Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal monopolized the men's circuit for a decade and a half. Despite the advancing age and growth of the Next Gen, the Big 3 have managed to remain competitive and increase their boards even after they are over 30.
Fresh from a long stop due to injury, Rafa started 2022 in an exceptional way. The Spanish champion won the Australian Open and won his first 20 games this year, outdoing Roger Federer and Pete Sampras in this particular statistic.
A fractured rib heavily conditioned him during the final of the Indian Wells Masters 1000, in which he had to surrender in the presence of an excellent Taylor Fritz. 2022 started much less well for Djokovic, who played very little due to his choice not to get vaccinated against the Coronavirus.
Federer's situation is even more complicated, struggling with rehabilitation after having operated on his right knee for the umpteenth time. Speaking to Eurosport, Mats Wilander underlined how the Big 3 have been unique in the history of tennis.
The Swede drew a parallel with Ash Barty, who decided to retire at 25.
Wilander on the Big 3
"We just have to realize that players like Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, these players are kind of freaks," Wilander remarked in an interview with Eurosport.
“They just never, ever get enough. Their priority is always tennis and becoming better. I think for Ashleigh Barty, her priorities have changed”. He pointed out how the world has changed since her first Grand Slam title, which came pre-pandemic in 2019 at Roland Garros.
"To be a professional tennis player during the last two and a half years of Covid," Wilander continued, "of having to sit in quarantine, of having to make the decision like she did last year, which is leave Australia for six, seven months in a row, that could kill your enthusiasm for anything in this life.
The world is not the same place today as it was in 2019 when she won her first Grand Slam [Roland Garros]." He further opined that Barty perceived tennis as a "hobby" and therefore eventually lost interest in it.
"I think she played for the enjoyment of the sport rather than it becoming a job," Wilander said. "When I look at Ash Barty, I don't think there were many goals, in the beginning of her sports career. So I think she played tennis for the love of the game.
And when it's for the love of the game, there is a chance that you lose interest at some point, just like other hobbies in life”.