Will the ATP Balance of Power Ever Shift?


By Scoop Malinowski

Double Australian Open champion Johan Kriek is puzzled. He can’t understand why the Big Three of men’s tennis are still dominating the sport.

“The changing of the guard has happened on the WTA. Naomi Osaka is the new superstar and a couple of “supporting actors” are pushing past the former champions now. That is great for WTA tennis.  So why is that not happening on the ATP Tour? For the past decade or more we had Roger, Djokovic, Nadal winning just about every major with Murray, Del Potro and Wawrinka “elbowing” forward here and there and a few majors went their way,” noted Kriek.

The balance of power in men’s and women’s tennis is anything but “equality,” the new buzzword in sports.

Kriek continued. “How come there are no wunderkinders anymore on the ATP Tour? Some of them are extremely talented players with amazing technical skills but a total lack of brainpower…..no need to name names, we know who they are. Hard working workhorses like Kevin Anderson and Kei Nishikori come close and will be a threat at every major but we don’t see 21 year olds on the men’s side starting to dominate the ATP rankings….. I don’t see any one really.”

What’s happening in men’s tennis now is a phenomenon that has never happened before in tennis.

“Are these old geniuses, let’s call them the European musketeers, that good both physically and mentally that even though they have battled from losing rankings, battled injuries, changing situations etc.? But yet here we are with Nadal vs Djokovic back in the finals at the Oz Open yet again Amazing.”

Kriek does not particularly enjoy what is happening, this stagnation of evolution. “I think it is great for them but bad for tennis,” said Kriek. “I am not the only one that thinks this. Sponsors may look at it as ‘we are entering an era of diminishing returns’ ( no pun intended).”

“With the increases in prize money the past decade or so it remains to be seen if sponsors will be pumping dollars as they have been with the three giants of the game…..almost quitting…. in the twilights of their careers. Who will carry the mantle beyond these three giants? Is it possible? It’s an interesting subject.”

Stefanos Tsitsipas is a contender. So is Frances Tiafoe and Taylor Fritz. Daniil Medvedev and Karen Khachanov of Russia could break out soon.

Or will the changing of the guard only happen if Federer, Nadal and Djokovic are arrested for holding a monopoly over the industry?

Just kidding.

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  • Chazz · January 26, 2019 at 8:23 pm

    Totally agree with him. This is not good for tennis now or in the future. In the future when the legends are gone, all of the title holders will have the asterisk that they are good, yes, but could never beat the legends even when in their 30s.

  • Chazz · January 26, 2019 at 8:26 pm

    And by never beat them I mean on the biggest stage of all – winning a Slam title.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 26, 2019 at 9:52 pm

    Chazz, some perceptive young male player just watched Danielle Collins CMON her way to the semis, showing no respect for the WTA elites. Some unspecified male will be smart enough to apply the Danielle Collins mindset and buzzsaw his way to the top, showing disdain and subtle disrespect and zero mercy to the Big Three. That is the only way to shake up the ATP hierarchy. Nice guying it will not work. Tennis needs a killer, like a young Hewitt. If this male backs down from his convictions and chickens out, then Fed Rafa Djokovic will rule till 2050 🙂

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 26, 2019 at 9:53 pm

    Thanks for the clarify Chazz but the readers here are a very astute bunch, they would have figured it out 🙂

  • Wayne Bradford · January 27, 2019 at 12:20 am

    No doubt the tennis world will suffer when Roger, first of, retires. He is larger than every sport in the world and creates mob scenes everywhere.

    Then Nadal and Djokovic also are legends. Two of these guys will probably be in the Aussie final next year two given what we have seen from Thiem, Zverev and the rest of the pretenders.

    When all of these guys are gone, someone else will win Slams but tennis fans know they will be devalued having lived through this era of greatness.

  • Wayne Bradford · January 27, 2019 at 12:21 am

    Intresting comment by Jack Sock to the NYT on his status as the world’s greatest doubles player:

    “I can personally say if I’m not relevant in the singles world and my only choice is to play doubles, I’d probably stop playing tennis,” Sock said.

  • catherine · January 27, 2019 at 5:57 am

    Well – that was over pretty quick – Djoko in SS. Let the hosannahs begin 🙂

  • Michael in UK · January 27, 2019 at 6:13 am

    Fascinating final. Novak imperious and made Rafa look very ordinary, and Rafa had looked and played so well during the tournament.

    Personally I am optimistic about the current and future state of tennis on the women’s and men’s side. Maybe no one will every attain the heights of Novak, Rafa and Roger, but the younger generation are great too watch, and in due course new fascinating rivalries will emerge I hope.

    What do readers here’s think we’re the best matches of the tournament? My vote is the women’s final.

  • Dan Markowitz · January 27, 2019 at 7:39 am

    Having dynasties in spirts whether it’s the Golden State Warriors, The New York Yankees or Federer, Nadal and Djokovic are always great for a particular sport. I guarantee you more people would’ve watched Serena play Sharapova in finals than Osaka and Kvitova.

    Kriek’s being a little simple minded here. Of course the reason why new players have broken through on the women’s side is because you only had one dominant player in the past two decades and she’s 37 now. Only Osaka has broken through and it’s debatable whether she’s better than Tstsipsas or Zverev at the same ages or she’s just facing lesser high-level players now on the WTA. Look at Sabalenka she looked pretty pedestrian in the first slam of the year and she’s been touted as a possible slam winner.

    Djokovic and Nadal and maybe still Federer have extended their prime ages and they’re looking like they’re going to hold onto the top for maybe a couple of more years. That’s great for men’s tennis.

  • Doug Day · January 27, 2019 at 7:59 am

    Men’s tennis for Dummies
    (A stroke hierarchy)
    Fed inside-out forehand.
    Nadal lefty forehand.
    Djokovic two-hander.

  • catherine · January 27, 2019 at 8:21 am

    Serena and Sharapova in 2019 would havw the attraction of a freak show. When did Maria last win a match worth talking about ?

    Players around 30+ on the women’s side are starting to fade. My guess is there’ll be a bit of a hiatus and then the younger generation will start to dominate. That’s how things usually happen.

  • Dan Markowitz · January 27, 2019 at 8:47 am

    Look I’m here in sunny and hot Costa Rica where as I sit eating my breakfast it’s already 85 degrees and I’m about to take an outdoors yoga class. Talk about swearing. Btw, I was playing in a small club here the other day and the pro said a Tica, Garcin, I think he said his name was, actually got to no 62 a few years back.

    So I’m not so up on tennis world from here(more on birds and monkeys), but didn’t Sharpie beat Wozie in AO. 2 who was defending champ. I’d say that’s a pretty good win. I just don’t see an Osaka v Kvitoca match—as good as it was—being a big draw.

  • catherine · January 27, 2019 at 9:16 am

    Which matches are big draws is pretty much a a lottery. You can’t predict who’s going to play who. And I imagine Naomi is going to be a biggish draw from now on. And Serena will become less of a draw as time goes by because that’s the way of the world.

    Wozniacki was never really a contender for the title this year.

    The stands were pretty full for the women’s final.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 27, 2019 at 9:25 am

    Tennis will go to a greater height after Federer Djokovic Nadal, just like it went to a new height after Pete and Andre. We just don’t know yet which players will be doing the heavy work. My guess is Tsitsipas, maybe Tiafoe, Fritz, Opelka, Khachanov, Medvedev, Felix, Shap, Coric. Djokovic will take over and break the 20 majors of Roger. Then someone will step up and knock off Djokovic and this player will be the new king. It’s the natural progression of tennis. Someone, some David will step up and slay the Djokovic dragon goliath.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 27, 2019 at 9:26 am

    Sock just insulted the doubles fraternity who will surely conspire and unite to try to make him regret this disrespectful words.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 27, 2019 at 9:31 am

    Michael, the best matches…Hsieh vs Osaka. People forget already thta Hsieh was just a handful of points from eliminating Osaka. Tsitsipas vs Federer was historic too. Collins vs Kerber for the sheer efficiency of the destruction of a top player.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 27, 2019 at 9:34 am

    Will be curious to see the Osaka Kvitova final ratings, Osaka could be a bigger star and TV attraction than we realize. She got so much positive publicity from the US Open catastrophe and how she handled it. I would not be surprised if her final ratings are through the roof.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 27, 2019 at 9:39 am

    Djokovic laid down the new law and if this final performance destruction of Nadal is not an omen for the future of Djokovic breaking Federer’s records, and becoming the undisputed greatest player of all time, then I don’t know what it will take for the world to realize. Djokovic has called Nadal his “greatest rival” in the past but he may have to amend that. My biggest question about this final is: Who was Roger Federer rooting for to win? We know he was watching it point by point and he had to have a favoritism for one over the other. Not that he would ever admit it or even admit to watching this final. But who do you think he wanted to win? Or lose?

  • Hartt · January 27, 2019 at 10:24 am

    Scoop, I had a hard enough time figuring out who I wanted to win this final, much less having any idea of which player Fed favoured. In the end I went with Rafa, partly because I enjoy watching him more. I can appreciate Novak’s tremendous skill, especially when he plays at this level, but have never warmed to him. And I suppose there was a bit of not wanting Rafa to get closer to Fed’s Slam total.

    But we need to be careful about deciding that Novak will win everything in sight. We’ve been down that road before. There is no guarantee that Novak will continue at this level for years to come. Age and possible injuries will play a role.

    And Dan, although it is true that casual fans would be drawn to a Serena vs Maria match because of their reputations, they probably would have experienced a disappointing, one-sided match. Maria hasn’t been a real factor since her drug suspension, and the occasional good win doesn’t change that, she needs a few wins in a row. Her popularity is based on what she did in the past, and I think she will either retire or start to fade from view.

    I am excited to see the young up-and-coming players on both the men’s and the women’s sides. The youngsters can’t beat the all-time greats in slams, but they are still providing us with entertaining tennis in other matches. And Naomi is a superstar at age 21. With her terrific tennis and her appealing personality, not to mention her mixed heritage, she will bring many new fans to tennis.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 27, 2019 at 11:25 am

    What stands out about this final is Djokovic’s efficiency of movement, it’s better than Nadal who looks almost clumbsy and slow in comparison. Nadal has to grunt and work so hard, play at 100% while it appears Djokovic is only pushing himself at 75% and only grunting at key moments. Everything is smoother with Djokovic. Nadal is like the bull being outclassed by the master matador.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 27, 2019 at 11:33 am

    On another note, how about Yibing Wu splitting with Sven Groenveld? Sven Groeneveld

    2h2 hours ago
    My Coaching Update: I am no longer working with Wu Yibing. In my opinion. He has a right to have a Coach whose views are better aligned with his mother. I want to thank Wu Yibing for a great past 8 months winning the Silver Medal at the #asiangames and his first win on @ATP_Tour

  • Dan Markowitz · January 27, 2019 at 11:58 am

    Is Osaka really that appealing a personality? The little I’ve seen of her Is say not really. U like the way she plays, straight forward and daring, but the things she says and the way she says them makes me think she’s either: a. Shy; b. Strange or c. Maybe somewhat on the spectrum. Although sometimes I think she’s joking even when she says something without a grin.

  • Hartt · January 27, 2019 at 12:28 pm

    Yes, I think Naomi has an appealing personality. She is shy, but she is refreshingly honest, and she has a good sense of humour, is very quick on the uptake. She can even criticize a reporter’s question at a presser with charm and a smile, but she gets her point across.

    After the USO she did a lot of TV interviews that helped introduce her to many new fans. The AO title won’t have the same impact in the States, but when she wins another USO, the media attention will be huge.

  • Chazz · January 27, 2019 at 12:35 pm

    Dan you are hilarious with the spectrum thing. Didn’t you say that about Donaldson last year?

    I can’t ever remember a worse trio of semifinal and final matches. Surprised no one has said. Ok I’m becoming too much of an ATP critic. I’ll stop there lol.

    Djoker is on a roll obviously but still will have to win 5 slams at age 32+ to tie Federer. Not a slam dunk. I’d say 50/50.

  • catherine · January 27, 2019 at 1:13 pm

    Dan….I’m not sure you can make judgements about someone’s personality based on their press conferences and tv chats. ‘Strange’, ‘on the spectrum’ – are you implying she’s autistic ? I can’t see any obvious signs of that myself and if I did I don’t think I’d mention it.

    Maybe we’re so used to automatons in the press room that someone new who expresses herself a little differently is hard to take in. And yes, as Hartt says, Naomi is shy.

    She’s also the product of two cultures – how do we know how much that’s influenced the way she thinks and speaks ?

  • Hartt · January 27, 2019 at 3:31 pm

    Bianca Andreescu just won her first WTA main tour event, the 125K tourney in Newport Beach, defeating American Jessica Pegula 0-6, 6-4, 6-2 in 1 hour, 37 minutes. This moves Bianca to No. 68 in the live rankings, and she passes Bouchard to become the No. 1 woman player in Canada.

    This month she played the qualies in Auckland, getting to the final and beating Babos, Wozniacki, Venus and Hsieh on the way, before losing to Goerges. Then she got through qualies at the AO before losing in 2R.

    Like many aggressive players, sometimes it takes a while in a match for Bianca to find her range, but once she does she can be tough to beat.

  • Doug Day · January 27, 2019 at 3:59 pm

    Hart is right Scoop. Djokovic’s health is front and center with his Gumby moves. His is a race against time.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 27, 2019 at 4:12 pm

    Dan, she’s matured and changed a lot in the last year. A year ago she sounded like a 12 year old, very simple, shy answers. But since around Indian Wells Miami she’s changed, she sounds much smarter, she’s wittier, I think she’s come out of her shell and just gotten comfortable to all the attention which is not easy for a shy young woman to deal with. Cliff Drysdale said this week he loves listening to her talk, which is quite a compliment. I never heard him say that about any other player. She’s very charming and witty and fun to be around. Wish I did a Biofile with her.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 27, 2019 at 4:15 pm

    Doug, Djokovic is an iron man, with smart scheduling he can last for many more years. He’s not as overbulked as Murray and he has better efficiency of movement. Djokovic is as close to the perfect tennis machine as one can get.

  • Wayne Bradford · January 27, 2019 at 4:50 pm

    Before the 2017 Australian Open, the Slam total was Roger 17, Nadal 14 and Djokovic 12. Now it is 20, 17, 15 with each man winning three apiece.

    No one else has broken through yet in that span. I don’t think we will see anyone else win these Slams. If I had to guess, I will pick Rafa for the French, Roger for Wimbledon and Novak for the U.S. Open. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

  • Wayne Bradford · January 27, 2019 at 4:54 pm

    Dan I think Naomi has a refreshing personality as a result of her Japanese-Haitian heritage. Her kohai-sempai relationship with elders is very endearing. The media loves her although I think in time they will tear her apart when she starts to dominate and makes women’s tennis “boring.”

    She is still getting used to the attention and fame so she is not as good as a Serena in terms of handling it.

    Let’s hope Americans like Collins, Anisimova and Stephens can really challenge her. I believe the Haleps and Svitolinas will have trouble keeping up.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 27, 2019 at 5:07 pm

    Djokovic to win Wimbledon, Rollie Garros and probably US Open this year. two or three more next year too.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 27, 2019 at 5:10 pm

    Wayne I don’t see any area the media can target to try to take her down. She is one of those loveable characters like Agassi, Muhammad Ali, Manny Pacquiao who will always be favored and protected by the media. She has earned that right due to her charm and what she showed in overcoming Serena at US Open last year. She is the darling of the sports world and media. It will never change. And I don’t see her ever turning into a monster or crazy psycho. She is a good natured person and has a good team with her. She is the star the WTA has been patiently waiting for.

  • Dan Markowitz · January 27, 2019 at 5:25 pm

    People get so afraid of the words, on the spectrum. I’ve met some very smart and capable people who are on the spectrum. Watch the great doc this year, Free Solo, about the climber who scaled El Capitan in Yosemite without ropes or clips, that guy’s probably on the spectrum.

    I’ve had some trouble trusting Japanese people in my experience. Mayb it’s been my bad luck to engage some ones who were untrustworthy and I don’t like to condemn a whole nationality, but the Japanese I’ve gotten to know can be very cagey. My son is dual nationality and maybe that does make you a little strange or just shy as he’s half-Asian and it’s also been my observations that Asians are shier and less openly gregarious than other ethnic groups.

  • Hartt · January 27, 2019 at 6:08 pm

    There is nothing wrong with being shy, although it is probably more difficult for a shy person to handle being in the public eye than an extrovert like Federer. But Naomi comes across as a truly nice person, and she has said that she doesn’t want to try to change her personality. Although at the same time she can be quite self critical. Her self-deprecating sense of humour is very charming.

  • Wayne Bradford · January 28, 2019 at 12:19 am

    An interesting book I read some time ago about Japanese culture is “You Gotta Have Wa” by Robert Whiting. He is an American who lived in Japan and followwed Japanese baseball and learned about Japanese culture and how they discriminate against gaijin, etc.

    So yes, Dan, the Japanese may seem unfriendly and guarded but it’s just the way they are culturally. They have never trusted foreigners to a large degree. Your observations ring true. Think about it, how many of us have really good Japanese friends? And I wish I did since I love sushi!

  • Wayne Bradford · January 28, 2019 at 2:32 am

    Interesting, Fed drops to No. 6 in the world. Zverer matches his career high at No. 3, Del Potro moves to No. 4 and Anderson matches his career high at No. 5.

    Your top Americans are Isner at No. 9, Tiafoe at No. 30, Steve Johnson (?) at No. 34 and Fritz at No. 40. Career highs for Tiafoe and Fritz. 11 Americans in the top 100.

    Nick Kyrgios falls to No. 67 and Sandgren drops 34 spots to No. 75.

  • catherine · January 28, 2019 at 2:38 am

    I’m surprised to see a bit of racial stereotyping here. The Japanese have a history of being closed off from other nations, as we know, and their cultural norms and signals are rather different from ours in the ‘west’. I’ve also heard the English described as ‘untrustworthy'(not to mention ‘treacherous’) but I imagine you could fit that slighly insulting description to most, if not all, imperial powers in the past. Myself, I’ve known some very nice Japanese and maybe their reserve doesn’t seem strange to British people who are are still quite reserved and defensive.

    Let’s just appreciate Naomi for the potentially great player and refreshing personality she is.

    Something I did wonder – why was Li Na in Melbourne and at the trophy ceremony – why not an Australian if there were no suitable Japanese figure available ? The Chinese and Japanese have a difficult history, and not too long ago either. I’ve just finished reading a book about the Sino-Japanese conflict so I suppose that was in my mind. Was it a political gesture on the part of the WTA because of their huge investment in China ?

  • catherine · January 28, 2019 at 3:10 am

    WTA ranking changes at the top: Osaka takes No 1, Kvitova 2, Simona 3 and on the way down, Bertens 9 and on the way up, Sabalenka enters at 10 and Serena seems poised to get back to the top 10.
    Kerber falls to 6 and will continue to fall unless she gets decent spring results. I posted lower down about Angie and her love for photoshoots – not worth repeating except to say that overall she seems very confused.

    My prediction – Angie will play the Olympics in 2022 and then retire, in common with several other players, male and female.

    Kvitova in St Petersburg. Perhaps she could have skipped that one. Sharapova, Sabalenka also there.

  • catherine · January 28, 2019 at 3:13 am

    Olympics 2020 ?

  • Doug Day · January 28, 2019 at 7:00 am

    Went back and studied Nole’s split-slides on youtube. Their titles like insane freak flexibility contradict his adherence to form there. In every slide he keeps the exact same angles with hips and knees. Ankles are another story but maybe that’s somehow manageable. Iron man’s gumby wheels shielded with long haul tolerance calculation?

  • Dan Markowitz · January 28, 2019 at 8:24 am

    Yes, I don’t mean to racially stereotype here. I was referring to my contact with the Japanese people, the few I’ve met mostly in Westchester County circles. But also my wife is Chinese and she does not take kindly to the Japanese atrocities against the Chinese that’s why it is strange I suppose to see Chang coaching Nishikori. But Osaka being half black/American/Haitian is a lot different and expressive than Kei who’s made Borg look like an extrovert.

  • Hartt · January 28, 2019 at 8:47 am

    Naomi seems to have a good perspective on the fame that comes with being a top player. She may not be keen on it, but understands that it is part of the deal.

    “It’s always been pretty simple,” Osaka said. “My goal was of course to be the best tennis player that I can be. I don’t think everyone else can follow my path, everyone has their own paths. That’s what makes life interesting. The fame stuff is something that’s not my favorite part. I think that comes with all of this and I feel like if you do well of course that will always come.

    “But for me I’ve always been a tennis player, and that is always going to be the thing that is the biggest in my heart.” (WTA site)

  • Hartt · January 28, 2019 at 9:54 am

    As I moved my “Bianca” plant in front of a window this morning, I realised that I can get a second plant, in honour of her title at Newport Beach. She showed her fighting spirit in that final, coming back from a disastrous first set that she lost 0-6. But she has the right attitude, and that will take her far.

    “You never know what you’re gonna get with any particular day. One day your forearm won’t work, one day your serve won’t work. Today a lot didn’t work for me but I just tried and pushed myself right until the end. If you have to win scrappy, then you have to win scrappy. That’s what happened today and I’m really proud of myself.” (Newport Beach site)

    Bianca went from No. 152 at the start of this season to No. 68. A pretty good month’s work! 🙂

  • Dan Markowitz · January 28, 2019 at 9:54 am

    I’m trying to get press credentials for New York Open in a couple of weeks. Last year they rejected me. Nice event with deMinaur there this year playing doubles w none other than Lleyton Hewitt. My son is playing Eastern tournament the same weekend NYOpen starts in the Hamptons so plan on being out there.

    Also trying to get press credentials for Indian Wells as my son will be playing junior Easter Bowl in the 12’s that starts right after Indie Wells.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 28, 2019 at 10:52 am

    Hartt, a unique thing about Osaka is she didn’t play any ITF junior tournaments and she didn’t win any low level pro. her first win was Indian Wells. That really is incredible for a player to win her first significant title in such a big event. She really is something different.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 28, 2019 at 10:59 am

    Catherine if you can do that and accept Kerber for what she is, we can do that for Osaka too 🙂

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 28, 2019 at 11:01 am

    Japan is one of the few successful nations that has resisted diversity too. Japan is not being intentionally flooded by migrants and refugees and illegal immigrants. Japan is maintaining their nationalism.

  • catherine · January 28, 2019 at 1:03 pm

    Scoop – I’m not sure what it is you’re referring to. I haven’t made any comments linking Osaka and Kerber. They are two completely separate and different people. I accept both of them. Why wouldn’t I ?

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 28, 2019 at 1:16 pm

    Just joking. Yes we are all getting excited about Osaka and overanalyzing her, just like some tend to do with Kerber on occasion.

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