Two of the most recognizable names in tennis are out of the French Open: Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
Their names are as distinct as Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, and Serena Williams. They have gone beyond the limits of being just tennis stars to become international celebrities. Nadal and Federer have held tennis up to the world for over 15 years, influencing media coverage to the point the United States has its own channel completely dedicated to the sport. ESPN, the self-proclaimed leader in world-wide sports, has a contract to broadcast Grand Slams for years to come. Nike, Wilson Racquet Sports, Babolat, Mercedes, Rolex Watches, Moet et Chandon plus dozens of other businesses have stuffed the pockets of these two men with millions of dollars through lucrative contracts. In return, of course, their brands have flourished.
But with these two greats gone, has the tournament lost its glitter and interest? Can tennis survive at its current heights — the heights the “Big Four” have brought it to — if Nadal and Federer continue to lose, and can Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray carry the torch on their own?
Djokovic, the number one player in the world and Roland Garros’s No. 1 seed, has dominated men’s tennis this year. He’s won every match except two: one to Ivo Karlovic and one to Federer. Djokovic, though, won all four ATP Masters 1000 events this spring that he played, the biggest tournaments outside the four Grand Slams: Indian Wells, Miami, Monte Carlo and Rome.
However, no matter how much he wins, he has his detractors. His name recognition falls way short of either Nadal’s or Federer’s, say some. His personality on court has alienated many, say others. Djokovic has never won in Paris, making it the only major missing from his resume. The goal shines as bright as a diamond in the sky: this has to be the year.
He has tried, oh how he’s tried, while coming up empty each year. Nadal has always been in the Serb’s way: in the 2012 and 2014 finals; the semifinals of 2007, 2008, and 2013; and in the quarterfinals in 2006. Yet everyone lost to Nadal during those years, except Robin Soderling in 2009. Thus Nadal’s record was 70-1, until today.
The negative tick to his 10-year record may seem, to some, inconsequential, but they are wrong. Alongside his poor run-up to Paris — Nadal won no European clay court titles this spring, his worst performance in 10 years — today’s loss exacerbates the downward trend.
The same truth was revealed when in 2008, when Nadal beat Federer at Wimbledon in what many called the greatest match ever played in the Open Era. Nadal’s victory halted a five-year run for Federer at his beloved slam, where he returned triumphant in 2012. The same can happen with Nadal in Paris.
But on Wednesday, Djokovic took out the nine-time champion, 7-5, 6-3, 6-1. A thumping.
Nadal lost the match on a double fault to punctuate his listless performance. On the other side of the net, Djokovic finally had broken the barrier, overcoming nerves, circumstances and Nadal — the most formidable of his obstacles — in a dominant display.
But Djokovic has not reached his goal yet. His semifinal opponent, Andy Murray, will meet him Friday on Stade Roland Garros. The other semifinal will feature Frenchman and No. 14 seed Jo-Wilfred Tsonga and No. 8 seed, Stan Wawrinka. Chances exist another outsider could win a major title, which has happened only three times in nine years.
With Nadal eliminated and the other side vacant of Federer, only one of the so-called Big Four will enter the final.The storyline of Nadal winning his 10th Roland Garros is done, while Federer can only look forward to the lush lawns of Wimbledon to help wipe away the disappointment he must have experienced in the quarterfinals against his countryman yesterday.
The point is which one of the four remaining players can keep the attention of international sport? It’s evident that the two original members of have gone off the boil, and someone has to step in their shoes.