Tennis

Tennis has the most golden of all Golden Ages

Tennis has the most golden of all Golden Ages

THERE ARE SO MANY GREAT TENNIS PLAYERS RIGHT NOW
Photo: Getty Images

It’s strange how normalized greatness is during something’s golden age. If you look at music for example, hip-hop hit its peak in the 90s for a lot of people, just like classic rock did in the 60s and 70s. However, even when 2Pac and Biggie were at the top , rappers like Nas and Jay-Z weren’t in the picture for the title belt. (There was a two-year period between 1968 and 1970 when the Beatles and Led Zeppelin were still together, Jim Morrison was still alive, and the Rolling Stones were active.)

You could say that all four produced their best albums – ready to die, Reasonable doubt, Illmatic, All eyes on me – over a two-year period from 1994 to 1996, but Nas dropped the GOAT conversation a long time ago (Editor’s note: the opinion expressed here is solely that of the author and does not reflect the feelings of our staff in his outfit) . It’s also impossible to quantify a rapper as one of the greatest of all time, as music is subjective and album sales are more an indication of popularity than quality. Also, people stopped buying albums a few years ago.

Enter sport, where everything is measurable by data and most arguments can be resolved by competition. There have been many golden eras: MLB had the 1950s, boxing had the 1970s, some would say the greatest run in the NBA was from the 1980s to the 90s.

But tennis, well, tennis has the golden age Golden GOAT right now.

You can take your pick from Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic for Best Male Player, but when you add Serena Williams, the GOAT of tennis regardless of gender, there isn’t an era that even comes close to what we saw. (and are still witnessing) in tennis over the past two decades. Williams, Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have 85 Grand Slam titles and 123 Grand Slam finals between them. One of the four has won a Grand Slam every year since 1999.

We are almost a quarter of a century away from these players who matter more than the rest of the field. I can’t think of any other era involving anything where the subject’s Mount Rushmore is made up of people who were concurrently active.

It would be like Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Russell spending two decades battling it out and each coming away with six to eight titles each, which isn’t even possible.

When I first thought about this idea, I thought maybe limiting it to men, but Williams contributed to the feeling of inevitability in tennis more than the other three. You knew Federer, Nadal or Djokovic were going to win; it was a question of which one. With Williams, it was shocking when someone else was following her, let alone winning.

The Andys’ fans – Roddick and Murray – revere them despite their lack of Grand Slam dominance simply because they competed with the best to do so. It’s similar to how people view Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Patrick Ewing, Reggie Miller and the rest of the NBA greats in the 90s who made Jordan work for a title.

Examples of the level of greatness of tennis in other sports do not exist. I reluctantly acknowledge that Tom Brady is the greatest football player of all time. But who is his competitor? If you combine Eli and Peyton Manning into one player, combine Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger, and merge Aaron Rodgers with Brett Favre, then you’d have what tennis just got – and that’s just quarterbacks.

Boxing is coming together for a variety of reasons, chief among them being the sport going from punch drunk to drunk in the 90s and 2000s. It’s Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, then your pick of two between George Foreman, Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Tommie “Hit Man” Hearns and Roberto “Hands of Stone” Duran. However, any boxing roster that leaves out Mike Tyson gets faster than an Iron Mike KO.

You really need to search for legit comps, and the ski came close. Lindsey Vonn and Marcel Hirscher recently retired, but they were still skiing and winning races when Mikaela Shiffrin started her race. They hold three of the top four spots on the list of all-time World Cup wins, and if Ingemar Stenmark had been born in the ’80s instead of competing there, skiing would have had its own golden age worthy of compete with tennis.

In the 1950s, baseball had Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Ted Williams and Stan Musial. It’s a very good group considering the history of baseball. If the 1950s pitching roster had a few bigger and better names, and baseball had fewer great players, you could make the case, especially if you scrapped the entire era of steroids.

Golf has a similar following to tennis in that both are immensely popular with a certain enduring demographic despite operating on the fringes of sports conversations. So, unlike baseball, basketball, and football, interest rarely rises or falls enough to affect the quality of the sport. Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Tom Watson somehow overlapped, but Palmer’s last big win came in 1970, a year before Watson turned pro. And of course, you can’t talk about GOAT golf without Tiger Woods.

Competing GOATs (when it comes to career goal records) are derailing hockey’s odds as Wayne Gretzky and Alexander Ovechkin have each carved out their own era. The same goes for the NBA with Jordan and James. If we’re talking strictly about programs, Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, and Oklahoma had a nice monopoly on college football playoffs. That said, I’ll die before my fingers leave ’90s Nebraska off any list ranking the greatest college football teams of all time.

I keep coming back to other real revivals, including the Renaissance. Donatello’s ass jumped the gun a few decades or he and the rest of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would have a chance.

Anyway, well done! To the GOATS!