The 21st Century Story started at the 2001 US Open
It began on New York’s biggest stage in tennis.
2001 US Open QF – Hewitt vs Roddick
Perhaps Marat Safin heralded its coming the prior year, but a succession of injuries following the mercurial Russian’s 2000 US Open championship kept him from leading the way.
In New York, 20 yr old Lleyton Hewitt outdueled 19 year old Andy Roddick in the 5 set QF, and Lleyton went on to impressively beat Kafelnikov and Sampras handing out a couple of breadsticks each to win the championship. Oh, and to those people who keep mentioning “baby x” excuses, just stop. Youth is a huge advantage if the talent and effort is there, as there is little to fear and a fresh body and mind to overcome aging and satiated opponents.
Just listen to the announcer after the end of the match interviewing both Andy and Lleyton and mention that it looks like they will be the next great rivalry, following Pete and Andre who were fast approaching their sunset with each of them winning only 1 more major.
Hewitt would go on to win Wimbledon 2002 and Roddick the US Open in 2003. In the clip above, I think commentator Patrick McEnroe mentioned a prospective 10 year rivalry for them, but he couldn’t have known Hewitt would suffer so many injuries and that Federer soon joined by Nadal would eventually increase the strength of the period, suppressing and surpassing the results of Andy Roddick and Lleyton Hewitt and a host of other superb players that tried to stay with them. Safin would win another major in 2005, but after that, only a precocious Djokovic in 2008 on the new Plexicushion Australian Open surface, and the fresh youthful version of the later chronically wrist impaired Juan Martin Del Potro in 2009 at Flushing Meadows, would interrupt a period where only Federer and Nadal would garner every other major – that’s right, an amazing 21 majors between them, 12 and 9 respectively, – until 2011.
So the 10 year number itself was just about right for Federer and Nadal. Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray came along and were competitive and stars in their own right, but not even in the same constellation in terms of the sport’s biggest tournaments until Novak finally strongly asserted himself in 2011. Murray attempted to follow suit in 2012-13 but his bid appeared to have been thwarted by back surgery and his illustrious coach Lendl’s departure didn’t help.
Now the wheel has turned once more, much of the tour is aging, and we are left with the twilight version of Grass King Federer, still showing why he is who he is at times, but hasn’t won a big one in his last 3 finals against the top gun, including two fine tournament efforts in a losing cause on Wimbledon’s hallowed lawns. Then one can observe the lengthening phoenix-like cycle of the Clay King Nadal, whose rises and falls have become the topics of legend, and anguished anglo Andy Murray who has faltered trying to match the runaway locomotive that is Djokovic, who has been winning much as he pleases since losing the 2015 French Open to the erratic enigma that has been Stan Wawrinka. Novak has now taken a total of 11 majors, with 3 each in 2011 and 2015, more than half won at the Australian Open, but even the persistent Plexicushion King Novak can only last so long at the top.
During this golden time, from Hewitt’s brash beginning to Djokovic’s due dominance, tennis fans the world over were fortunate to see many great matches and tournaments. Who knows when we will see their like again?
Which pair of young talented players will meet the challenge of engaging as the next great rivals, and start a new great period in tennis? We may have seen them, or maybe not. The ATP has proclaimed a new generation – “#NextGen” – of players, but it’s still premature in this writer’s opinion.
So far, the young players with the game don’t seem to quite have the mentality/effort, and the players with the mentality/effort don’t quite have the game to challenge and overcome the generations of players proceeding them. Improvement is still needed. They have to proclaim themselves with top performances and then we can talk.
I’m very hopeful we can call their time the “roaring twenties” to borrow a phrase from the last century.