Having looked back at both the highlights and lowlights of the last decade, Martin Keady, our resident tennis historian, now looks ahead to the next decade – the 2020s – and identifies 10 things that we can hopefully look forward to in the future.
- Andy Murray Making A Full Comeback To The ATP Tour
It is incredible to think that almost exactly a year ago Andy Murray had virtually retired – or, perhaps more accurately, had been retired (that is, in the opinion of others, including many of his fellow players) – from tennis. Now, a year on, he is hopeful of not only competing at the 2020 Australian Open but of appearing in the first ever ATP Cup, which will also be held in Australia just before the start of the Aussie Open.
Murray’s remarkable comeback is a testament to his sheer fighting spirit, the same fighting spirit that allowed him to compete with the three best players in the history of tennis (not my opinion but that of John McEnroe) and actually win Majors himself (three in total) in the same era. Although it still remains doubtful that he will ever get back to his absolute best – the only way that he will do that is by winning a fourth Major, which still looks like the longest of shots – the very fact that he will be playing at all, let alone at something approaching his best, is one of the major reasons to look forward to the new decade in men’s tennis.
- The Formation Of A Genuine Tennis World Cup
Since the end of the season, and specifically since the end of the first edition of the revamped Davis Cup in Madrid, this is the third time (at least) that I have written about the need for tennis to follow the example of almost every other major professional sport and have a genuine Tennis World Cup, one that is played only once every four years and that, as a result of its rarity value, every top player will want to play in.
Nevertheless, the more I write about it the more I realise what an absolute no-brainer it is. Whatever the difficulties of creating such a genuinely global team tennis tournament, and they are considerable, they are as nothing compared with the gains that the sport as a whole would enjoy.
One only has to look at two other sports that resisted having a World Cup for a long time – rugby union and cricket, whose first World Cups only took place in 1987 and 1975 respectively – to see how those sports have been immeasurably improved by the addition of such a global showpiece event. And given that tennis has a far greater profile around the world than either of those sports (tennis is second only to football in being a truly global sport), a Tennis World Cup, if it is ever established, could quickly establish itself as the second greatest World Cup in all of sport, behind only football in terms of the billions of eyeballs that it would have glued to it.
- The Potential Rise of African Tennis
The one exception to the rule that tennis is a truly global sport is, sadly, Africa. Given the success, if not complete domination, that African-born athletes have achieved in other sports, from football to athletics, it is frankly remarkable that as yet there is yet to be an African-born Major winner of either gender in tennis, other than the few white South African players, such as Kevin Curran and Wayne Ferreira, who have excelled, particularly in doubles.
The reason for that, of course, is money. While other sports, such as football and athletics, require relatively little investment and/or infrastructure for people to participate in them, especially at the initial stage, tennis, exactly like golf, requires not only considerable space (for the courts or golf courses to be built in the first place) but also considerable money, to allow for the high-level coaching and subsequent competition from an early age that is now an absolute prerequisite for any successful career. Sadly, however, both space and money remain in relatively short supply in the most under-developed continent on Earth.
However, Africa is at last experiencing some of the developmental breakthroughs that other continents (notably Asia) have seen in the past, as measured by almost every available metric of individual and societal development. Consequently, the hope is that over the next decade there will finally begin to be the African-born tennis stars, and not just the African-American or “Afropean” (African-European) stars who are already a major part of tennis, who can finally imprint tennis on the African sporting map.
- The Laver Cup Becoming An Inter-Continental Cup
One way in which the development of African tennis could be accelerated, or even fast-forwarded, is by making the Laver Cup, which is currently just a team competition between Europe and The Rest of the World (if not, as some would say, just a glorified exhibition event), a truly inter-continental cup, with an African team competing against teams from Europe, the Americas and Asia.
The obvious model for such a competition comes not from tennis but from golf, where the Ryder Cup – the biennial contest between American and European golfers – has undoubtedly established itself as the premier team golf event, putting other such competitions (such as the President’s Cup) completely in the shade.
However, tennis could steal a march on golf, which has so far resisted all attempts to expand the Ryder Cup into a genuinely global event by admitting team of golfers from other continents, by creating a truly intercontinental competition, with teams from all the continents. Of course there would be squabbles about exactly which continents should be represented – for example, should there be separate North and South American teams, or separate Asian and Australasian teams? – but, as with the prospect of a genuine Tennis World Cup, a truly intercontinental Laver Cup would do wonders to increase the profile not only of team tennis but of tennis as a whole. That is especially true of those parts of the world, such as Asia and particularly Africa, that do not have the long playing history of other continents, such as Europe and North America.
- The Centenary Of Tennis’s Original Roaring Twenties
Everything else on this list may be a wish but surely tennis will have the good sense to celebrate the centenary of its own original “Roaring Twenties” – the 1920s – which was arguably the first period in the history of the game when tennis began to go global.
In large part, of course, that was down to the fabulous champions of that era, in particular the man and woman who did so much to establish tennis not only in the sporting consciousness of nations but in their wider cultural and societal consciousness. It should go without saying that the woman was Suzanne Lenglen, the great French player who dominated women’s tennis in the first decade after the end of World War One and effectively catapulted it from the country clubs that had been its almost exclusive preserve hitherto and onto not just the back pages of newspapers but their front pages.
The identity of the man who joined her in helping to make tennis arguably the greatest and most celebrated individual sport in the world may not be so readily known, even to those who would otherwise describe themselves as tennis devotees. That is because he was Bill Tilden, or “Big Bill”, as he was known, the great American player who dominated the Men’s Singles events at both Wimbledon and the US Championships throughout the 1920s. And the reason that Tilden is not nearly so well remembered as Lenglen (there is certainly no “Bill Tilden Court” at Flushing Meadow, the home of the US Open) is that in 1946, long after he had finished playing, he was arrested and charged with a misdemeanour for soliciting an under-age boy (who was only 14) and having sex with him.
His reputation was destroyed and he was effectively shunned by the sport that he had done so much to promote two decades earlier. Consequently, it is to be hoped that a hundred years on from his amazing achievements on the tennis court, Tilden’s reputation as one of the greatest ever tennis players can undergo some kind of rehabilitation.