Who needs heavyweight boxing when we have Federer, Nadal and Djokovic?

Soon after his retirement, basketball junkies everywhere craved the second coming of Michael, so much so that we dubbed every player after him who could jump out of the gym “The Next Jordan.”  We soon learned it took a little more than hops to become the next MJ.  Little did we know that athlete would come in the form of a golfer, not a basketball player.

Similarly, we have griped endlessly about the sad state of professional boxing’s heavyweight division, waiting for the next great champion to come along, but those of us who grew up with the sweet science need not worry.  There’s a new triumvirate of heavyweight fighters whose matches rival the classics between Ali, Frazier and Foreman.  Their names are Nadal, Federer and Djokovic.

Whenever two of these three tennis superstars square off, it is riveting television.  In fact, these three are so dominant that only ONCE since 2005 has someone else won a major championship.  That’s 28 tournaments!  These days, their trivalry is as close as we have to professional prize-fighting, just without the gloves and tassels.  The fact that there’s no Don King in the mix is just an added bonus.  If you do tune in to watch them, however, don’t plan on being anywhere anytime soon.  Their matches last for hours on end, the tension rising with every groundstroke.

Dare I say, the Federer-Nadal rivalry, with a recent sprinkle of Djokovic to keep them both honest, is currently the best in professional sports?  It can’t be Red Sox-Yankees.  Those teams just spend money to reload and neither has met in a series of any significance in years.  College football powerhouses change every semester.  On top of that, realignment will soon make many traditional rivalries extinct.  It can’t be Tiger Woods-Phil Mickelson.  Tiger’s still struggling to win a tournament.  It can’t be Steelers-Ravens.  Neither of those teams is still in the playoffs.  It can’t be Lakers-Celtics.  Those rosters are aging before our very eyes.

No, it has to be these three.  Just when most of us thought Roger Federer was going to ride off into the sunset as the most, dominant tennis player ever, along came a spandex-clad Spaniard who has quickly amassed ten grand slam titles to Federer’s 16.  He’s also five years younger, giving him plenty of time to surpass Federer, assuming Djokovic doesn’t stand in his way.  With Sunday’s Australian Open victory, Djokovic, 24, now has five career majors, but has won four of the last five played.

Friday’s Nadal-Federer semi-final match was another four-set gem, with Federer winning the first, but Nadal overpowering him the next three.  Two of the four sets went to tiebreak.  Djokovic-Nadal went five sets and lasted nearly six hours, the longest match ever in a major tournament final.

The legacy of these three superstars is still being written.  At 30, can Federer win another major with the other two at the top of their games?  Will Nadal eventually surpass Federer’s grand slam total?  How good can Djokovic become and can he repeat his incredible 2011, where he went 70-6, winning ten tournaments and three majors?

For those of you that long for the classic heavyweight bouts of yesteryear, don’t complain.  Just give tennis a shot.  These three might deliver a knockout blow you’re not expecting.

40 thoughts on “Who needs heavyweight boxing when we have Federer, Nadal and Djokovic?

  1. Pingback: Who needs heavyweight boxing when we have Federer, Nadal and Djokovic? - BallHyped, Tennis | BallHyped Sports Blogs

  2. What a finals match. Ridiculously tense watching those two fight it out. Still can’t believe Murray didn’t pull out his match against Djo, and still hasn’t won a major (cause he’s Britisth).

  3. DHS…

    I actually fell asleep in the third set of that match. I mean, hey, a guy does have to get some sleep eventually, right?

    Even tho Djoko was down, I knew he’d come back to win that match.

    Do you remember when Roddick played Federer a few years back? I forget what finals that was. Roddick was probably playing the best tennis of his career and STILL couldn’t beat Federer.

    That’s the way I felt about that Murray-Djokovic match. Murray was playing out of his mind during those second and third sets and it still wasn’t enough.

  4. Funniest part of it all was after the final match, during the presentation speeches. Rafa and Joker both wanted to sit down more than ANYTHING until someone finally brought them some chairs.

    And yes, I’ll take tennis over boxing any day of the week.

  5. J…

    You raise an excellent point.

    Personality helps.

    Let’s look at the Klitschko brothers and even Lennox Lewis. Great champions? Sure.

    Great soundbites? Not so much.

  6. Actually the Klitschkos have great personalities and are very funny. Too many Americans think “personality” has something to do with raping women, snorting blow and staging dogfights. And let’s remember English is their fourth language. How well do you do in Ukrainian, Russian or German?

    The heavyweight division is actually just like men’s tennis: Americans have been eclipsed and replaced.

  7. Gutter…

    Those are both fair responses.

    You’re right. The Klitschkos are charismatic. The problem is they won’t fight each other. You have to admit though, Lennox Lewis wasn’t the funniest guy of the bunch.

    Sure, we Americans are upset we don’t have anyone even close to win back the belt. Apparently they’re all busy doing other things.

    And please don’t get me started on American tennis, Ugh!

    That’s probably why we only watch baseball, basketball and football here in this country. They’re the only sports we’re good at.

  8. Well, both tennis and boxing used to be on the front of the sports page in America. But as American dominance of both sports ended, the coverage receded (the exception being women’s tennis, where the Williams Sisters ruled until recently).

    I dunno, Lennox Lewis was kind of funny. “Hasbeen Rahman” was a good line. I think Wlad and Vitali are more engaging than him, though. Let’s face it, there is still a Cold War, Rocky Movie mentality that works against two “Russian” brothers in the US (don’t ask Americans to distinguish between Russians and Ukrainians, though that is like saying an American is the same as a Canadian). That’s why they get the “Ivan Drago” treatment here so often.

    I have zero doubt that, whether they fought each other or not, if the Klitschkos were named Wally and Vic and were from Utah instead of Ukraine, they’d be bigger than sliced bread in the US. Two good-looking heavyweight champ brothers with PhDs? They’d be on every magazine cover.

    Tennis has sadly declined so much in the US since the 1970s, its peak. No more public courts, it’s gone back to being an elitist kind of sport played in country clubs. Its dabble at being mainstream is over. Too bad.

  9. Gutter…

    The problem with boxing, particularly heavyweight boxing, doesn’t lie within the Klitschko brothers alone. Vlad’s a dominant champion and I don’t blame them for not wanting to fight each other.

    There’s just no competition, not to mention no bouts. I can’t even recall their last fight. When was that? Why aren’t these guys fighting?

    Professional boxing is so screwed up, we need look no further to the Pacquiao-Mayweather fight that won’t happen, yet could potentially be the most watched (and lucrative!!!) sporting event ever. Makes perfect sense, huh?

    Would an American contender generate more interest here in boxing? Absolutely? But we just want to watch a good fight these days, regardless of where the fighters come from… and there hasn’t been one in years.

    And here’s my take on the decline of American tennis, if you’re so inclined.

    http://sportschump.net/2011/08/30/ryan-harrison-john-mcenroe-temper-tantrums-and-the-sad-state-of-american-tennis/7002/

  10. Good article. The Australian Open Final was the greatest display of athleticism I’ve ever seen. I think it’s fair to say that the likes of Federer, Nadal, and now Djoker, are some of the greatest athletes we’ve ever seen.

  11. I love Djokavic, he’s pretty funny in his interviews, and brings a light heartedness we haven’t seen since Andre Aggasi. Sampras and Fed were stiff as a board, but this guy actually has a personality. I can’t help but wonder if the US will ever have a relevant tennis star. That’s the only thing keeping me from falling in love with tennis…

  12. All I know about tennis is when I beat you and Carrier at Scotch Doubles. Or maybe that was Canadian Doubles while drinking scotch.

  13. The Klitschkos don’t bother that much with America now because they tried to crack this market and found too much resistance. Believe me, there’s an entrenched old guard in boxing circles here that will never accept them no matter what — listen to Bert Sugar sometime. He’s an over the top, irrational Klitschko hater. The brothers are superstars in Germany, and big stars in continental Europe and Russia, and they make millions, so they really don’t need the USA. That’s why they don’t fight here much.

    I watch all their fights, but I’m more than a casual fan. Wlad’s last fight was an easy win over David Haye, Vitali destroyed a very good opponent in Poland’s Tomasz Adamek. I agree that they need challengers who can push them a bit more to attract the casual fan, but right now at least they are just too good.

    I’ll check your tennis piece, thanks!

  14. Dave…

    It’s definitely a healthy “trivalry” as I called it in the post. Nothing wrong with having three instead of two beating each other up.

    It also reminded me of all the early to mid 90s NFC Championship battles between the Niners, Cowboys and Packers.

    I guess the question we have to ask ourselves with these three is whether Federer can muster up enough to beat these guys in another major?

  15. Chap…

    Back in the day, there was nothing better. Borg-McEnroe was insane. Then came Lendl who nobody much cared about.

    Then American tennis flourished with Chang, Courier, Agassi and Sampras, but again Sampras, while dominant, was a pretty boring champion.

    I think what we’re starting to find out here is that fans like a little personality in our top athletes.

    Hey, man. All my friends have personality, otherwise they wouldn’t be my friends. I guess we’re wanting that in our athletes too.

  16. Gutter…

    Send me anything you got about Sugar hating on the Klitschko’s. I’d love to see that.

    And I will definitely check out that link.

    Thanks, man.

  17. I am kind of bummed that Nadal lost, but Djokovic is a great player in his own right. Slowly, but surely… you can see that Federer is moving out of the picture.

  18. It’s funny though. Nadal can’t beat Djoker, Djoker has a difficult time with Federer, and Federer can’t beat Nadal.

  19. BS…

    I don’t know that I have an allegiance to either of the three of them. I just enjoy watching the matches.

    But we can all agree that, while Federer is still the world’s solid number three player, there’s a hefty climb to get back to one and two.

  20. Mun…

    I haven’t read what the television ratings were for the Final match but I can tell you I watched the replay of it over the silliness that was the Pro Bowl and the NHL All-Star game.

  21. I sort of remember the McEnroe days, but I was way too young to care. I did really enjoy the Sampras-Aggasi rival even if Aggasi looked like a cancer patient. Maybe I’m a ginger hater, but I could never really like Courrier.

    I hope Novak can suck me in with his personality!

  22. Terrific match ! One of the best Slam finals I’ve ever seen by far !

    The only thing that now stands in the way of Djokovic is his own self complacency . A win of the French Open and he’ll have completed the career Grand Slam faster than any other male in tennis history .

    tophatal …………….

  23. Not much of a tennis fan but caught the highlights of Djoke/Nadal 6 hour duel…Pretty impressive athletes but nothing can replace the thrill of two heavyweights trying to knock each others block off…

    Too bad boxing’s such a dJoke anymore.
    I really miss it.

  24. Chap…

    Those were definitely the golden days, at least for American men’s tennis. There days, there’s no American male even close to competing with these three.

    By the way, someone decided to give Jim Courier a microphone and have him interview the athletes courtside.

    That was a bad idea.

  25. Al…

    Pretty impressive. I didn’t know that.

    Are you sure about that though? Djokovic did win the Australian Open in 2008.

    Who held the earlier record and is that by age or by matches?

  26. Bleed…

    Believe it or not, my dad was first and foremost a boxing and tennis fan. Odd combination, huh?

    I guess that’s why I felt the comparison was so relevant.

  27. Finally a blog about tennis! It’s purely gladiator-like. No coaching is allowed, not even during the delay to close the roof. The players have to gut it out all by themselves, and you know from the momentum changes that it’s VERY difficult not to stop trying. By the way, two years ago, Dojo was retiring from matches early due to health issues. I don’t know how he resolved them (especially the respiratory one) but it proves you can’t count anyone out. So I would include Murray in the mix. He was on a hot streak, winning the tournaments prior to the Australian Open. He lost only one set before the semifinal, and that was the first one of the first round. He’ll get it together, I’m convinced of that.
    What criteria are you using to claim “fastest to the career slam?” Age? Years as a professional player?
    I’m happy that so many people watched the final. And I’m sure that American tennis will recover…the best doubles players in the world are American (men and women!) Don’t count us out yet.

  28. Elizabeth…

    You’ll be happy to know I’ve even added a “First Serves” category, strictly for tennis talk, so stay tuned.

    I do love that about tennis though, the fact that there’s no coaches around, only in the stands. I also think tennis doesn’t get enough credit for how mentally grueling it can be.

    I mean how many tennis players have we seen on both the men’s and women’s side burn out before their prime.

    I remember when I would play semi-competitive tennis growing up, concentrating on the point, what point I needed to win, how bad I needed to win it, other than the fundamentals of what I should actually be doing to win that point.

    No wonder people burn out.

    And although Murray was playing some great tennis, until he can prove he can beat one of these three on the biggest of stages, I can’t yet give him the nod.

    To paraphrase James Brown, “You gotta have a Major for me.”

    For the record, I’m also waiting on Al to get back to us on that comment about fastest to a career slam. Stay tuned, I’m assuming he will. He never strays far from the Chump.

  29. It does remind one of the Borg, McEnroe, Connors period. People used to get up in droves to watch Wimbledon back in that day…taped or live. If it hasn’t already swung back that way, I think the casual tennis fan’s interest is now clearly with the men’s game once again.

  30. It’s about time, SA.

    For the past few years, or at least until the rise of Nadal, the women’s game was the only one worth watching, and not only to see what Serena was wearing.

  31. He hasn’t completed the career slam of winning all four majors . The one he’s missing is the French Open ! Youngest male winner of the career slam is Nadal having won all four majors in his career competing that feat in 2010 . I know my tennis like I know my boxing and track & field ! Youngest male winner of a slam tournament was Ken Rosewall (18yrs 3 mths ) before Michael Chang won the French (’89) at age 17 .

    tophatal ……………

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