Thomas: Embrace the new era of tennis

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons | At just 24 years of age, Francis Tiafoe made it to the semifinal round of this year’s U.S. Open.

Spencer Thomas | Sports Editor

Sept. 22, 2022

It’s not often you see the sun set so broadly on an era of sport, but that is what we are seeing in the tennis world. One week ago, Roger Federer announced his retirement from the game, just weeks after Serena Williams competed in what was likely her last major tournament, the U.S. Open.

Since 1999, the pair have combined for 43 Grand Slam titles, approximately one-fifth of all titles up for grabs. The rest of those were likely collected by Federer’s compatriots in tennis’ “big three.” But even their time is fleeting. Rafael Nadal is 36 years old, and Novak Djokovic is 35 and unable to compete in two of the four major tournaments due to his Covid-19 vaccination status.

While seeing what was essentially the “Mount Rushmore” of a sport end their careers may be a bitter sight for fans around the globe, it also introduces a period of mystique in tennis for the first time in a generation.

The year’s final major event, the U.S. Open, ushered in the new era of tennis. Nadal, the only participating member of the “Big Three,” was eliminated by American Francis Tiafoe in the event’s round of 16. Tiafoe would become the first American to reach the semifinals of his home tournament since 2006. At just 24 years old, he has the potential to be the American representative to tennis’ new landscape, giving the Yanks a reason to tune in to a historically global sport.

Of the eight quarterfinalists, five were aged 24 or younger, and only one was over the age of 26. That would be Nick Kyrgios, who, with a mixture of talent and entertainment value typically reserved for professional wrestling, has become the sport’s most-famous outsider, trailing only the “big three” in Instagram followers.

The tournament champion was 19-year-old Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz, who became the youngest man to ever top the ATP world rankings.

Personally, I watched more tennis from this tournament alone than I had during the first 19 years of my life. I was not alone. Television ratings for this year’s event were up 50% from 2021, and the venue — situated in the Queens borough of New York City — boasted record attendance figures.

For both men and women, the field is wide open for the first time in a generation. Gone is the monotony of wondering which of the three Europeans are going to dominate all challengers.

While the greatness of Federer and Williams must be appreciated, their talents robbed us of the variety and unpredictability that makes people fall in love with sports.

The newfound parity is undoubtedly good for the sport, as is the possibility of an American contender in the men’s division. Of course, young and familiar faces like Kyrgios, Naomi Osaka and Coco Gauff remain to usher fans into a new generation.

But for now, it seems that the kids have arrived, and are ready to take over.