With Novak Djokovic, Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer still topping the world rankings and refusing to relinquish their grip on the four majors, the grand slam semi-finalist simply does not believe the next generation of talent is close to being able to sustain the quality needed throughout the two weeks of a grand slam event, suggesting their time will come only when the top dogs decide to call it a day.
But they have already proved that they will not go gentle into that good night, each having rallied after injuries and smashed premature tales of their demise or returned with power any questions about the ongoing hunger – and while there is a second tier of younger talent below them, in Dominic Thiem, Alexander Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas, they have, as yet, failed to find a formula for overthrowing three of the best players of all time.
“How many times have we been asked if this is a new era,” said the BBC pundit. “We have been saying it for quite a long time but Roger will probably play at least this year and next year and then who knows beyond that. I’m sure that decision will be dictated by results, if he gets any injuries and his desire to continue but I can’t see him walking away just yet.
“I can definitely see Novak playing for another three, four, five years and Rafa, again the question mark is his body and how he can avoid injuries. He has been more injury prone but he is still up there.
“Those three are three of the greatest players in the history of the sport. They have won 53 grand slams between them. That is absolutely incredible and that leaves limited opportunities for the other players because they are not at the same level.
“Dominic Thiem was playing amazingly well on the clay and won Indian Wells and there is Tsitsipas, who is an exciting prospect, and Zverev but he has not been playing so well recently and the likes of Kei Nishikori has been around for a while. They are just not at the same level as the top three so unless their level significantly drops or the others are able to somehow really raise their levels, I still think that going into Wimbledon, I would be massively surprised if the winner came from outside Federer, Nadal and Djokovic.”
Since Federer won his first title in 2003, only Andy Murray has emerged from the pack to prevent total dominance of the SW19 men’s singles by the top trio, which not only underlines their calibre but also highlights just how huge the Scot’s 2013 and 2016 achievements were.
“It emphasises how well Andy [who also triumphed at the 2012 US Open] and Stan Wawrinka have done [who broke through the pack to win on the Australian, French and US stage] to win three slams each in this era. It is an incredible achievement but for the others, they just need to keep improving. It is about looking at all aspects of their game, physically and mentally, to not only challenge the players in their group but also ultimately the top three. But, at this moment in time, I don’t really see one of them coming through and doing that.”
Of the top contenders, Henman says the slight favourite will be world No 1 Djokovic, who he says is top seed for a reason.
“He has won three of the last four slams and is heading to Wimbledon as the defending champion. But Roger and Rafa are a close second. It is amazing. I was looking at it the other day and, admittedly it has been a while, but Rafa made five consecutive finals at Wimbledon and his record on grass is phenomenal. Then there’s Roger…the confidence he gets every time he returns is pretty impressive. His game is so well suited to Wimbledon and you really would need to see some early round upsets and maybe one of them coming up against one of the really big servers, on a hot streak, to knock out someone else, for one of them not to win it. I just don’t see that happening. On the men’s side I just don’t see that many surprises.”
Or any British interest in the latter stages. But he is hoping that won’t be the case in the women’s singles, where he says Jo Konta should be charged by the home support.
“As a player, I loved it. There was pressure but if I could have played my whole career on one court it would have been Centre Court at Wimbledon. I just loved the atmosphere and support was amazing.
“Jo has played great on the clay and that can be a really good platform for playing well on grass because you have to hit so many balls and the physical demands of playing on clay are probably less on grass.
“For me, Jo has the game but the challenge sometimes for her is more mental. It is about how she can deal with any adversity and the pressures. I think a lot of the difficulties she inflicts on herself and the attitude on court, sometimes you look at it and wonder if sometimes she wants it too much. She has to get the balance right, and if she can, as we saw in Roland Garros, she can play some phenomenal tennis.”