Andy Murray calls for return of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal
Newly-crowned World No. 1 Andy Murray has exchanged kind words with fierce on-court rival and best friend off court, Novak Djokovic, but since his victory has called for the hastened return of former No. 1s Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, both of whom are on hiatus for the remainder of the season following injuries.
Federer will return to action in January 2017, partnering compatriot Belinda Bencic at the team tournament Hopman Cup in Australia, while Nadal kicks off his own new season at the Mubadala Tennis Championships in Dubai this December.
Both former top-ranked players are on the ‘older’ end of the spectrum for players and, it may be believed, nearing the slowing part of two of the best tennis careers we have seen in the history of the sport. But Andy Murray, speaking to reporters in London, said he hoped they would stay on top “for a long time.”
“This year … has been hard in some ways because of Roger and Rafa missing large parts of the year,” Murray said. Federer, who has struggled with his knee throughout a career that has seen him win 17 Grand Slam titles so far, has seen himself bothered by the same injury this year.
He played a total of seven tournaments – missing the French Open, but playing two epic back-to-back matches at the quarter – and semi-finals at Wimbledon this year, defeating an aggressive Marin Cilic in five sets – with the Croat even holding two match points before Federer defeated him – while he went down to Milos Raonic in the semis.
The Swiss Maestro would withdraw from the Olympic Games, where he had been due to play the singles and partner World No. 3 Stan Wawrinka in the doubles – and did not play any tournaments thereafter, announcing that he would return in 2017.
Nadal, meanwhile, had a stupendous clay court season this year, winning his 9th titles in Barcelona and at the Monte Carlo Masters on his pet surface. But the Spaniard petered out on energy soon after, and withdrawing from the French Open with a wrist injury, has not been the same since.
“They are extremely popular,” Murray said of the pair, who are close friends off the court and frequently attend each others’ exhibition matches and events. “They have massive fan bases, not just for what they’ve achieved on court, but they’re also...very charismatic guys.”
But in acknowledging past heroes of the sport, Murray also spoke of the young talent looking to take over the tennis scene, and of his own longevity in the sport. “I’m not going to be around forever....not going to be able to play at this level, and this many matches into my 30s.”
“The young guys are improving, going to keep getting better and better,” he said. “There are some really good young ones now.”
Murray should be able to hold on to No. 1 well into next year, at least perhaps April 2017, given the fact that Djokovic is defending a significant number of points in the new season. But the younger crowd is indeed catching up, perhaps with the exception of 31-year-old Stan Wawrinka, who has had some stellar results this season. 25-year-old Milos Raonic may not be ‘young’ by tennis standards, but he is certainly catching up, having faced Murray in the finals at Wimbledon – the Canadian’s first ever Grand Slam final, and seriously taxing him at the ATP World Tour Finals in London.
Another couple of contenders Murray could be referring to, although they are not directly in line for World No. 1, are 22-year-old Dominic Thiem of Austria and 19-year-old Alexander Zverev of Germany.
Thiem, at World No. 8, made his ATP World Tour Finals debut this year and although he was unable to progress beyond the group stages, has been heralded by many as a possible contender for No. 1 in the future. Thiem has played an all-round, all-court game this year, winning singles titles on Grass, Clay and hard courts and perhaps was only let down in the 2016 season by early fatigue, having played far too many tournaments early in the season.
Zverev, who at 19 became part of an elite list of teenage ATP title winners this year with a victory at St. Petersburg, beat Stan Wawrinka, who was fresh off his US Open win, for that title. The younger of two brothers, ‘Sascha’ Zverev this year soundly defeated Roger Federer on grass at the semi-finals of the Gerry Weber Open in Halle, Germany, only missing out on the title to compatriot Florian Mayer.
The younger Zverev, has displayed speed, consistency, and singularly impressive shot-making that has seen him followed by tennis enthusiasts everywhere, and is almost definitively cited as a future No. 1. It is in Zverev, perhaps, that fans are witnessing the signaling of a new guard of tennis.
Murray concluded by speaking of the effort it had taken him to get to No. 1. Djokovic had begun the 2016 season with an 8,000 point lead which Murray systematically dismantled to take the top rank. “It’s taken a huge effort, last five, six months to get there,” he said. “I’m aware that it’s going to be extremely difficult...that I only managed to do it by one match. To repeat it next year would be extremely difficult.”
With Murray’s upswing, a move away from the old guard and the tribulations Novak Djokovic has been undergoing, the 2017 season looks to be more unpredictable than the 2016 one – and perhaps, as a result, revelatory.