Tennis stands at a crossroads, at the juxtaposition of two opposite currents. On one hand, the top players continue to dominate. The preeminence of the highest ranked players was most clearly seen in Novak Djokovic’s victory at Roland Garros. He now holds all four Grand Slams and has been the world’s best tennis player for most of the past five seasons.
On the other hand, the Big Four as a whole seem to be in decline at the same time as a younger generation rises to take their place. One need not look further than the fact that both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal missed the French Open and earlier stretches of this season. Nadal will miss Wimbledon as well. In addition, this week Dominic Thiem recorded his second win over Federer this season. A semifinalist at Roland Garros, Thiem is the NextGen’s brightest star and a tangible example of a flourishing crop of young players.
Amidst these shifting tides, the tour arrives at the grass season. This weeks-long stretch sandwiched between the clay and hard-court seasons (and, this year, the Olympics), grass season favors a particular type of player. Those big servers and chip-and-chargers, those that hit a flat ball, they live for this brief stretch.
The results from the first week of the grass season reflect both the micro story of grass’s suitability to a particular style and the macro story of changes in the games leaders. As the tour moves to London and Halle, Germany this week, look for both of these storylines to emerge.
Thiem triumphs in Stuttgart
Dominic Thiem avenged an earlier loss to Philipp Kohlschreiber this season in Munich by defeating the German in three sets in the final of the Mercedes Cup in Stuttgart, 6-7(2), 6-4, 6-4. A strong clay court player, Thiem recorded his first win on grass this week and defeated Roger Federer on the way to the title. Thiem, coming off a strong showing at Roland Garros, said he arrived for the beginning of the grass season “without any expectations.” Thiem is the ninth active player to win titles on three surfaces in the same year. A new addition to the top ten, if Thiem can continue to find success on various surfaces, he should be a threat (and likely a Slam winner) in years to come.
Mahut repeats as champion in ‘s-Hertogenbosch
Nicolas Mahut has a particular relationship with grass courts. Known for playing the longest match in history at Wimbledon 2010, Mahut has an affinity for the lawns that transcends that match—all of his four career singles titles have come on grass. Recently ranked the world’s best doubles player, Mahut used his strong serve and volleys to take the title in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands over Gilles Muller, 6-4, 6-4. Mahut’s history on grass serves as a salient example of how grass can fit well with a particular style of play. Muller also has done well on grass, historically. Look for players like these along with big servers (Ivo Karlovic, John Isner) and great volleyers (Feliciano Lopez) to do well this grass season.