This year’s French Open has undoubtedly missed the talents of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. While the weather has certainly not helped (rain showers saw multiple interruptions to play as well as an entire day of play called off for the first time in 16 years), the fact that tennis’ biggest names have been missing has undoubtedly been the major contributing factor towards the bog-standard quality of the this year’s tournament. Indeed it has felt far more like an ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournament than a Tour Final.
We have missed the sublime grace of Roger Federer on a tennis court (who in pulling out put an end to his quite remarkable 17 year record of having played in 65 successive Grand Slam tournaments); the way in which he manages to effortlessly dispatch his opponents with the simple flick of a wrist. We have also dearly missed the pulsating aggressiveness of “The King of Clay”: Rafael Nadal, winner at Court Philippe Chatrier a record nine times, who was forced into an early departure by a niggling wrist injury.
However the lack of two of the most recognisable names in sport has not only seen a dearth in the quality of tennis we’re normally so used at major tournaments, it has meant an absence of the kind of rivalries that have made tennis such a huge global sport. Matches between Federer and Nadal and their main rival Novak Djokovic have generated some of the most riveting spectacles in sporting history. Think back to Nadal’s semi-final epic against Djokovic in 2013, which over the course of five sets, saw some of the most ridiculous drama ever witnessed on a tennis court.
Indeed tennis like every sport needs its heroes and with only two of the big four fit enough to compete this year, the tournament has suffered. For the first time in recent memory a major grand slam tournament is selling semi-final tickets for €20. Even at those bargain prices, it has been a struggle to fill seats. People are simply not interested in witnessing Novak Djokovic dismantle a talented yet juvenile Dominic Thiem in three sets.
Indeed while it is of course arguable that the quality of the big four has dipped as demonstrated by the total dominance Djokovic has been able to exert over his rivals, the big four are still more or less the top four despite Nadal’s current ranking as the world’s fifth best player.
Nonetheless their durability is vanishing and it would appear that what we have witnessed this year at Roland Garros could well be trend for the next several years. Federer at 34, now finally appears to be experiencing the effects of profession spent at the top of his sport having recently undergone the first operation of his career. Indeed Nadal despite appearing to have regained his physical and metal form before the start of the tournament, has for a couple of years now been plagued by injuries. After this latest setback his ability to be able to recover and really compete at this level must be put into question.
Let us hope however that our heroes who are undoubtedly approaching the twilight of their careers, have it in them for what could be their grand farewell as the greatest players of all time: Wimbledon 2016.