By Richard Evans
We scan the horizon for tomorrow; searching for the next generation to rise up and seize control of the game and we can spot a few of them – advancing, probing, seizing a great win here and there. But the future has not arrived.
The present still lies in the hands of the Great Ones as Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer showed us on a sunlit Centre Court at Wimbledon, unleashing their talent on each other in one of the finest battles we have seen from these two members of the game’s Top4 -- the quartet who have lifted men’s tennis to a new standard of skill and athleticism quite apart from the mental strength required to perform at this level.
As the tennis world knows, Djokovic, recovered from failing to serve out for the match in the fourth set to beat Federer 6-7, 6-4, 7-6, 5-7, 6-4 in 3 hrs 56 mins and so win Wimbledon for the second time while depriving the Swiss of his 8th. Perhaps because he didn’t want his twin daughters to see Daddy cry, Roger bravely kept a smile on his face. Novak, who is eagerly anticipating fatherhood, didn’t have to worry about that just yet and let the tears flow.
This articulate man found the words difficult as he spoke to Sue Barker of the BBC on the Centre Court but words were hardly required. You could see what it meant to him, winning the first tournament he had ever watched as a five year old in Serbia, knowing that his name would go back on that honors board that hangs in the All England Club hallway as confirmation of the title he had won in 2011.
And it was not just a question of winning. It was knowing that he had been part of a final against Wimbledon’s greatest ever champion in a match that will go down in history as one of the finest ever seen on the Centre Court. This duel between two titans of the game had everything a sporting contest could ask for and some of the tennis the pair of them produced took the breath away.
The drama grabbed the attention of people all across the globe who understood what was taking place in a London suburb. Former England centre back Rio Ferdinand, tweeted from Brazil where he has been covering the World Cup; Greg Norman tweeted constantly from whichever golf course he was on; England cricketer Nick Compton also expressed his admiration while some of those players who had just left The Championships like Madison Keys, Viktoria Azarenka and Eugenie Bouchard, who was kept up to date by the pilot of her aircraft as she flew home to Montreal, were riveted by this very special final.
It was good to see that some of the younger generation were appreciating what they saw – not just in the men’s final but also the eye-popping performance of Petra Kvitova as she demolished Bouchard the day before. Because now they will have no illusions about just what standard is required to compete against champions like this. As I said the new wave is coming but the path to the summit is long and not many people I spoke to felt that any of the youngsters would reach it just yet.
Looking at prospects 21 and younger, who do you think can make a Grand Slam final in the next two years? This was my question. Jim Courier looked very doubtful about success for any of them within that time frame. “Bouchard can do it again, of course,” said the four time Slam winner, “And maybe the Swiss, Belinda Bencic, who has a good tennis mind. But amongst the men, Nick Kyrgios seems to be the only teenager with a real chance.”
Mats Wilander, who won three Slam titles in 1988, went for Bouchard, Madison Keys because of her power, and possibly Kyrgios. “Taylor Townsend also has the ability,” said Wilander. “But she needs to slim down.”
Mary Carillo, a ranked player before she took up commentating, also felt Keys was advanced enough physically to have a shot at a Slam final within two years. “And, of course, Bouchard can do it again,” said Carillo. “But it’s a big ask for the rest of them to step up that quickly.”
Personally, out of a promising group of young women that includes Caroline Garcia of France, Donna Vekic of Croatia and the American, Lauren Davis, I would single out two other Croatians, Ajla Tomljanovic, who has just turned 21 and Donna Konjuh, who is still only 16, as having the physical power to surprise some more seasoned pros. But a Slam final in two years? I think we will have to be a little more patient than that.
So even though the French Open and Wimbledon saw all manner of exciting performances from players we can definitely ear-mark as the stars of tomorrow, it is no use getting ahead of ourselves. The old guard are standing firm and, in the case of the men, proving themselves to be the most durable the game has known.
Since 2005, 36 of 38 Grand Slams have been won by either Federer, Djokovic, Rafa Nadal or Andy Murray with most of the runner-up places being occupied by that quartet as well. They are unbelievably good and will be all set to show us just how good when the US Open rolls around at the end of next month. If we can get another final anywhere near as compelling as that which Djokovic and Federer served up at Wimbledon, tennis will get another huge boost to its profile and popularity.
Richard Evans has covered tennis since the 1960s, reporting on more than 160 Grand Slams. He is author of 16 books, including the official history of the Davis Cup and the unofficial history of the modern game in "Open Tennis." He was the play-by-play commentator for BBC Radio at Wimbledon for twenty years.