Growing up in the 90’s as a budding tennis fan, I have been extremely spoiled by the level of play I’ve had the good fortune to witness on the pro tour. From Pete Sampras and Martina Hingis to Roger Federer and Serena Williams, the quality of tennis has been consistently superb. Mix in a salty/hilarious Andy Roddick interview and Marcos Baghadtis shattering 4 racquets and you have quite an eclectic mix of entertainment. Now that this year’s Wimbledon has concluded, though, I think it’s appropriate to focus on – and really appreciate – what both Serena Williams and Roger Federer have given to us over the last decade and a half.
Since Roger Federer beat Pete Sampras in the 2003 Wimbledon, he has since won 16 more major titles – the most of all time in the men’s game. He reached the Grand Slam semis 37 times, including a record 23 straight from 2004-2010 (crushing the previous record of 10). He has played in 63 consecutive Slams. In an era full of injuries (we’re looking at you, Rafael Nadal), Federer has been the model of consistency, and consistent greatness. Many articles I have read over the past two years have begun discounting Federer, asking if he would ever win another major. Instead of going that route, I think we should be celebrating his accomplishments and greatness that at some point must come to an end.
On the women’s side, Serena Williams has now twice claimed the “Serena Slam” (holding all four major titles at once). I mean, she had a whole new record made up for her – that’s how good she has been. Serena is the oldest player to hold the world #1 ranking (33 years 288 days and counting). She won her 1st major in 1999, and just won her 21st here at Wimbledon. Her serve is widely considered the best shot in the history of the women’s game.
There are hundreds of other records that these two players hold, but the most amazing and relevant number to me is 33 – their ages. The average age of a major title winner is 24 years old! Both Roger and Serena are competing, and succeeding, at the highest level in a sport where 27 typically indicates past your prime.
This number is more relevant when you consider the players’ effect on TV ratings. According to Nielsen data, TV ratings for tennis majors have been slowly dropping since 1991. Essentially, Americans do not watch the sport unless Federer or Serena are playing. ESPN even labeled Serena’s impact on viewership around the world (but particularly in the U.S.) the “Serena factor”. With these players reaching the end of their careers, I am itching to watch them play at every opportunity, but also to see the effect their eventual departure will have on tennis TV viewership in the U.S. It is clear that American tennis will need a new fresh star to help mitigate the effect when these players retire. Perhaps it will be Boys Wimbledon Champion (American) Reilly Opelka… but only time (and TV ratings) will tell.
In the meantime, I try to appreciate just how magical it has been to have watched these two players be so great for so long. Looking forward, I know I will be looking back to these transcendent, inimitable talents of tennis and telling my children and grandchildren just how historically brilliant these players were. I am already looking forward to the U.S. Open in September to see both if Federer can add to this record number of major titles and if Serena can pull off the calendar Grand Slam (winning all four majors in one year).
What do you think the impact will be on tennis viewership in the U.S. once Serena and Roger hang up their racquets? Let us know on twitter.