The Changing Faces of Tennis and More

We were reluctant to declare a changing of the guard in men’s tennis a year ago.

But maybe the time has finally come.

Carlos Alcaraz, the worthy successor to Rafael Nadal as Spain’s king of the sport, looked the part and more in capturing the Wimbledon crown in 2023, but slipped a bit while Novak Djokovic, the old man of the great trio including Nadal and Roger Federer, flourished.

It was at Wimbledon where the then 20-year old Alcaraz outlasted Djokovic, who at 36, came up short in a five-set thriller only to see the Serb turn it on at the U.S. Open.

Displaying a remarkable ability to defy age and injury.

Still, after his brilliant Wimbledon triumph it seemed the young Spaniard was on his way.

But as talented as he is, Alcaraz’ ascent leveled off with unanticipated losses and his own injury problems.

At the same time, the continued rise of other players not as young as Carlos showed the skill to go toe-to-toe and beat him.

It looked like it was time to go back to the drawing board.

Italy’s Jannik Sinner, Germany’s Alexander Zverev, and Russia’s Daniil Medvedev, and others, now are threats to win any major championship.

Now, following the 2024 French Open, several things are clear.

Novak Djokovic, who was forced to withdraw from Roland Garros underwent knee surgery and will also miss Wimbledon this July.

Time is not on his side.

Alcaraz, who rallied from a set down won the fourth and final sets against Sinner in the semi-finals and Zverev in the championship. He appears back on track for the greatness, I for one, and others forecast.

It’s a greatness that has no bounds, especially when you consider no one else has ever on his first three majors on three different surfaces.

That’s not all.

Carlos Alcaraz is one major title (Australian Open) away from a Career Slam only achieved by Djokovic, Federer, Nadal, Andre Agassi, Roy Emerson, Rod Laver, and Fred Perry.

And remember, he is only 21.

He played the French with a white sleeve protecting a right forearm that had been injured forcing him to withdraw from tournaments leading up to Roland Garros.

Injuries are always the unknown for any athlete in any sport, but what we’re seeing from Alcaraz, who clearly has his highs and lows in nearly every match, has the tenacity and killer instinct that has allowed him to post a perfect 11-0 mark in five set matches in major championships.

On the women’s side, the best tennis player in the world, 23-year old Iga Swiatek from Poland, steamrolled through the field following a scare in the second round.

She won her third straight French Open title losing only three games to overpower Italy’s Jasmine Paolini. Swiatek, in winning 11 of the match’s last 12 games, has no peer on the red clay surface.

Her focus appeared to waver in the second set of that second round match agains Naomi Osaka. If Swiatek has an Achilles heel it’s facing hard-hitting ground strokers like Osaka.

After grabbing the first set, 7-6, she was knocked off the rails, losing the second set 1-6.

It didn’t get any better when Swiatek found herself trailing 2-5 in the third and final set.

But the great ones find a way, and Iga Swiatek did, rallying to win the match 7-5.

She took no mercy on her foes the rest of the way.

We continue with women’s sports, but with a bigger ball, and maybe one of the biggest failures for a sport that could use all the help it can get.

Caitlin Clark, the hardwood whiz who has brought audiences to women’s basketball like no one else has ever done, was left off the USA Olympic team.

Imagine, the one person who has transformed her sport into a virtual must-see phenomenon, was not included when the roster that will compete this summer in Paris was revealed.

How dumb a move was that?

Plenty dumb.

It was Clark who sparked Iowa’s bid for a national championship, losing to South Carolina, but her exciting style of play drew viewers to the women’s game like never before.

More people watched the NCAA Women’s title game than the Men’s championship for the first time in history. Before this happened, you would have bet the farm that it would never happen.

Clark was, and now in the WNBA was the ultimate team player. She could shoot, and fire away from long distance, she could pass and set up others, and simply play the game the way it was meant to be played, to the joy of viewers.

Since playing in her first year in the league, Clark has taken the brunt of the more physical style of play, knocked to the floor in a questionable act one one occasion that was highly publicized.

Through it all, Caitlin Clark has never lost her cool.

She could have, for sure, when the Olympic roster didn’t include her.

The burning question is why keep her off the squad when, like it or not, Clark’s popularity, particularly for fans who have not followed women’s basketball, put the sport on the map.

Christine Brennan, who has covered women’s sports in superb fashion for many decades wrote that two reliable sources told her that Clark was rejected because her millions of fans would not react well to the likely event of limited playing time on a stacked, veteran roster.

What a poor excuse.

Does Caitlin Clark belong on the U.S. Olympic Team?

What do you think?

Her reaction was no surprise. She merely said she would work harder to make the next one in four years and will root for them to win a gold medal.

One line caught my eye.

Clark said it’s just a little more motivation, and that she will remember the rejection.

Isn’t there something about waking a sleeping dog?