Many tennis fans expected to see some of the younger professional players break through and win one of the major tournaments this year.
(The four “major” tournaments in pro tennis are, in order played: The Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open). But, the seemingly ageless “big three” keep on winning!
On the men’s side, Novak Djokovic, 32, won the 2019 Australian Open (his seventh AO title), and Rafael Nadal, 33, just won his record 12th French Open title. So, “smart money” seems to be on Roger Federer, 37, Nadal or Djokovic to again advance deep into Wimbledon, that will be starting right around the July 4th holiday.
However, there are always surprises on the ladies’ side these days. Naomi Osaka, from Japan, won the 2019 AO, and an equally talented Ashleigh Barty, from Australia, just won the women’s French Open. It’s risky business to try to predict women’s tennis these days with the growing field of talent from all over the world.
The question on everyone’s mind seems to be: Will Djokovic or Nadal overtake Federer’s total number of major wins? Personally, I think Djokovic and/or Nadal can do it, but I doubt that any of the “big three” will ever pass Jimmy Connors, who still holds the record for most total singles titles with 109 tournaments won! The player with the best chance of breaking this record is Federer.
What has really been impressive to me is the way No. 1 Djokovic has bounced back from injury, surgery and other issues after dropping outside the top 15 back in 2017. After trying some new coaches and trainers for a time, he returned to his roots and his original coach to regain his world No. 1 ranking in 2018, with ATP points far above Nadal and Federer. Djokovic lost a close match to fourth-ranked Dominic Theim in the semi-final of the 2019 French Open, but still remains at No. 1.
The big question on my mind is: When is the U.S. ever going to have a men’s player back at world No. 1 like the good ol’ days of Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi?
Also trending in tennis is a playing style that I am calling “early offense”.
Thanks to tennis statistician Craig O’Shannessy, whom I was able to meet and work with when he visited the Twin Cities two years ago, professional players are realizing that playing more aggressively and keeping points shorter is to their advantage. While spectators often enjoy watching longer rallies, the trend is toward bigger serving and then a one- or two-shot winner to end the points quickly.
For recreational players, this amounts to playing high-risk tennis. If you’re hot, you’re hot, and if you’re not — well, this style of play often means giving away too many free points to your opponent. If you are playing against someone who is attempting to use this aggressive style of play, then very often, you don’t have to win, because your opponent will lose.
Another trend in tennis is to gear your practice sessions to be more like actual match play. I am all for this. I like to see my students rally and drill for half of their practice time, then play out points for the other half, and finish with serve and return practice, as these are becoming the two most important shots in tennis for keeping points short.
You can be sure that all the top players from around the world are now practicing on grass courts as we approach the start of the oldest of all tennis tournaments: Wimbledon. Not only are strawberries and cream and all-white clothing a tradition, but so is getting a glimpse of British royalty on a hot summer day on center court. No doubt, singles players will be sweating (and salivating) over the thought of possibly winning the $2.9 million prize money if they can claim this most coveted trophy in all of tennis.
So, will we see some younger faces in the later rounds of this year’s Wimbledon? Probably. Will one of them break through and dethrone one of the “big three” this year? Send me your predictions.