Has the changing of the tennis guard finally arrived?

THE TENNIS world has long been predicting a change of the guard in both the men’s and women’s game, but the stalwarts of the sport have repeatedly refused to step aside for their younger counterparts.

The likes of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Serena Williams – four of the best players ever to pick up a racquet – have continued playing well into their 30s, competing in and winning grand slams.

But at the recent US Open there appeared to be a shift in the tectonic plates of the sport, with two teenagers competing in the women’s final and Djokovic seeing his bid for a calendar grand slam ended in the final by Russian Daniil Medvedev.

While reports of the big four’s demise have been greatly exaggerated on several occasions in the past, there appears now to be a genuine move to a new generation in the game.

The switch is more clearly seen in the women’s game, with Serena Williams admitting her priorities are the grand slams as she attempts to equal Margaret Court’s record of 24 singles’ wins – she currently has 23: seven Wimbledon titles, seven Australian wins, six US Opens and three at Roland Garros.

The sportsbooks are already betting against Serena adding to her grand slam total, with trading for the Australian Open having the legend of the game as long as 22/1 (+2200) to make it number 24 – her last grand slam victory was in Melbourne back in 2017. Osaka is as short as 10/3 (+333) for the next slam, with Raducanu 7/1 (+700) and Fernandez around 16s (+1600). It is very convenient to bet on tennis online using a smartphone. In apps bets are accepted live during a match. In the UK betting firms give new customers so-called bet credits like at bet365, in the USA, the top-rated BetMGM sportsbook offers tennis boosted odds as a bonus.

With tennis a popular sport to bet on, the gambling firms aren’t quite ready to give up on 34-year-old Djokovic, who until his straight sets defeat at Flushing Meadows was still the player to beat. The sportsbooks clearly believe in the Serbian, installing him as 5/4 favorite (+125) for the Australian Open – bet $5 on Djokovic and get $9 back if he lifts the title.

Both Nadal (foot) and Federer (knee) are battling injuries but neither has indicated they are close to retirement, with the gambling firms offering 7/1 (+700) on Nadal and 12/1 (+1200) on Federer to win in Melbourne in January. US Open champion Medvedev is 7/1 (+700), while fellow ‘newbies’ Dominic Thiem (+800) and Stefanos Tsitsipas (+1000) are expected to put up a good showing in Australia.

However, with a torn hamstring keeping her out of the US Open this year, the sands of time are clearly against the player who will be 40 when the Australian Open begins in January.

When she was forced to withdraw from Wimbledon after pulling up during a first-round encounter with Aliaksandra Sasnovich, the injury was not expected to stop her playing her home slam. But injuries take longer to heal when the body gets older, and the question now is whether she can sustain the intensity needed to get through seven matches in two weeks.

And it’s not just the established stars like Naomi Osaka she has to worry about, with the new sensations wowing the crowds at Flushing Meadows. US Open winner, Britain’s Emma Raducanu, and runner-up, Canada’s Leylah Fernandez, both look the real deal and both are expected to be challenging for the slams in the next few years.