The sun starts to set on a glorious golden generation

What was once the Big Four, or the Big Five if you prefer, could soon be assigned to the dustbin of tennis history. They gave precious memories, no doubt, and represented a wonderful chapter in tennis annals, but nothing lasts forever.

The extraordinary achievement of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in winning four slams between them last year notwithstanding, there are enough signs the stranglehold the big guns have had on men’s tennis is finally dissipating.

Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Federer and Nadal have been near-permanent fixtures at the top of the rankings and at the pointy end of majors. Their dominance was something to behold and resulted in some wonderful personal rivalries. Throw in Stan Wawrinka, equal with Murray on three grand slams, and that makes for some remarkable supremacy.

Super veterans Federer and Nadal may hold down the top two positions on the world rankings but the big question now, however, is whether 2018 will represent a watershed year for the sport.

Surely the sun is finally beginning to set on the most glorious golden generation of them all.

The time is nigh for a fresh face – especially a youthful one – to rule supreme in Melbourne, Paris, London or New York. Remarkably, Marin Cilic’s US Open breakthrough in 2014 aside, the “Super Five” have won all the slams in the past eight years.

More starkly, not one man born after 1988 has claimed a major title. And since Lleyton Hewitt fought his way to Wimbledon success all those years ago – in 2002 – the Big Four and Federer most especially have ruled supreme on grass. That’s right, the past 14 Wimbledon crowns have been won by just four players. Nadal has won the French Open title 10 times in 13 years, for goodness sake.

In terms of transformation, this year’s n Open could be a portent of things to come.

Already, Murray, a five-time runner-up Down Under, has gone under the knife with a local surgeon instead of being frazzled about how to finally break his Melbourne duck. His crippling hip injury poses more questions about whether the end for him is in sight. Djokovic and Warwinka are resuming their careers are six-month lay-offs.

The shifts happening at the top of the tennis totem pole could yet create something of a vacuum.

Intriguingly, the biggest beneficiary could yet be Federer. He’s fit and, ominously, his game is looking ruthless. There could be more chapters added to what was an Indian summer for the Swiss maestro. Two more grand slam titles, last year’s n Open title secured with victory over Nadal in a final for the ages have already made for a wonderful last hurrah for the 19-time major winner.

Yet it could also be that the time is now for some perennial bridesmaids in men’s game. Quick, snatch a slam while no one’s looking! Tomas Berdych, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Milos Raonic, just for starters, have all reached a major final without taking home the silverware. Furthermore, for players of the calibre of Grigor Dimitrov and, dare we say it – Nick Kyrgios – it’s time to pounce.

Bridesmaids of the sport only need to look to history for motivation. In the short juncture between the rich Agassi-Sampras era and the start of the Federer age, slams were up for grabs – although Agassi stopped a few in their tracks in Melbourne. Hewitt, a player who extracted everything out of his body, featured as world No.1 for months on end during that period and won the US Open and Wimbledon. Names such as Albert Costa, Thomas Johansson and Gaston Gaudio jump out from the history books as major winners.

Seasoned players who have followed in the coat-tails and largely been beaten up by Federer, Nadal, et al, are surely that the young guns might take their chances ahead of schedule. Some will be ready and hungry enough to make their mark without serving an apprenticeship. Dimitrov, at 26 years of age, is somewhere in the middle and sits in the world top four alongside Nadal, Federer and a certain German wunderkind called Alexander Zverev. But Bulgarian Dimitrov is yet to breakthrough to a grand slam final, last year’s semi-final in perhaps a pointer to bigger things.

Already we’ve seen the start of the transformation, with Murray and Djokovic spending significant portions of 2017 on the sidelines. Zverev, the baby of the top 10 at just 20 years of age, has quietly slipped into the world No.4 spot. Kevin Anderson – Kevin who, you say? – featured in the US Open final.

The tumult in men’s tennis raises the question about the young guns to watch – in 2018 and beyond. There’s a host of players perhaps ready to make leaps and bounds in 2018, maybe even in the next two weeks at Melbourne Park. And there’s that name of Kyrgios again.

The ATP Tour itself is doing its best to promote the future of the sport, coming up with the NextGen concept – players aged under 22 and ranked in the top 200 – as those most likely to make their mark. Tennis aficionados across the world are hoping the coming generation will create wonderful rivalries of their own. iFrameResize({resizedCallback : function(messageData){}},’#pez_iframe’);