On our final Twitter Spaces live show on Sunday, as we processed not only the Wimbledon men’s final but also the Wimbledon men’s tournament and the year in men’s tennis, the conversation flowed into a familiar topic: ATP Generations.
Andrew Burton noted the distinctions between and among Generation Felix, Generation Nick, and Generation Grigor, as they all struggle — to varying degrees — to take the baton from the Big 3, and most specifically Generation Rafa, of which Novak Djokovic is the ascendant member after winning a third straight major title to tie Nadal and Federer.
Andrew specifically pointed out that if Denis Shapovalov had won Wimbledon — he wasn’t all that far away from doing so — he would have given Generation Felix (players born from 1999 through 2003) a major title before Generation Nick (born from 1994 through 1998).
Dominic Thiem is the one representative of Generation Grigor (born 1989 through 1993) to win a major title. Major champions Juan Martin del Potro and Marin Cilic, both born in September of 1988, belong to Generation Rafa (born 1984-1988). Generation Fed(erer) encompasses players born from 1979 through 1983.
Novak Djokovic’s 2021 Wimbledon title felt a lot like Roger Federer’s 2017 Wimbledon title. The path was relatively smooth, featuring no Big 3 opponents. The semifinal featured close sets with the champion pulling them out due to superior experience and match management. The final opponent for Nole and Fed was a big hitter who lacked consistency on that day.
I have been on Tennis Twitter for 12 years, so I remember what it was like when Federer beat Cilic in the 2017 Wimbledon final. Lamentations about how easy the road was for Federer filled my Twitter feed.
Those same lamentations filled my feed this past fortnight, just from different fan bases and constituencies.
Djokovic fans will be the first to point out that Nole has had far fewer of his major titles won this way than Federer has. Viewed specifically through the prism of the Big 3, they are correct. It’s a plain fact that yes, Djokovic has gone through Nadal and/or Federer to win majors more often than Nadal and Federer have gone through Big 3 opponents to win majors. So, let’s not think this is an attempt to obscure or relitigate that specific point.
What is worth discussing, however, is the larger topic surrounding the strength of eras in men’s tennis.
We can all agree that Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka look better and better in a fuller historical context, as the current younger generations fail to stand up to the Big 3. That’s the easy part.
The tough part — and Andrew tackled this in our live show on Sunday — is being able to weigh the career and quality of Tomas Berdych or David Nalbandian against Alexander Zverev or Daniil Medvedev.
You might immediately answer that question, and that’s perfectly fine (seriously — it is!), but what’s important here is to sit with the question and grapple with it.
Would you favor 2009 Berdych over 2021 Medvedev in a major quarterfinal? What about Roddick vs. Zverev? 2005 Nalbandian vs. 2021 Rublev?
This is not a settled, resolved debate. It is a debate which should begin and continue.
Who gets to set the ground rules or parameters? We all do! Let’s see where this conversation takes us.