Nowhere is change more evident than in the world of sports, perhaps it’s because everyone is watching and there is nowhere for the athletes to hide. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have been consistently at the top; Federer holds the longest consecutive reign as the number one player at 237 weeks. Put that into perspective of how dominant Federer was; the next player to come close is Jimmy Connors, who had a streak of 160 consecutive weeks at number one.
Federer has been the most dominant number one if we look strictly at consecutive weeks and not the number of titles won (95); he has also had a long streak of being consistently a member of the top ten from October 14th, 2002 until November 7th, 2016 (fourteen years). While Nadal has not been as dominant a number one player as Federer and Novak Djokovic (68 singles titles), he too has also had a long streak of consistency amongst the top ten from April 4th, 2005 to the present (twelve years and counting). Nadal is second to Federer in this era of singles titles won at 75.
Yet, these athletes have paid a heavy price to remain consistently atop the rankings in their sport. The 2017 season is the worse season that I can remember in my years of following tennis that had so many of the top players hobbled by injury. I may be wrong but I do not recall a season where so many players ended their season early because of injury. This year, Djokovic, Andy Murray, Kei Nishikori, and Stan Wawrinka all prematurely ended their season because of injury.
While the fans enjoy seeing these players compete at their best day in and day out, we may forget that it takes not only a psychological toll but also a physical toll on their bodies to stay that consistent at the top. Despite the significant improvement in equipment and amazing improvements in their training regimens, this season has brought home how steep the price these athletes have paid to stay at the top.
Nevertheless, it is almost inevitable that one’s reign at the top must come to an end and despite being some of the best physically fit specimens on the planet, there is one thing no one can escape, the passage of time and aging. The fabled top four are all thirty years and above; thus, it is only a matter of time before a new crop of younger tennis players will make their move and replace these old guards.
It’s already happening. Despite the fact that Nadal and Federer ended the 2017 season as the top two players; the two most significant finals at the end of the season were not contested by either. Nadal had to withdraw from the Rolex Paris Masters and the ATP Finals because of persistent knee issues. Federer never even bothered to enter the Paris Rolex Masters because of lingering back problems and he was beaten by David Goffin in the semifinals of the ATP Finals.
The question perhaps that is more relevant is whether or not this new crop of top ten players will have the consistency and longevity of the Federer and Nadal era?
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