A Changing of the Guard at Wimbledon

June 30, 2010

This first week of Wimbledon was insane enough (see: Isner-Mahut), but the chaos has continued into the second week. While it’s been exciting to watch and follow, it’s a little melancholy, as this week could be the beginning of the end of three of the biggest stars of this era.

On Monday, Andy Roddick was stunned in the 4th round, losing to some guy named Yen-Hsun Lu 9-7 in the final set. Lu is from Taiwan and is currently ranked 82nd in the world. Roddick gained lots of goodwill after coming so close to finally winning Wimbledon, but the reality is that he has a history of losing 5 setters and underacheiving in the big moments. It’s obvious that he has been overhyped during his career, which I blame a desperate American media for more than him. For most players though, he’s had a nice career, and take out Federer and Nadal and he probably would’ve won at least 1 or 2 more majors. As it stands though, he can’t get over the hump. Given that he’ll be 28 by the US Open, it looks less and less likely that he will again.

If Roddick’s loss was a tremor, Tuesday’s women’s quarterfinals was a full blown earthquake. Five time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams lost to unknown Tsvetana Pironkova, who until this tournament had never gone past the second round in a Slam. Now, Venus is still the number 2 player in the world and a 7 time Grand Slam champion, but recent facts show a downward trend. Other than Wimbledon, Venus hasn’t made a Slam semi in three years., and she wasn’t won a non-Wimbledon Slam since 2001. Plus, she’s now 30. Age matters less with the Williams sisters because they’ve limited their play, but age always wins in the end.

Finally, today was the end of Roger Federer’s Wimbledon run, a 4 set loss to Tomas Berdych. It’s a shock given his history at Wimbledon, but the signs were there this tournament, starting with his escpae against the who-dat Alejandro Falla in the first round. People have tried to write off Federer for a few years now, but every time he kept coming back, including this year in winning the Australian Open. Since then, he’s struggled (for him) in the spring tournaments. Most figured it was understandable given all he’s accomplished professionally and personally. What’s his motivation for non-major events? Then came the French Open and Wimbledon. In the span of a month, Federer has seen his streak of consecutive Slam semifinals snapped, lost his #1 ranking to Nadal, and now will drop to #3 in the rankings, all thanks to two losses to guys the “old” Federer would have no trouble with.

Again, age is an issue. Federer will be 29 in August. The record for champions at that age is mixed. Sampras and Connors won their last major at 31, Agassi 33, and Lendl 30. On the other hand, Borg and McEnroe won their last major at 25, Edberg 26, Wilander 24. The good news is that since the 80s there have been older champions, but once again, time and age eventually win. More importantly for Federer, the invisibility is gone, and if anyone on the men’s tour has it, it’s his rival Nadal.

Obviously, no one is saying that Roddick, Williams, and Federer are going to drop off the face of the Earth. They will still contend for Slams, and at least in Federer’s case, should win a few more. However, it shows the crossroads that tennis is about to come to. These three players are three of the five major stars of this decade (the other two are Serena and Nadal). With those three presumably starting to decline, will someone come in to fill the gaps? Tennis can only hope.