Andy Murray withdrawal signals end of an era as Djokovic left to fly the flag

Andy Murray recently withdrew from the upcoming French Open as he looked to focus on the grass season. With Rafael Nadal also pulling out and Roger Federer retiring last year, it marks the first time since the three men turned pro that they have all missed the same Grand Slam. With Novak Djokovic left to fly the Big Four flag on his own in Paris, it signals the end of an era as new, young names come to the forefront as title contenders.

The Big Four once dominated the sport, holding the world No 1 ranking between them from February 2004 to February 2022 and winning a combined 67 Grand Slam titles in the last 20 years. It was always inevitable that their era would eventually draw to a close, with Federer now 41 while the rest enter their late thirties.

But this year’s French Open is a signal that their collective stronghold on the sport is well and truly ending. It is the first Grand Slam that Murray, Nadal and Federer have all missed since they first turned pro, with the Swiss star retiring last year. And even Djokovic isn’t the nailed-on favourite that he usually is at a Major.

There are valid reasons Murray and Nadal’s absences in Paris – the Brit wants to focus on grass where he believes he can have a good run, while the 14-time French Open champion has been forced out by an injury and will now take a break with the view of returning for a farewell season in 2024. But in a game that was once almost guaranteed to see one of four men lift the title at the end of the tournament, the draw is wide open this year.

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Djokovic has been struggling with an elbow injury and went 5-3 on the clay season, failing to win a title on the surface ahead of the French Open for the first time since 2018. It leaves top seed Carlos Alcaraz as one of the main title contenders, with fellow 20-year-old Holger Rune also establishing himself as one of the favourites.

The Serb himself has already admitted that a new era had arrived, speaking after Rune defeated him in the Rome quarter-final. “Obviously, a new generation is here already,” he sid after his second career defeat to the young Dane.

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The new generation of players have already proved themselves to be exciting personalities with thrilling game styles and their own rivalries to match – as Alcaraz has previously eyed a Federer and Nadal-style rivalry with Jannik Sinner. Tennis will be in good hands as the Big Four loosen their grip on the biggest titles in the sport and make room for young stars to try and write their name in the history books.

But it will still take some time to get used to the new landscape of men’s tennis just four years after Djokovic and Nadal last split the four Majors between themselves. Since then, Dominic Thiem, Daniil Medvedev and Alcaraz have been able to add their name to the list of Grand Slam champions. And there are plenty of players waiting to do the same in Paris.

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