But this week, it is no overstatement to say we might well and truly have seen the end of an era.
Roger Federer’s announcement that he is to undergo a knee operation once again, with the surgery putting him put of action for “many months” was quickly followed by his long-time rival Rafa Nadal’s revelation that he will miss the remainder of the season due to an ongoing foot injury.
The pair, particularly Nadal, have both had injury setbacks in the past, but this feels different.
This feels not like a pause in their careers, but a full stop.
As every athlete knows only too well, age is not one’s friend when it comes to recovering from injury and with Federer having turned 40 earlier this month and Nadal 35 years old, the pair are already re-writing the rule book when it comes to the age at which elite athletes begin to decline.
Their first meeting was in 2004 and their 39 matches since then have defined the past two decades of the sport.
For much of that period, Nadal was the king of clay, Federer was the king of everything else.
Novak Djokovic may have done a good job at wrenching a significant number of grand slam titles from the grasp of Federer and Nadal but despite the Serb’s success, and the likelihood he will end up the most successful male tennis player ever, he has never quite achieved the hero-status, nor the levels of popularity, in the manner Federer and Nadal have.
That, in 2021, we are still talking about Federer and Nadal as relevant entities is nothing short of remarkable in itself.
Tennis has long been talking of the “next generation” who, we were told, would wrest titles and ranking positions from the grasp of Federer and Nadal.
Dominic Thiem, Alex Zverev, Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas et al were, so the predictions went, going to topple the old guard.
It’s never happened. Only injury, it seems, will loosen the grip of Federer and Nadal on the top of the game
Both are far from announcing their retirement – yet.
The Swiss says he is going under the knife in order to give himself a “glimmer of hope” of returning to the tour while Nadal has been suffering from his foot issue for “too long and needs to find a solution”.
It remains to be seen if both, or either, are able to fulfill their wish of returning.
Particularly in Federer’s case, it seems unlikely he will return at all, even more unlikely he will return to the level required to compete for the biggest titles.
And so we may never again watch two of the greatest players ever to pick up a tennis racket battle it out.
Some of their matches have been true classics. The 2008 Wimbledon final, which was concluded in almost darkness and saw Nadal win his first title at the All England Club, was arguably the greatest match in history.
The 2017 Australian Open final in which Federer took almost 4 hours to defeat the Spaniard to win his 18th major title was another of which the memories endure.
It seems far-fetched, if not simply ludicrous, to imagine we will see these occasions ever again.
Their rivalry was made great by the contrast of the pair; Federer’s grace and gentleness were countered in every rally by Nadal’s intensity and force.
Off the court, they are great friends but on the court, their rivalry, though always respectful, was fierce.
Their clothing was the polar opposite; Nadal’s was garish, Federer’s was plain and simple.
Their approach, on the face of it, could not be more different; Nadal is almost animalistic, Federer is a picture of serenity.
The new generation are sublime tennis players, no doubt about it, but none have the charisma or x-factor of Federer or Nadal.
Who knows, they might be back. If anyone can return, it is these two greats.
But if not, it will perhaps only be when they have confirmed they have hung up their rackets for good that we will realise quite how different tennis will be without them.
AND ANOTHER THING…
The case surrounding Caster Semenya seems never-ending.
After a line appearing to be drawn under the situation following the introduction of the rule in which athletes must have testosterone levels within a particular window in order to compete in middle-distance races – a rule which disqualified the South African from competing in Tokyo following her refusal to take testosterone-suppressing drugs – fresh doubt has been cast over the ruling.
This week, World Athletics released a report admitting the findings that banned Semenya, as well as several other athletes from taking part in the Tokyo Olympics are “misleading”.
The previous evidence had found that females with high testosterone levels had a competitive advantage but this new report has confirmed the previous findings are not “confirmatory”.
Few would dispute this is an unspeakably complex issue, with no definitive answer likely to ever emerge.
However, the mess athletics is getting itself into, not to mention the unfairness of excluding athletes without justification, is the worst of all worlds.
Semenya’s lawyers, understandably, have raised questions as to why this evidence was held back until the conclusion of Tokyo 2020 but whatever the answer, it is too late for the South African who was deprived of the opportunity to defend the 800m title she won in both London and Rio.
There will not be a solution that appeases everyone but with such uncertainty cast over the evidence which has been used to make these rules in the first place, surely the only fair move is to scrap the current rules until more concrete evidence is collected.