Spectator sport

Metal fatigue in the golden generation

27 May 2017

9:00 AM

27 May 2017

9:00 AM

Not a bad week for Roger Federer then: first pootling along being cool and rich in a morning suit at the Philippa Middleton wedding, then being named in the world’s tennis top five again, with his increasingly elderly chums. It’s the first time all five (Murray, Djokovic, Federer, Nadal and ‘Stan the Man’ Wawrinka) have been over 30. Indeed, the only player born in the 1990s to reach a grand slam final is Milos Raonic; no spring chicken at 27.

This is an astonishing time in tennis; a golden generation indeed. We have come a long way since Lleyton Hewitt beat David Nalbandian 3-0 to win Wimbledon. Nalbandian won just six games. That was in 2002; not so long ago, though it feels like a lifetime.

Now perhaps a little metal fatigue is starting to appear in the old guard’s armour. But it only goes to show quite how good they have been. It may be some time before we see such a talented group all performing at the height of their powers at the same time. For all his dominance, Björn Borg didn’t have much opposition and nor did Pete Sampras. But the cracks are starting to show: last week at the Italian Open in Rome the king of clay himself, Rafa Nadal, was trounced by Austria’s Dominic Thiem, who was then himself slaughtered by Djokovic, who in turn was pulled apart in the final by Germany’s elegant giant, Alexander Zverev. Pick the form lines out of that. At last the pieces do seem to be shaken up, but will Zverev or Thiem have the brilliance and consistency of their predecessors? Does the new generation contain a player approaching the stature of Rafa, Roger, or Djoko? I doubt it, though the next two weeks of action at the French Open in Paris should give us more clues.

Fans of West Country myth-making will have been thrilled by the arrival of little Forest Green Rovers into the Football League, by dint of beating Tranmere Rovers — once home to John Aldridge, Pat Nevin, and Half Man Half Biscuit. It might have a pretty name, Forest Green, and play at the New Lawn, Nailsworth, just south of Stroud, but this could be an object lesson in how money has skewed the game. They are not an overnight success — and friends with long memories recall fondly the team’s comfortable victory in the FA Vase over Rainworth Miners’ Welfare in 1982 — but in truth they are little more than a Gloucestershire village team. Now a team aiming for the big time no longer has to be at the centre of a large working community, as Tranmere, founded in 1884, are; it need only be a plaything of the super-rich. Dale Vince, the wealthy Forest Green chairman, is a former New Age traveller who owns an outfit called Ecotricity. He is a devout believer in renewable energy and has turned the team and its ground vegan.

But does it make sense to have Football League teams dependent on a wealthy benefactor rather than a large supporter base? If the benefactor gets bored, dies or runs off with the centre-forward’s wife, the club can look a bit silly. Look at the sorry tale of Rushden Town, later Rushden & Diamonds. It would be a grotesque exaggeration to describe the place they were from as ‘one horse’. The Doc Martens millionaire Max Griggs built them into a league club, but by 2005 sold out for a quid. I hope the same doesn’t happen to Forest Green.

There has been some sour commentary about John Terry’s decision to retire from Chelsea with a stunt on the 26th minute (his number is 26): after the opposition keeper was told to boot the ball out, the game stopped and all the players lined up at the touchline to give him a guard of honour as he left the field. Good grief, anyone would think that people didn’t like J.T. Or something.

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