December 27, 2019

2020 Vision: It's Going to Be a Big Year!

It's been a long time since I've written regularly here, but as one of my New Year's resolutions, I've decided to re-dedicate myself to the sport I love and the craft that has at times been a second career for me(1).

There are a couple reasons I'm coming back home, but maybe the main one is that I was truly inspired by a collection of essays I recently read by David Foster Wallace. Even if you're not a fan of tennis, I highly recommend you get yourself a copy. As a one-time ranked juniors player and an exceptional writer, Wallace's knowledge of and take on the players, the tour, and even the science(2) of our sport is deeply incisive and, frankly, humbling. Not only did it make the prospect of reading his seminal, thousand-plus-page Infinite Jest no longer seem so daunting, but it made me rethink my entire life trajectory. Why didn't I join the Juniors circuit as a child and at least attempt to go pro? Why don't I quit my job now, fly immediately to Melbourne, and spend the rest of my days following the tour?

Well, Wallace's writing certainly disabused me of any belief that I could come close to holding my own on court against the pros, even on my best day(3). But perhaps there's still an opportunity to realize that second goal and emulate him just a bit(4).

And there couldn't be a better time to get back into tennis. At the dawn of a new decade there are so many great stories to follow: from the continued dominance of the Big Three in the men's game, to Serena's chasing history; from the rise of a new generation of greats, to perhaps a comeback from the last one.

So as we get ready to ring in what's sure to be a very eventful New Year, I'm going to look at some of the stories that could capture our collective attention in 2020. I was originally going to lay them all out in one big post, but there's so much to get to and more things will likely come up as we go. So I've decided instead to lay things out over the next few days. And if some of it seeps into January, well, so be it.

And because I've already teased a couple thoughts, might as well start with those.

The Big Three...and Their Successors

There seems to be no question that Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic will hit the ground running in 2020 and could very well keep up the pace well into the new decade. After all, they combined to win the last twelve Majors. And as a testament to their longevity, here's the shocker -- we could've said almost the same thing ten years ago: between 2005 and 2009, there were only two Slams that didn't go to the trio! (To be fair, Nole only accounted for one of those in the last decade. He's got fifteen this past one, and as the youngest of the three seems most likely to last longest into the '20s.)

Sure there were moments when a couple others showed signs of promise. Andy Murray for a while threatened to infiltrate the group -- for a while I was irked by the fact that he was consistently included in the Big Four while Juan Martin Del Potro was never given a shot -- and Stan Wawrinka managed to stake his claim to three Majors himself. Even Marin Cilic, who managed a couple finals after his breakthrough in New York, has held his own. All have struggled with injury, Murray even coming to the brink of retirement, but they certainly remain relevant in the latter half of draws -- Murray even pulled off a stunning title run in Antwerp in October.

But if we're looking for the next generation of power players -- after all, the reign of Rafa, Roger, and Nole cannot last forever -- we may have to look elsewhere. And this year may have given us the best opportunity yet to find those contenders. The average age of the top ten, minus the Big Three, is the youngest it's been since 2009, and some of them have already made strides. Dominic Thiem has reached two Major finals, and Daniil Medvedev looked for a moment like he could have been the spoiler at this past U.S. Open. Meanwhile Alexander Zverev may have had a quiet start to the year, but he bounced back in London with a run to the semis. And Stefanos Tsitsipas, who rocketed up the rankings in the last 18 months, has wins over all of the Big Three this year -- and a shiny new ATP Finals trophy to boot.

There are real hopefuls outside the top ten too. I've held my breath more than a few times watching Karen Khachanov face off against Nadal over the years. And young Felix Auger-Aliassime, the surprise semifinalist in Miami this year, has a handful of wins over the elite players this year. It may be a couple years before their breakouts, but at the very least, I'm going to have to learn how to pronounce more than a couple of names. And of course, there are the surprise stand-outs that seemingly come out of nowhere.

Of course, I don't expect the Three Kings to leave the door too wide open for these guys. I imagine they've still got at least a handful of big titles left in them, but we're certainly facing a regime change soon. Will the game be the same when they hang up their hats? Of course not. But there seems to be some hope for what's to come.

Well, I think that's good for now. Come back tomorrow for my thoughts on Serena in 2020. And be sure to keep coming back to Tennis Spin all year long!

(1) My other career -- thankfully -- is no longer so all-consuming and now affords me the luxury of spending more time here. My other resolution -- recurring -- is to improve my posture, but I've failed at keeping that up past Day One some six years running. Hopefully I'll be more successful with this.

(2) Exactly how tall do you have to be, and how high should you toss the ball, and at what angle should you hold your racket, to hit a 125 mph serve wide into the deuce court when you're in Cincinnati and there's a tornado brewing in Toledo?

(3) No matter now get-able those shots seem on TV.

(4) I promise, though, that I have no intention of mimicking Wallace's prolific use of footnotes. This is my last one, I swear.

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