw Williams win her 24th title. Williams has claimed she will play in the event, and, like Djokovic, she will inevitably be at the top of the betting markets to take the title. But time is passing, and many will wonder if it will be the last time we see Williams play in a Grand Slam.
An end of an era tournament
And, the above gets to the crux of the matter. For all the talk about playing in front of empty stands and players grumbling about preparations, the most remarkable thing about the US Open might be that it’s the end of an era. Williams and Federer defined tennis in the 21st century, and, while at one point it felt like they could go on forever, we know that the next match could be their last. While Nadal and Djokovic are a little younger than the pair above, Andy Murray’s injury woes have shown that a great career can end almost overnight.
For Ash Barty, Sofia Kenin, Bianca Andreescu, Alexander Zverev, Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and many other young players, this US Open should be viewed as a chance to start creating their own era of tennis at the top of tennis because it feels like this era is coming to an end.