It is time for destiny to offer Djokovic, Nadal, and Federer a chance to compete in what will be the dream tournament of tennis
Tennis has seen some great rivalries. The Laver-Rosewall clashes or the Borg–McEnroe duels or the Sampras–Agassi contentions are remarkable lessons in how tennis has evolved through the times. The current rivalry is unique as, instead of two, it features three premier players. They are Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, and their rivalry is as exclusive in composition as it is in quality. Affectionately known as the “Big 3”, they were most active from 2003 till 2021 and their achievements are worthy of being written in their weight in gold. With a mix of talent, resolve and a topping of wizardry, they have crafted an age of incredible flair, range and variety. New aspirants have showcased their tennis skills alongside them and have tried to unsettle the Big 3, but the latter have nonchalantly brushed their challenge aside. Till now.
The French Open 2021 was the last major in which the Big 3 made a combined appearance and Djokovic went on to claim the title. In the tournaments that followed, time appears to have caught up with them. The new generation of players has served the virtuosos a notice about their arrival. They are increasingly challenging the three, trying their best to topple the old guard, and claim the champion’s baton.
This has mainly been due to injuries plaguing the Big 3. All three are on the wrong side of the contesting age bracket with Federer a whisker away from 41 years. Nadal will soon be 36 and Djokovic, the youngest of the three, will be 35 in May. The top 20 ATP ranking showcases a teenager and several players in the sub 25 age bracket. Some nasty quirks of fate and circumstance have also combined to deny the three a joint appearance. Crestfallen, some fans have started to believe that their meeting in a single contest is perhaps not ordained in the book of fortune.
Will the tennis fandom be fortunate to watch the three aces together or will their hope remain a pipedream? Amidst their desperate wait, fans hope for a contest featuring the three and ask themselves the lingering question, “Which tournament would it be and when?”
The remaining 2022 calendar presents 3 grand slams, 6 ATP1000 Masters and several lesser contests. But here is the catch – the French Open in May will be minus Federer as he is in post-op rehab for his nagging knee problem. He may also skip the Wimbledon scheduled in July to give himself a chance at complete recuperation. Federer is expected to be in form for the last major of the year, the US Open, starting in August, but Djokovic may not be allowed in the US unless he jabs himself against Covid, which appears unlikely. The chance of the three playing a grand slam together in 2022 can thus be ruled out.
Of the 6 remaining Masters 1000 events, the two most likely for Federer to compete in would be the Shanghai and Paris Masters, both hard court tournaments scheduled for October and November. With strict Covid restrictions in China, Djokovic would only be able to contest the Paris event. With no apparent concerns stopping Nadal, there are glimmers of hope that the Big 3 may be sighted together at the Paris Masters, an indoor tournament. Federer would also favour playing at Paris as the best of three game format and an optimally bouncing ball on hard courts would put less strain on his knees. The tournament is more than five months away and there is ample time for attaining match fitness.
The Paris meet could prove to be a preparation for the 2023 season.
Barring fitness issues, the full ferocity from the three would be on display from Spring of 2023, when the sun is warm and the body is more likely to perform at its peak. The 2023 edition of the French Open and Wimbledon may be the tournaments to watch. If Covid rules remain unchanged in France and England, an unvaccinated Djokovic would be allowed to compete. Nadal as always is expected to be in fighting form and Federer’s knee would have hopefully recuperated to give his fans an opportunity to watch him do what he does best.
And what the fans wouldn’t give to watch the spectacle! Although the new generation of players has been treating spectators to an excellent viewing experience, the wow factor associated with having the Big 3 together has been missing for too long.
The artistry in Federer’s single handed backhands, the powerful, inch perfect lengths delivered by Nadal and the relentless ball pursuit by Djokovic that can turn a losing point into a stunning winner is what fans have been waiting for in a single tournament. It is time for destiny to offer the three a chance to compete in what will be the dream tournament of tennis.
Over the years, the Big 3 have created opportunities and seized them with their wit, talent and resolve. They have given so much class and variety to tennis that all surfaces sizzle with their legacy. They have proved that tennis is as much about respect and fair play as it is about unsettling the opponent -- physically, mentally and psychologically. Their meeting again on a tennis court would be a rendezvous for the ages.