The 2012 Australian Open has come to an end. Afterwards, most will remember the incredible, five hour and 53 minute final between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic rightly so; as many have already labeled it as the “best match ever”.
While this men’s final was amazing to watch, the underlying story of this year’s first Slam is that Roger Federer has now gone two full years without claiming a Grand Slam title.
The King of the Open Era has 16 titles, two more than Pete Sampras—the man he succeeded. But after this 2012 Aussie Open, the 30-year-old looks solidly like the third-best player in the world. Although, the gap between him and the field for third place is closing fast.
Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray—the first, second and fourth players in the world, are all 24, 25 and 24—respectively. They show only signs of improvement in mental toughness, athleticism and overall court prowess. Tennis is most certainly a young man’s game, with 30 being considered—either officially too old or a few years away from it.
Novak Djokovic appears to be unbeatable. With a win this summer at the French Open, he will hold all four Grand Slam titles—a distinction only previously held by Rod Laver in 1969.
Rafael Nadal continues to dominate his opponents by grinding out matches and seemingly never tiring—even in the six-hour match against Djokovic. And his record against Federer is impressive, to say the least—holding an 8-2 record in Grand Slam events against the Swiss Maestro.
For some reason, the play of Nadal perplexes Federer. He is unable to dictate the pace of the match with Nadal using his enormous topspin forehands to push his opponents deep behind the baseline and throw them off balance. Not to mention, a level of fitness only he and Djokovic seem to possess.
Andy Murray continues to improve under the tutelage of his newly hired coach and eight-time Grand Slam champion, Ivan Lendl. His progress was evident in his showing against Djokovic; almost beating the eventual champion—forcing him to 7-5 in the fifth set of their semi-final. After an extended time period with Lendl, Murray should be in prime position to ascend to at least number three in the world—and have a better opportunity to win his first Slam title.
And with the resurgence of Juan Martin del Potro, still only 23, Federer faces an influx of even more young talent—whose only goal is to win Grand Slam titles.
Roger Federer may be the greatest player of this generation. He may be the greatest player of all time. In a sport where success is judged by Grand Slam singles titles, he’s obviously at the top of that list.
But with these 4-5 under 25-year-old players only getting faster, stronger and better at their craft—the odds of Federer claiming his 17th title is unlikely. Though with his inherent skill, work ethic and cerebral way of playing the game, he may just have a few more title runs to come.