The latest ATP rankings are out and for many tennis fans who form the ‘old-guard’, it can be perplexing for more reasons than one.
Daniil Medvedev, who lost the Libema Open final to homegrown Dutch wildcard entry Tim Van Rijthoven, would have found some consolation in the fact that his run to the finals despite not being able to get his hands on the winner’s trophy, aided him in his escalation to the top spot in the world of men’s tennis.
Alexander Zverev, who is nursing a horrific injury that he sustained during his semi-final game at the Roland Garros against eventual winner Rafael Nadal, climbed to the second spot.
But, the latest update to the rankings is noteworthy not least due to the names that made the top two, but also for the names that did not make up the numero uno y dos positions in the table.
For the very first time since 2003, the top two positions exclude three of the games’ biggest names. Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal.
The three stalwarts of modern-day tennis, who boast a combined 62 grand slam titles among themselves are all outside the premier and the runner-up positions in the ranking table.
The ranking and points system has been rather complex in tennis even before the pandemic hit changes that had to be instated following the spread of the COVID19 virus.
Besides the standard expectation of the defending champion at an event being anticipated to win the following year, the widespread virus pushed officials to include an unconventional point reward system.
The system that traditionally functions on a 52-week rollover basis was rendered infinitely more complex than usual with the introduction of the ‘Best of’ classification in which a player would get to hold on to 50 per cent of his points from the 2019 edition of a tournament (provided that the same event did not take place in 2020) if their reward from the latest edition of the event was lesser than former.
Djokovic, the Serb who is currently the highest placed player among the three legendary names comes in at third. It is safe to say that he hasn’t had the best of years in his career. It all seemingly started with the Australian Open where he was to defend his title. But, things did not go to plan as the 20-time grand slam champion was sent home on grounds of vaccination, or rather, a lack thereof.
Djokovic revealed that it was a testing time for him mentally as it hampered his form and shot at a successful start to the season that promised much for the Serb.
Personally, he was burdened further following news of his former coach and tennis great Boris Becker’s brushes with the law and the heavy sentences slapped on him as Djokovic mentioned how heartbroken he was on learning about the situation of the German legend.
More recently, his quarter-final defeat at the hands of Nadal at the French Open further threatened his top spot which was eventually snatched away by the Russian Medvedev.
All in all, the man who spent around 370 weeks at the summit of men’s tennis rankings was pushed to third in a year that he would wish to forget and move on as soon as humanely possible.
Nadal, on the other hand, has had a fantastic start to the year 2022 as he is set to enter the grass-court season having won the two previous slam titles of the year in Australia, and France.
The Spaniard claimed his 21st and 22nd titles with the victories this year as he surpassed both Djokovic and Federer to stand unrivalled in terms of grand slams.
Nadal, who played the final in Paris after having taken injections to numb the pain in his foot, made quick work of lifelong fanboy and debutant finalist Casper Ruud in straight sets on the big day to claim his 14th Roland Garros championship on his favourite Parisian clay.
Nadal managed to climb one position to sit fourth right behind Djokovic.
He is currently tending to his injury in his hometown of Mallorca as he has his eye set on a return to tennis before the grandest of grass-court tournaments gets underway.
Federer’s case is a different one altogether. The Swiss great dropped to 68th on the list, 18 positions down from the last published edition of the ranking.
The 20-time grand slam winner has had to undergo not one, but three surgeries in the past 18 months and mentioned that his recovery was moving rather slowly.
Despite being aided by the changes in the points system, which enabled Federed to hold on to 850 points from his win in the German Halle Open and his run to the final of Wimbledon back in 2019, the tennis icon couldn’t save himself from the drop.
On close inspection, it seems quite possible that we are witnessing an upheaval in the sport that has been dominated by the trio for as long as memory serves.
Could it be that we are forced to live through a period when the most decorated athletes in the history of the sport start to lose their place at the top as a result of multiple factors but primarily age?
Could it be that we are given a first-row seat to the revolution striking the world of tennis as it does in every other walk? Maybe.
Could the gulf between the new generation risers and the traditional open-era legends further widen with time considering none of the three is getting any younger and their bodies along with them? Quite possibly.
We could hold on to history and nostalgia as we do, but is it time to recognise a true change in the old guard of tennis that has kept the game afloat all these years with some scintillating performances? Only time will tell.
But, it still seems unfathomable that a player, a duo or a trio could dominate the annals of the sport for as long as these three maestros have served some masterclass upon masterclass for the eyes of the tennis faithful.