Owing to recent world events, a major tennis tournament, indeed all sport seems awfully trivial, but ATT will struggle on gallantly for you all. Another challenge is how does one write about a tournament they saw precious little of? Well that explains the lack of updates from yours truly, though I doubt it ruined anyone’s day too much.
Enough of me, what were the stories of the last major of 2022.
The beginning of the regime change in the men’s game
Just as in UK politics and history, so too have we seen a [cautious] but official changing of the guard on the ATP tour. With his victory in New York last night Carlos Alcaraz became the youngest ever world number one and – with Medvedev – only the 2nd player outside the Big Four to hold the ranking since Andy Roddick in – wait for it – 2004.
Yes, Novak being barred from two slams this year and collecting precisely zero points from SW19 have swung the odds dramatically, but symbolically this is important. Even given Rafa and Djokovic’s dominance of the Big Ones in 2022, the nature of their respective status on tour right now hints that this is finally the beginning of the end. Novak remains a question mark in so many areas, although undoubtedly still has the measure of 99% on tour on his day.
Rafa? well the nature of his post-match interview hinting at winding things down, and that it was made without an obvious short-term injury per se, does suggest that other priorities are creeping in. And Paris aside – for it will probably, amazingly still represent an opportunity for the Spaniard for a few years yet in truth – Nadal should be able to now enjoy his family, his existence without a racquet in hand. We shall monitor closely.
But it is not just Alcaraz staking his claim, along with Medvedev we still have a resurgent Kyrgios, we have of course two-time major runner-up Ruud, Sinner and the marvellous Tiafoe and Fritz. The men’s game is after all – despite our fears of an anonymous and sub-par wilderness – in ruud [sorry] health it seems.
Swiatek set to dominate?
Yes yes; how many times have we said this about the new star in the women’s game? Osaka, and Barty you feel did dominate the tour for a while, but not overwhelmingly so. Unlike those two however, Iga seems to be more reliable mentally in both her priorities and her stability. The hard-court major is significant too, the Pole is not just a clay court anomaly. Mirroring Casper Ruud, we have a two time runner up in Ons Jabeur as well, surely the Tunisian can grab a slam in the next 12 months, but lord knows we have seen just as many with her talent who never could. Time now for the tour’s other major winners to re-ignite their charge lest they be cruelly shoe-horned into the one-hit wonder bin that plagues the sport.
Finally, another shout out to the US contingent who look to be in fine fettle in the wake of a certain era now coming to a close [see below], the strength in depth of US tennis is very real – certainly not the case for many years previously.
Well it has been quite the journey hasn’t it. One of the greatest players ever is finally ‘evolving away’ from the sport and a glittering, inspiring and yes controversial career that truly had everything. Record breaking stats across the board, a fearsome career win percentage and a title count in singles and in doubles that rivals the very best over the years, there is no denying Serena and her sisters’ prowess and quality, simply none. Did she quite break the records that -some say- ultimately matter? Frustratingly no, and this irks mainly because moreso than any of the Big 3, you feel that were it not for the off-court distractions to which she was entitled, things could have been even more universally recognised in the history books. Such was Williams’ power, shot-making and resolve that I feel it really was a dead cert, but there you go.
Alas, the controversies are just as prominent for some and all too often contribute to a skewed opinion of this great champion, undeniable though they are and yes, they do leave a bad taste years, decades later. But should they define her?
I think instead, for better or for worse, the Williams sisters, but Serena in particular ushered in the truly athleticism-derived modern power game that now encapsulates the women’s side. Finesse and craft were swiped away as swathes of hopefuls were dismissed routinely year after year. Again, for the purists this is an almost unforgiveable legacy, but there are signs of that old grace in the game returning.
But for those who didn’t enjoy her bludgeoning power – and in the early days I was one of such naysayers – Serena did so much for the sport and has inspired so many that everything else becomes a relative footnote. Recognise too that there are few athletes across any sport that have shown the will, the belief and the strength to keep coming back and defy all logic.
Time to reflect and re-start for Raducanu, but British hopes continue elsewhere
Lastly, a short note on the British game which some would inevitably point out as looking a little flat after Emma’s non-defence of her title and other Brits hardly lighting up the latter stages in NYC. But such views – dare I say all too typical of the British casual fan – are grossly inaccurate. Yes Raducanu needs now to go away and truly reflect on the last 12 months, to assess what needs to change and who to bring into her team. For Cam Norrie and the rest, the future is bright and British tennis really is relevant again outside of the outgoing Murray’s still quality showings. It really should be optimistic times ahead for us on and off the court.