As quickly as the grass court season arrived, it passed. The tennis roadshow will now move on to the hard courts of North America over the next few weeks and months. Indeed, there is plenty on the line as the sport’s great and good contest the Washington Open, the Rogers Cup, the Cincinnati Masters and then finally the US Open. Here are four storylines to watch over this stretch of the season.
Rafael Nadal must prove he can stop Novak Djokovic’s procession
‘The Big Three’ have dominated men’s tennis for over a decade. However, in the past two years it has been more like ‘The Big One’ and ‘The Other Two.’ Novak Djokovic has won four of the last five Grand Slam titles, taking his majors tally to 16. Roger Federer came close to disrupting this run at Wimbledon, but it’s the other member of ‘The Big Three’ who must prove he can stop Djokovic’s title procession.
Rafael Nadal kept his French Open tally ticking over by winning at Roland Garros in May, but the Spaniard hasn’t won a Grand Slam not on clay since 2017. Before that, it was 2013 that Nadal won on something other than the orange stuff. At 33, Nadal stands the best chance of putting up a fight against Djokovic in the coming years, but he must start finding his feet again on other surfaces, starting with hard courts over the next few weeks and months.
Has Serena Williams developed a Grand Slam mental block?
It feels somewhat harsh to criticise arguably the greatest player of all time, especially after she pulled off a successful comeback to top level tennis after giving birth. But since her return Serena Williams has made three Grand Slam finals and lost all of them. This represents her worst ever run in major finals.
So is it possible that Williams has developed a mental block at the Grand Slams? The North American hardcourt season ends with the US Open where Williams has got her hands on the trophy no fewer than six times before. At Wimbledon, she looked short of matches. This shouldn’t be an issue heading into the final Slam of he year. This might be a better gauge of where Williams is right now.
One year on, how serious are Naomi Osaka’s recent wobbles?
She was the breakthrough star of 2018, winning her first Grand Slam title at Flushing Meadows nearly a year ago. Indeed, tennis found a new face in Naomi Osaka with the 21-year-old backing up her US Open title win by winning the Australian Open at the start of 2019. Since then, though, Osaka has suffered a few wobbles.
She surprisingly parted with her coach after winning in Australia and many have attributed, at least in part, early exits at both Roland Garros and Wimbledon to this decision. Osaka has certainly looked out of sorts recently. So almost one year on from her big breakthrough, Osaka must show on the North American hard courts that her wobbles are nothing more serious than that.
Stefanos Tsitsipas mustn’t become another member of disappointing ‘Next Gen’
This year’s Wimbledon was highly anticipated by those who predicted a potential changing of the guard. There were signs that the next generation of male superstars were coming to the fore with Stefanos Tsitsipas the vanguard of this group. However, the Greek crashed out in the first round, only making the fourth round of Roland Garros before that.
Over the past few years, this has become the calling card of the so-called ‘Next Gen.’ Sasha Zverev, Grigor Dimitrov, Milos Raonic and others have all been hyped as potential disrupters of the established order and in almost every case they have failed to live up to their billing. Tsitsipas has a different air to him, but could use a strong hard court season to quell concerns.