In lieu of the Dimitrov thread I thought it would be worthwhile to start a different thread on the broader subject of the "future of tennis."
Let me post a possible scenario. If you don't like speculation, might as well stop reading now.
First of all, let's consider two factors:
1) As I showed in a study back at Tennis Digital, the vast majority of elite players take a half-step down around the age of 26-27, and a major step down (or retirement) at the age of 31-32. Rafael Nadal turns 27 this year, Djokovic and Murray 26, and elder statesman Roger Federer turns 32.
2) There are no clear "generational talents" on the verge of breakthrough. The vast majority of all-time greats reached a very high level of play by age 21-22, and no current age 21-22 player is in the top 10.
The two combined lead me to believe that the decline of the Big Four will be slowed by the lack of top young talent, or at least softened. On the other hand, there is the theory that players are taking longer to mature and peak these days, so it could be that the time of full maturation has simply been pushed back a year or two so that we'll see the players currently age 20-22 reaching their peak form at age 22-24. If that's the case, we can soften our expectations a bit but we would still need to see major breakthroughs from players like Raonic and Janowicz (both of whom are 22 and turn 23 later this year) and Dimitrov (21, turning 22 next month) pretty much this season.
Regardless, I would posit the following scenario for the next few years, the "Future of Tennis," which I feel to be the most likely one.
will be the last year of "utter dominance" by the Big Four. We may even start seeing cracks with a few upsets here and there, at least in the case of Roger Federer (Andy Murray is already prone to the occasional upset, as we just saw at Monte Carlo). But by and large, 2013 will still be dominated by the Big Four - especially Djokovic and Nadal.
won't look that different than 2013, but the cracks will be more evident - more upsets, even an increased chance of a Slam going to someone else. We'll start seeing a few young players breaking into the top 10, unseating near-elites and even upsetting the elites.
, when Federer will turn 34-35, Nadal 29-30, and Djokovic and Murray 28-29, we'll see further upsets and even a loss of the top ranking by whoever happens to hold it at that point. These years will be transitional and even a bit chaotic, with the possibility of no clearly dominant player, at least by 2016.
- four to five years from now, and 2017 being possibly the first Federerless year in almost two decades - we'll know who the next great players - that is, multi-Slam winners and regular #1s - are likely to be. I don't think it is anyone we currently know about, or at least anyone on the radar (top 100). It is likely someone who is still on the junior tour, or at least just starting out - age 18 or younger. I've put forth the name Nick Kyrgios as someone to keep an eye on, but I don't know enough about him - only that he just went pro, won a Challenger event, and turns 18 in a week. He may not become a great player but he's an example of the age group I'm talking about. In 2017 he'll be turning 22 years old and should have arrived at or near his peak form, as will other players that are currently age 16-18.
So who is the future of tennis? If we're talking about post-Big Four, I think we're going to see a group of challengers over the next few years who begin to upset them, with the key names to watch out for being Milos Raonic, Grigor Dimitrov and perhaps Bernard Tomic, but also Janowicz, Dolgopolov, Nishikori, Goffin, etc. We can even throw in Ernests Gulbis as a late-bloomer and hope that he'll at least make the top 20 and be fun to watch for a few years. But if we're talking about the next true elite player we just don't him yet...he's probably not even on tour yet and is likely age 17 or younger.
But again, over the next couple years we're going to see continued dominance of the Big Four (or perhaps Big Three if and when Federer truly begins to fade), and then a transitional period of a couple years in which the Big Four are upset by a group of challengers from "Generation Del Potro" (those currently age 20-24), until the next great player(s) emerge sometime around 2017-2018.
And yes, this is idle speculation. But so what?