While I was going through the proceedings in the men’s singles at Australian Open 2018, great moments and facts from men’s tennis in the past started reverberating in my tennis-frenzied mind.
Here are a few :-
In 1988, all four Grand Slams went to Sweden. Elegant Swede and an exponent of the serve & volley game, Stefan Edberg won Wimbledon whereas his country man Mats Wilander swept the remaining three Slams. Bjorn Borg took five consecutive Wimbledon titles during 1976-80.
Charismatic unseeded German Boris Becker created history by winning Wimbledon in 1985 at the age of 17. In 1989 Becker was in the form of his life as he won the Wimbledon and US Open back to back.
Becker and Edberg played in three consecutive classic finals at Wimbledon during 1988-90. In 1991, Becker was stunned by another German, Michael Stich in the final at Wimbledon. Before toppling Becker, he had defeated the then number one player Edberg.
In 1993 on the American Independence Day on 4th July, two young Americans Jim Courier and Pete Sampras locked horns in the Wimbledon final. Sampras won and he swept all Wimbledon titles till 2000 barring 1996.
In 1999 French Open final, American Andre Agassi scripted a historical turnaround when he came back after losing the first two sets to clinch the title. With this, Agassi became only the second player to complete a career Grand Slam.
After pondering over all those moments, the crux which came to the fore is that it was the Americans, Swedes and Germans who were at the fulcrum of a majority of memorable moments and great victories in Men’s Tennis during the seventies, eighties and nineties. WIth the sole exception of Ivan Lendl, all great men's players (multiple Slam winners and crowd favourites) hailed from these three countries.
Americans Sampras won 14 slams, Agassi and Connors won 8 each and John McEnroe won 7. Swedes Borg, Edberg and Mats Wilander won 11, 6 and 7 respectively. The Germans were represented by Becker with 6 slams and Stich with 1.
But people following tennis for a shorter period of time will surely be wondering why they do not see any Americans, Swedes or Germans creating ripples in the scene.
It’s true actually. There has been a paradigm shift in men’s tennis with regard to geographical pattern of winners and champions at ATP. Germany and Sweden stopped producing champion players after Becker and Edberg. Barring a surprise victory for Thomas Johansson at the 2002 Australian Open, no Swede has won a Grand Slam since 1992. Similarly, no German won a Grand Slam after Becker’s victory at Australian Open in 1996. Sweden though produced players likes Robin Soderling & Thomas Enqvist but their voyage was limited to a couple of Grand Slam finals. Both achieved a career high ranking of fourth.
American supremacy continued little longer until Sampras and Agassi were active. Sampras’s last Grand Slam was the US Open in 2002 and for Agassi it was the Australian Open 2003.
Andy Roddick looked like the heir apparent to Agassi and Sampras, to carry forward the legacy in men’s tennis in the early 2000's. He was immensely gifted and at point along with Lleyton Hewitt, was considered the next big name in tennis. However, it was not to be. Roddick only won the 2003 US Open, which people thought would be first among many and intriguingly it remains his only Grand Slam and also the last Grand Slam win by an American.
Roddick was unlucky in the sense that his peak collided with the rise of a certain Roger Federer. He had a major heartbreak in 2009 when he lost to Federer in the Wimbledon final that lasted for 257 minutes and final set went up to 16-14. Roddick never played a Grand Slam final after that.
The loss of Sweden, Germany and USA was the gain for few other countries. Switzerland produced two champions, the great Federer and Stan Wawrinka, Spain gave us Nadal and Serbia gave us Djokovic.
But the most significant mention goes to Britain. A huge relief for Britain came in 2013, when Britisher Andy Murray won Wimbledon, his home tournament. They had always been passionate about their countrymen lifting Wimbledon, which had never been done in the open era. Players like Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski tried hard in 1990s and 2000s but fell short.
This shift is amazing to notice for die-hard fans like myself. We never know, with the likes of Canadian teen Shapovalov and Germany’s emerging star Zverev around, another paradigm change may be on the cards.
After all, change is the only constant thing in life.