Sporting Life

Had enough of the Fab Four? Not yet?

This is a strawberry-free, royalty-exempt article. Ivy will not be mentioned. White clothes will not make an appearance. The "oohs" of the genteel crowd will not be discussed. We get it, Wimbledon is polite. Even on the matter of spectating pigeons they note that the presence of Rufus the hawk, a predator, is "to persuade them to roost elsewhere".

Tradition is fun but every year we discuss the same things: How many towels are stolen. How quaint it is to call players Mr. And why the hell don't they play on the middle Sunday? (The grass needs a rest.)

Timelessness is Wimbledon's appeal, but it's change I want this year. New name inscribed on the trophy. New champ beaming. Like Goran Ivanisevic in 2001, ranked world No. 125 and a wild card, swallowing painkillers for an aching shoulder and knocking out players ranked No. 22, 33, 3, 11, 10 to win the title.

Said Ivanisevic, the last unseeded champion: "This is so great, to touch the trophy. I don't even care now if I ever win a match in my life again. If I don't want to play, I don't play again. This is it. This is end of the world."

I know, I know, we're all in love with the Serbian-Spanish-Swiss- Scottish axis of excellence, but Wimbledon needs a changed story. A young story, maybe? No male teenager has grabbed the trophy for 31 years since Boris Becker won his second title in 1986. His first one came in 1985 when he was 17 years and 227 days and younger than the boys' winner that year. Said Henri Leconte to Sports Illustrated that year about Becker: "I see his plan. He just hit ball, make winner, win, say thank you and go bye-bye."

If not a young champion this year, why not an undersized one in an era stuffed with high-rise heroes? No fellow who measures 1.75m or less has triumphed on the lawns since Jan Kodes in 1973 and that seems undemocratic. If size doesn't convince you, what about style, for no authentic serve and volleyer has ruled Wimbledon since Pete Sampras reminded us that on grass you went forward not sideways.

If that history won't convince you, what about geography? Used to be a time when characters from Down Under - Newk with his moustache, Laver and his 30.5cm forearm, Roy Emerson, whose strong wrists came from milking cows as a kid - owned the lease on Centre Court. Six different Antipodeans won the title 13 times in the 16 years between 1956-1971 but there's been no Aussie on the winners' board in 15 years.

It is a perfect time for Thiem, Zverev, Kyrgios, with a hand from Nishikori, Dimitrov, Raonic, to launch a coup de grass. A battalion of over-20s against a dads' army - well, three are fathers - in their 30s: it's as close to a fair fight as we can get.

But people don't care about any of this because we're in the thrall of Federer-Nadal-Djokovic-Murray, who have grabbed the last 14 titles at Wimbledon between them and on eight occasions played each other in the final.

The fascination of the terrific tetrad is that no one, not even them, is quite certain right now whether they're about to surge or stutter. Nadal, for instance, didn't win a single event between April 2016 and April 2017, while Federer, for the first time in 16 years was trophy-less in 2016. Yet this year they have won the year's first two Slams. What cereal do these men eat?

The Scot-Serb twins, born seven days apart in 1987, are having a leaner time. By June last year, Novak Djokovic had won six titles in six months, yet since has won only three in 12 months. He's like a Tripod war machine from War of the Worlds that has been mysteriously felled.

Invincibility is only on loan, then it is taken back as if wearing it takes too much out of an athlete. Murray had a brilliant six months but sustaining it was physically improbable. From July to November last year he won Wimbledon, Olympic gold, Beijing, Shanghai, Vienna, Paris, the ATP Finals and got to No. 1, but has only won a single event since.

Now his hip is aching, Djokovic's confidence is eroded, Federer's mortality is hovering and Nadal, the favourite for me, hasn't won Wimbledon since 2010. It is a perfect time for Thiem, Zverev, Kyrgios, with a hand from Nishikori, Dimitrov, Raonic, to launch a coup de grass. A battalion of over-20s against a dads' army - well, three are fathers - in their 30s: it's as close to a fair fight as we can get.

Of course, flattening one great takes nerve, but to win Wimbledon will probably require scalping two of the Fab Four. This is tennis' equivalent of ascending Everest without oxygen but it's been done before - by Juan Martin del Potro, who swept aside Nadal and Federer at the 2009 US Open and Stan Wawrinka, who ousted Djokovic and Nadal at the 2014 Australian Open.

The thrill of this foursome is their appetite and the way they walk on Grand Slam centre courts with the authority of landlords. To paraphrase Alexandre Dumas, who wrote on the original Musketeers, it doesn't matter what fragile threads the lives of these athletes are suspended by, they do not easily break. It is why together they have won over US$360 million (S$495.36 million) in prize money and 277 titles, including 48 Grand Slam singles titles. They are not the future but not ready to be the past.

They will chase immortality even as young men chase them and then one year on a Wimbledon afternoon they will be caught. They will stand on the side, holding a salver, and watch as a new, joyous champion holds aloft the trophy. Then the old guys might smile, even in defeat, for they know what first times feel like.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 02, 2017, with the headline 'Had enough of the Fab Four? Not yet?'. Print Edition | Subscribe