Winning Shots

Rafael NadalRafael Nadal

On Wimbledon's big day, a reminder of an extraordinary golden age

With the early exit of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal this Wimbledon season, all of us have already rewritten our expectations for the men's final this weekend. Their early losses may not have taken away from the quality of the tennis — though that will be arguable — but it has certainly amplified an anxiety that's anyway been hanging over the sport: where will tennis be without the combined presence of the Big Four, the other two being Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray?

It is a timely publication then of Court Confidential: Inside the World of Tennis, by Neil Harman, who brings decades of reporting and being on the tennis tour to this diary of 2012, to look at what it is like to be a tennis player during this extraordinary spell in the men's game, and what may be the issues better framed by this higher profile of the sport. 2012, in fact, captured its own specialness in a striking way. That year, as Harman notes, the first Grand Slam was won by the No. 1 seed (Australian Open by Djokovic), the second by the No. 2 (Nadal at the French Open), the third by the No. 3 (Federer at Wimbledon) and the fourth by the No. 4 (Murray at the US Open).

Harman, a correspondent with the London Times, does not make too much of this statistic, but he heeds the reporter's instinct to profile the game during this overlap of these four playing careers. "Golden age is an over-used phrase," he writes, "but it is difficult to come up with anything better. Djokovic, Nadal, Federer and Murray are the John, Paul, George and Ringo of the men's game, a set of four individuals who together make such sweet music. Yet like the Fab Four they have their foibles… The four men at the top have lent the sport a mystical, magical sense of well-being such that tennis wishes it could stay like this forever and fears what may happen if one or more of them fades away. Then we might all be in trouble."

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