To be clear, the 2014 men’s final of the U.S. Open did not represent an end of an era. Before Marin Cilic of Croatia dismissed Kei Nishikori of Japan in straight sets there were no funeral pyres lit, no songs of remembrance sung. The sadness that swirled through Ashe Stadium like the gulf stream had little to do with the quality of play or the crowning of an unfit champion as the 6’6” Cilic, with his rangy athleticism and powerful service game, gave the crowd plenty to cheer about.
No the real reason for remorse, the factor that few fans and ticket agencies anticipated, was that for the first time since the 2005 Australian Open a major men’s singles final took place without at least one member of the Big Four. But just because there was no Federer, Nadal, Djokovic or Murray does not mean that tennis is on the verge of a cosmic power shift. Over time, Monday night will prove to be more of an anomaly than a trend as the demise of men’s tennis current standard bearers is being grossly overstated.
The cause for concern comes from the fact that for nearly a decade the Big Four has brought both consistency and comfort to tennis fans. We could all count on tuning into a Grand Slam final and watching at least one of the sports all time greats compete. That familiarity is important to the brand of tennis and it’s not going away, at least not any time soon. Djokovic and Murray are still very much in the prime of their careers and even at the ripe old age of 33 Federer still covers the court with the grace of a man half his age. Nadal has battled back from injuries before and we can all but pencil him in for the finals at Roland Garros next June.
But when the torch is finally past to the next generation of men’s tennis stars fans must take comfort in the reality that new names and rivalries will rise and take shape just as they did before the Big Four when when it was McEnroe and Connors to Becker and Edberg to Sampras and Agassi and so on and so forth. Cilic and Nishikori might not be household quantities yet, at least not in this country, but eventually their names might be capable of lighting up the marquee as tennis’ next big stars.
Just not yet…