Last weekend, the U.S. Open concluded with two new faces hoisting the championship trophies. Angelique Kerber won on the women’s side, becoming the new No. 1 in the world in the process. Stan Wawrinka beat Novak Djokovic to capture the men’s title. Both entered their respective draws ranked in the top three in the world, so their victories are not necessarily surprising. Rather, they illuminate the shift that has been taking place in tennis over the last few years — the old regime is on its way out.
Remember in the mid-2000s, when seemingly every final consisted of some combination of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Djokovic? Those days are long gone. Federer hasn’t won a major in over four years, with his last win coming at Wimbledon in 2012. However, it’s no surprise that Federer isn’t as competitive as he used to be. He is 35 years old and has been winning at the top level for over a decade. Eventually your body simply no longer works how it used to, and the same can be said for Nadal. Nadal’s body has taken a beating over the years, bearing the brunt of his injuries to his left wrist. It was that same injury that Nadal was battling in the US Open, when he was bounced in the fourth round by 22-year-old Lucas Pouille. While he came away with a bronze medal in the Olympics, it’s clear that Rafa’s best days are behind him.
It may seem strange for Andy Murray’s name to pop up on this list, especially since he had been in every major final this year and even won at Wimbledon. Murray is just beginning to peak now at 29, which is relatively late for someone to begin hitting their prime. While his best tennis could still be ahead of him, there are a ton of young, talented players behind him who are hungry to prove themselves, including 26-year-old Kei Nishikori, who beat Murray in the US Open quarterfinals. While Djokovic is still at the top of his game, and at 29 still has a few years left in the tank, it’s clear that he is no longer in his prime. He dropped the U.S. Open title to Stan Wawrinka in four sets, proving that he is not the same guy that used to win epic battles against the aforementioned players.
Serena Williams had been the number one player in the world since February 2013, but her semifinal loss to 24-year-old Karolina Pliskova brought her reign to an end. At 34, Serena is no longer widely feared by her opponents. For over a decade, every women’s major felt as though it was Serena versus the field — but that is over. Last year Serena attempted to complete a Grand Slam by winning all four majors in the same year. This year, she only came away with a Wimbledon title, and she had to sit on the couch and watch her number one ranking slip away as Kerber won her second major of the year.
There is a changing landscape in the tennis world. The new players that have been thrust into the spotlight have taken over, and they don’t appear to be ready to give it up any time soon.