The final four is set at the 2016 Australian Open with Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Andy Murray, and Milos Raonic all into the semifinals. Djokovic will face Federer in a match that will be played in the evening session on Thursday from Melbourne. Then on Friday, Andy Murray will face Milos Raonic in what promises to be a competitive affair.
The final four is interesting in that it features three usual suspects in Djokovic, Federer, and Murray. Each of those players has been to numerous Grand Slam semifinals while Raonic is appearing in just his second. However, at Wimbledon 2014, where Raonic made his first semifinal, it felt as though the Canadian did not have much of a chance to win when he played Federer. In Melbourne Park, Raonic is not likely to be the betting favorite against Murray – however, the big server won’t exactly be a longshot either.
With his ever-lethal serve, improved footwork compared to previous seasons, an air of confidence, and a Soderling-like forehand that crushes the moonballs that come off his serve the Canadian has never looked better. He could beat Murray – perhaps as easily as Murray could beat him. While that might not sound too impressive, that Raonic is in a coin toss in the semifinals of major shows that he has arrived as a bonified Grand Slam contender. It’s not like 2014, where it seemed to be a foregone conclusion that he would not win his Wimbledon semifinal.
Raonic has as good a shot to make the championship match as his opponent, and that means the 2016 Australian Open could be the start of a new era. Much has been made of the fact that the players on tour who were born in the 1990s have thus far been a cut below the players born in the 1980s – a full and deep cut. Players like Raonic, Grigor Dimitrov, David Goffin, Dominic Thiem, and all other players born in the 90s have yet to supplant the elder players on tour. Regarding Goffin and Dimitrov, they both went out of this current Slam to old-man Federer directly.
In some ways, the slow emergence of the 90s-born players is a little strange. Long-termed tennis fans are used to seeing a changing of the guard when it comes to the 30+ crowd losing to the young folks. Typically tennis, over the generations, has been a sport that has favored players in their low-to-mid 20s more so than other sports. Aged 25 years old, maybe Raonic – or one of the other ones – should already have won a major or at least made a final.
In part, his alleged underachievements have contributed to the idea that there is currently a lost generation of tennis players among the players Raonic’s age and younger. However, that’s not a position that I totally believe in, mainly because I think the concept of a generation is too fuzzy. It can’t be defined with a line in the sand, and when you separate players into 80s-born and 90s-born, that’s what you do.
What is it about the position of the planets on December 31st, 1989 at 11:59:59 that puts players born earlier in one generation and players born later in another? It’s an imaginary point in time, nothing more, and there’s nothing inherently significant about a changing of a decade except for our own psychological desire to recognize multiples of ten. That’s got nothing to do with tennis and if you don’t know what I’m talking about then let’s just leave it at that.
In my view, the reason there hasn’t been a player born after Djokovic or Murray (they were born a week apart in May 1987) that has been recognized as great is because of Juan Martin del Potro’s injuries. Delpo won the 2009 US Open, through Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer in the late rounds, and the Argentine made the 2009 World Tour Finals championship match. After that, he’s been around here and there, but he’s also mainly been injured with one problem or another.
Delpo – in terms of pure talent – is probably better than Raonic and he’s probably better than Murray. Del Potro’s the shoulda-coulda-woulda guy of the current period of men’s tennis. If he was less injury prone, then I think he could have four or five majors to his credit by now, and he certainly would have curbed the title counts of all the major players of the current time period. Born in late 1988, if you didn’t take a line-in-the-sand approach to defining a generation, then I don’t think there’d be much talk about a lost one. The guys born in the 1990s would just be on deck to the guys born in the mid-to-late 1980s.
Sticking to the real world and the 2016 Australian Open semifinals, Murray actually looks ripe for the pickings in some ways while Raonic is poised for an upset. It wouldn’t quite be a changing-of-the-guard match if Raonic won. However, it would set one up this weekend between what I think will be a Raonic-versus-Djokovic final from Melbourne. If Raonic brings his serve to a potential final, then he might have the slight worse end of what could be a coin toss as well. While you might laught at that, I’ll say this – people laughed when I picked Delpo to beat Fed in the 2009 US Open final.