Another magnificent victory from Rafael Nadal in Paris was offset by the sense that the tennis clock has stopped. The hierarchy of the sport remains unchanged.

Much mileage remains in the race to finish with the most majors, especially as Nadal has closed to within two of Roger Federer's tally for the first time since he opened his account in 2005.

Even so, there cannot help but be a hint of longueurs about watching an event for the 12th time, however brilliant Nadal's all-court game might have been on Monday.

While French TV's viewing figures for the men's final replicated 2018's 3.3 million, they have been shrinking from around five million in the early years of this decade.


Nadal is only part of the story. Novak Djokovic had won the three previous majors, while Federer will be among the favourites to lift a ninth Wimbledon title next month.

The point is that the "Big Three" have dominated tennis — with a little help from Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka — for 10 years and more.

Four or five seasons ago, there was a theory the "Big Four" — as they were then — were about to be eclipsed by rising stars such as Grigor Dimitrov and Milos Raonic.

Yet that prediction fell flat, and even though we keep identifying eye-catching young talents, not one has yet been able to disrupt the tennis establishment. This French Open was the 11th straight major to be claimed by a thirty-something male.

"There's a certain mentality that they [the younger players] don't have yet, that the other three just have," said Boris Becker, who famously won Wimbledon at 17. "It's not the forehands. It's not the fitness. It's a certain attitude that makes the difference between winning and losing.

"I was just reading a stat that no active player under 28 apart from [Dominic] Thiem [Nadal's victim on Monday] has been in a grand slam final. That is not a compliment for anybody under 28."

At least tennis fans can point to a new, fresher-faced gang of three who occupy the places from No4 to No6 on the rankings ladder. Thiem is the most experienced member at 25, followed by 22-year-old Alexander Zverev and 20-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas. Collectively, they have not yet built up the same thick scar tissue as the likes of Dimitrov.

Even so, there is a recurring problem. Beat Djokovic, Nadal or Federer in a best-of-five showdown, and you usually have to play another legend.


"As much as I respect Roger, Rafa, Novak — who else?" asked Becker last week. "Show up. Give me something I want to talk about. Eventually they will be too old. But you want to see the passing of the torch while they are still in their prime."