Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have won 53 of the last 64 men’s singles Grand Slam titles, and smart money is on one of them lifting the trophy at Wimbledon in 2019 as well. That isn’t to say that men’s tennis is lacking in other strong contenders — there is actually a very strong young core to be excited about.
But when will that core dethrone the so-called Big Three?
Probably not any time soon. While Federer is 37 years old and will likely be the first of the group to call it career or fall down the rankings, it’s still hard to bet against him on the grass courts of Wimbledon. The worst things you can say about Nadal all relate to injuries, while Djokovic is occasionally inconsistent, but rarely bad.
These three have simply been great for so long that it’s hard to pick anybody else. But as they age, certain things will become tougher at each tournament. For Wimbledon, the biggest difference compared to the other slams can be seen primarily in the service game. Serves and ball speed in general are higher on the grass courts of Wimbledon, and returning them well is an art form as important as the serves themselves.
Federer’s shot placement, Djokovic’s length/footwork and Nadal’s power have always helped them handle big serves, but as it gets hotter and and they get older, it increases the chances that one or more of them will fall to the big servers — guys like Kevin Anderson and John Isner.
Last year, both Isner and Anderson made it to the final four of Wimbledon. Anderson made it to the final, where he was quickly dispatched by Djokovic. Anderson, at that point, was extremely worn out and didn’t have much to offer Djokovic. And while it would have been an upset if he’d won, it’s still easy to see his path to victory: dominant, punishing service games.
It’s also worth noting that the big servers generally rely on their frame to do most of the work, so even when guys like Isner, Anderson and Milos Raonic are on the decline, their serve is typically the last thing to go. Wimbledon is their best shot of winning a Grand Slam title, especially as the big three, none of whom rely on serve as their top quality, decline.
Anderson, Isner, Raonic, Ivo Karlovic, Nick Kyrgios, Sam Querrey, Marin Cilic ... these are just some of the big servers. They’ve all made it through their opening round opponents and one of them — Kyrgios — will face a member of the big three (Nadal) in round two. Can Kyrgios, or one of the others pull of an upset? I don’t know, but I feel like Wimbledon is ripe for it.
It’s been a wild Wimbledon thus far, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.