June 10, 2024

For the first time in 20 years, neither Novak Djokovic nor Rafael Nadal has won one of the year’s opening two majors. There’s also a new world No. 1 in Jannik Sinner. No question, the 2024 men’s tennis year signals a time of significant generational transition.

As this intriguing and exciting new era springs forth, here are four ATP plot lines of interest.

Not much has separated Carlos Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner in their young careers.

Not much has separated Carlos Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner in their young careers.

Tennis’ New Signature Rivalry Is Blossoming

Sinner is now ranked atop the tour and, earlier this year at the Australian Open, captured his first major. The world No. 2, Carlos Alcaraz, holds the titles at Wimbledon and Roland Garros. So who’s really tennis’ best player right now? It’s a fun question to ponder as we witness the further blossoming of tennis’ new signature rivalry.

Alcaraz’s five-set victory in the semis of Roland Garros now gives him a 5-4 edge in their matches. Said Sinner, “I think that’s exciting for the game, especially when head-to-head is quite close. And, you know, the winner is happy and then the loser tries to find a way to beat him the next time, no? I think that’s exciting. That’s what I will try to do.”

While these two continue to chase one another all over the world (hopefully), attention will naturally be paid to the contrasts—the temperamentally restrained and powerful Sinner versus the ebullient and stylishly eclectic Alcaraz. Certainly, that’s a part of this enticing matchup. But there’s also common ground: deep mutual respect, fueled as well by each man’s relentless pursuit of excellence. Sinner in the last two years has greatly enhanced his serve and transition game.

Alcaraz has also put in time to make improvements. On the way to winning Roland Garros, Alcaraz won his last two matches in five sets, his body holding up in ways it hadn’t during last year’s semifinal versus Djokovic.

“I wanted to put my name on that list of the Spanish players who won this tournament,” he said. “Not only Rafa. Ferrero, Moya, Costa, a lot of Spanish players, legends from our sport that won this tournament, I really want to put my name on that list, as well.”

They'll (hopefully) be back.

They’ll (hopefully) be back.

Djokovic & Nadal: Return to Paris for an Event of Olympian Proportions

Most years following Roland Garros, Djokovic and Nadal headed right to Wimbledon, where collectively they’ve earned nine singles titles at the All England Club (seven for Djokovic, two for Nadal). But neither is likely to be there this year, as Djokovic recovers from knee surgery and Nadal seeks to stay healthy. Both are instead pointing themselves towards the Summer Olympics that start at Roland Garros on July 27. As the saying goes, “Here’s looking at you, clay. We’ll always have Paris.”

“My main goal now is to play the Olympics,” Nadal said following his first-round loss to Alexander Zverev in Paris.

As Nadal seeks to wind down his career, there’s a pleasing symmetry to him competing one last time in the Olympics at the venue where he’s been extraordinarily successful. The Spaniard, who turned 38 on June 3, has won two gold medals, taking the singles at the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, and the doubles alongside Marc Lopez at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

While the sweetness of a well-earned requiem moment governs Nadal’s Olympic journey, for Djokovic it’s much more about unfinished business and the chance to add one more jewel to his crown. Recall that it was Serbia’s 2010 Davis Cup title run that subsequently sparked Djokovic’s ascent to the top of tennis. At the Olympics, though, Djokovic’s best result has only been a bronze medal in the singles, earned back in 2008.

Speaking in April, Djokovic said, “I said recently that I really wanted to play at least until the L.A. Olympic Games [in 2028], but you never know, at this stage. What can happen or how far I can go.” (This, of course, was before Djokovic suffered the knee injury that has required surgery.)

As spring gives way to summer, will the U.S. men heat up?

American Men: School’s Out for Summer

Each spring, like a pre-med student temporarily ditching the laboratory to take a literature class, American men fulfill their duty to undergo a rigorous course of study on European clay. It’s an admirable effort, a nearly two-month quest to compete effectively on a surface that has not been their natural training ground. Hand it to Taylor Fritz, Tommy Paul, Ben Shelton, Frances Tiafoe, Sebastian Korda and Christopher Eubanks for giving it a solid go. Fritz, in particular, fared quite well, reaching the finals in Munich, semis in Madrid, quarters in Rome, and round of 16 at Roland Garros.

Now comes time for these players to point themselves towards the events played on surfaces that reward their inherently aggressive tennis. Fritz and Eubanks have both been Wimbledon quarterfinalists. Paul, Shelton and Korda each love to volley. Tiafoe at his best can hit just about any shot from anywhere. As spring gives way to summer, will the U.S. men heat up?

Scheduling Warrants a Deep Dialogue

Let’s be clear: Late night matches are not a problem. Early morning matches are. Once again, one such nocturnal occurrence took place at a major, Djokovic winning his third-round marathon versus Lorenzo Musetti at 3:07 a.m.

Fans who attend and watch these moments may find them memorable and worth talking about with friends. For players, though, they are horrific. With leaders of various organizations pondering new ways to structure the pro game, with the Djokovic-led PTPA keen to advocate on behalf of players, surely now is the time to address scheduling less as incidental bad break and more as stated policy. One suggestion: Start no matches before 9:30 p.m.

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