Scroll through the ranking histories of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, skim over the mind-numbing string of No. 1's during Federer’s untouchable 2004-2008 run, and you might notice that you need to dig back to June 2003 to find a moment when neither Fed nor Rafa was among the top four players in the world.
The two spent plenty of time trading off the lead spot, and both bobbed in and out of the top tier due to injuries, but at any given time, one of the generation’s two ascendant players was in the top four. But time churns on, both of them are older, and the official ATP ranking now leads off with Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, and Stan Wawrinka. Nadal is fifth; Federer is seventh. (The unofficial live rankings put Nadal at sixth, with Milos Raonic nudging past him, and Federer at eighth, behind Gael Monfils.)
Nadal and Federer are not broken in exactly the same way. Nadal is plagued by the usual suite of knee, foot, and wrist issues, often attributed to his taxing style of play. It seems like those are becoming permanent fixtures for the 30-year-old, and not just temporary phases. So he’ll just play through it, with lagging results, as seen last week when he was handily knocked out of the China Open by Grigor Dimitrov.
The 35-year-old Federer’s condition feels more like the natural slow decay of age, combined with a freak accident: he popped his knee while giving his children a bath, eventually causing him to pull out of the French Open, break his record streak of 65 straight Grand Slam appearances, and rest up for the remainder of the calendar year. Months later, Federer’s now back on his feet, and the stans among us may dream he has one more Slam in him, but one Stan (along with one Novak, one Kei, and more) make that dream much less plausible.
Meanwhile, out in the meadows of frolicking youth, 21-year-old Nick Kyrgios has won his first ATP 500 event in his usual brash style and surged up to No. 14 in the rankings; hulking German 19-year-old Alexander Zverev is about to break into the top 20; Lucas Pouille sits at No. 16 after a promising showing at the U.S. Open; and, much further down the ladder, American teen Frances Tiafoe has cracked the top 100. The old guard may be dying out, but take solace in the fact that their replacements are entertaining as hell.