When Roger Federer announced his absence for the remainder of 2016, many were quite disappointed as he has been one of the most popular players on tour these last fifteen years. It was also the first time since 2002 that he had not played at the year-end championships. The 35 year-old veteran announced this past summer that he would not play for the remainder of the season.
In the same season, Rafael Nadal also announced he would be missing the end of 2016. He too is on a similar level of popularity as Federer, so with these two juggernauts missing at the O2 arena, tennis fans were quite disappointed. This year-end final is noteworthy because it is the first time in fourteen years that neither Nadal or Federer have not competed at the event. In other words, Nadal and Federer have dominated for so long that they have been atop men’s tennis for almost one and a half decades!
Another interesting fact to note is that this is also the first time in fourteen years that neither Federer or Nadal have been in the top eight of men’s tennis rankings. Given that the two tennis greats are on the wrong side of 30, it was inevitable at some point that they would fall from atop men’s tennis. However, knowing how great these two have been, do they still have something left in the tank for 2017 and beyond? Can we as tennis fans expect a return to form for these two legends, or is this the beginning of the end?
Given their ages, it is quite likely that these two will not win any more Slams
Simply because of all the wear and tear on their bodies from years of professional tennis, it is quite possible that these two will remain shells of their former selves. Though this may be true, it does not mean that they cannot be successful, however. Given that these two were so great in their heydays, a “shell of their former selves” could actually be two pretty good tennis players- just not Slam champions.
Don’t get me wrong, these two players are still very good. They may even win a few Masters tournaments, and compete at Slams. Can they win Slams though? It’s quite doubtful at this point to be honest. Past age 30, even if a player has a similar level to his 20’s, there are just more off-days. Sometimes things just do not feel right on a particular day. As they age, the chance of these off-days occurring increases. Additionally, Grand Slams are two-week long, physically demanding tournaments. The best of five format combined with the duration can really take a toll on players’ bodies.
In all likelihood, their Slam winning days are over, but that doesn’t mean they cannot have fun of be competitive.
In times like these, Nadal and Federer have risen to the occasion
Back in 2014, Nadal had been recovering from his tendinitis when he made his return to tennis. Questions arose about whether or not he could return to form. Among the concerns was his aggressive, strenuous style of play. There was never a ball that Nadal did not think he could reach. His grinding play-style would wear down his opponents until either they made an error or a mistake which he could capitalize on. Now with injury concerns, could he still do that? That year the Spaniard silenced his critics with two Slams and the year-end no. 1 ranking. Yes, he has not won one since, but perhaps he makes a similar return in 2017?
As for Federer, the last time he had a period like this was from 2010-2012. He had not won a slam since the Australian Open in 2010 when he took to the court at Wimbledon. The then 30 year-old and soon-to-be 31 year-old failed to win a slam in 20011 for the first time in years. It looked like he was tailing off, but then he silenced critics who said he was done by capturing his record-tying seventh Wimbledon. He also had a similar problem in 2013 where he had lingering back problems and an old, smaller-framed racket. A change to a larger racket and a recovery period saw Federer return to second in the world along with almost winning Wimbledon in 2014 and 2015. The old veteran still had it.
Now the year is 2016. These comebacks Federer and Nadal had happened between 2012 and 2014. That was two to four years ago. Nadal was 27/28 when he made his comeback, and Federer was 30-32 when he made his comeback. Now at ages 30 and 35, the odds are stacked even higher against them. To make comebacks like these ones would be much much harder at their current ages.
It looks like at this point we are in the twilight of this era. Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, and Stan Wawrinka have taken over men’s tennis. The landscape is looking vastly different than it did just two years ago. That said, do I think that Federer and Nadal cannot win a Grand Slam at this point in their career? Yes they can. It is just that their odds are decreasing- and quickly. 2017 could very well see a return of sorts for these two greats, but not of the magnitude of 2012 and 2014. These two can win a Grand Slam, but at this point I would say it is highly unlikely as we enter a new era of tennis.