In a surprise press announcement, the Big Four of men’s tennis have announced they are leaving the sport in search of fresh challenges. Having dominated the Tour for nearly a decade-and-a-half and amassed 51 Grand Slam titles between them and an astonishing 101 Masters 1000 titles, the foursome announced their love affair with tennis was over. In a statement released to the press current world #1 Roger Federer said “the time has come for me to lay down my racquet. For a long time, as long as I can remember, I’ve felt the icy tracks of the mountains calling me. Now it’s time to answer that call.”
Andy Murray, who recently fell out of the top 20 after over nine months out with a hip injury, spoke of his desire to climb new mountains, literally. “I’ve been the best in the business,” the Scot said. “On my day I was absolutely incredible, something I felt I didn’t get enough credit for early in my career. But these days, having won Wimbledon twice, which lets face it is the only tournament that really matters, I’ve been struggling to motivate myself. Until I discovered bobsleigh that is.”
It’s thought that watching the recent Winter Olympics in South Korea whilst recovering from hip surgery is what inspired the man from Dunblane to pursue his interest in bobsleigh. After consulting his doctors and finding that bobsleighing requires remarkably little from the hip, Murray was set. But no one bobsleighs alone, and the Scotsman needed teammates. Where better to turn than to the men he has shared the court with for so long?
A snowy upbringing pays dividends
Despite being typically thought of as a summer sport, some of tennis’ greatest players have come from surprisingly wintry backgrounds. 12-time Major champion Novak Djokovic is no exception. The 30-year-old who hails from Belgrade, spent much of his childhood on the slopes of Mount Kopaonik where his parents where avid skiers. Though Djokovic has mostly put aside the skis for the tennis racquet over the past decade, when the call came through from Murray, he couldn’t say no.
“I’ve always loved the snow,” he said. “There’s something so refreshing about it, and it’s not so different from the make up of me. Just as I’ve been sculpted into the perfect tennis machine by years of relentless practice and training, within a few seconds, snow can be made into a ball. In a way I feel that’s a metaphor for what we as professional sportsmen have to go through in our quest for mindfulness, and also offers us the chance to improve as human beings, which we all are of course.”
Federer, being Swiss was himself no stranger to mountains and snow, whilst Scotland is not internationally renowned for its clement weather. But all three knew, that without the tenacity of Rafael Nadal they had no chance of competing in International Bobsleigh. And they had some convincing to do to get the Manacor-born world #2 Nadal involved in a sport about as far removed from his Balearic Island upbringing as possible.
Ultimately though, the opportunity to win more gold medals was too great for Nadal to pass up. “Together this team has the strength to do whatever it takes to get across the line,” his coach and long-time uncle Toni Nadal told reporters. “When Rafa sets his mind to something, he always accomplishes it, and I’m confident that some bobsleigh records are about to tumble.” Though the quartet are yet to announce their first event, one can’t help but think he is right.
Tennis world left to ponder
With four of the most well-known and bankable stars in the sport set to leave it for pastures new, tennis officials were left pondering an uncertain future. Fortunately, plans are in place to off-set the loss with new exciting tournaments and fan-engagement is actually set to rise according to ATP statistics. For example, to be introduced in the 2019 season, is the Next-Next-Generation Finals, which will be held exactly equidistant between Milan and London.
The tournament, which will feature radical new innovations, will see the best juniors in the world face-off in matches umpired by the children of the current stars of the Tour. Also to be introduced at the tournament is a line-calling-face-off between current line umpires and an automatic Hawkeye line calling system. Points will be awarded for speed and accuracy of the call, whilst additional bonuses will be given for the ability to startle members of the crowd.
So whilst the ATP’s biggest stars may be moving in an unexpected direction, the future still looks bright for the men’s game.
What do you think the Big Four can achieve in bobsleigh? Let us know in the comments below!