LONDON: The men’s “big four” may be history but two of its remaining members, Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal, kept offering stiff resistance to the next generation in a seismic year for tennis.
Swiss maestro Roger Federer had not played since the summer of 2021, so while his retirement in September, aged 41, was not unexpected, it still shocked.
Especially as a few weeks earlier, Serena Williams, like Federer an icon whose impact transcended way beyond the tennis court, made an emotional farewell at the US Open aged 40.
Williams, whose 23 Grand Slam singles titles make her in most people’s eyes the greatest female player ever – even if she ended one behind Margaret Court’s record – lost her third-round match to Australia Ajla Tomljanovic.
It prompted an outflow of tributes for the American whose journey, along with sister Venus, from the public courts of Compton in Los Angeles to more than two decades of dazzling domination, was the stuff of Hollywood fairytales.
“Congratulations, Serena, for your heart, skill, intelligence, dedication, and grace,” former US president Barack Obama. “Few athletes have inspired more people both in and beyond their sport!”
Federer certainly did that in a career that included 20 Grand Slam titles, achieved with a panache the like of which we may never see again.
He took effortless shot-making to new heights during a 24-year professional career that was the foundation for indisputably the greatest era of men’s tennis.
Appropriately he bowed out in London, scene of his record eight Wimbledon titles, playing doubles alongside Nadal, the Spaniard with whom his career has been gloriously entwined.
Both were in tears, and even held hands, after their doubles encounter against Jack Sock and Frances Tiafoe at the Laver Cup, and there were few dry eyes in the house. So, tennis has two voids to fill in 2023, but Carlos Alcaraz and Iga Swiatek appear equipped for the job.