Men’s tennis is entering an interesting phase unlike what it has had so far this century. For the last two decades, and a bit more, the four Grand Slams – the pinnacle of tennis – has been shared by three great players in the men’s singles event – Novak Djokovic from Serbia, Rafael Nadal from Spain and Roger Federer from Switzerland. Britain’s Andy Murray being the most notable mention outside the Big Three.

Federer, the eldest of the lot, was the first to call time on his career when he announced his retirement from the sport in 2022, with 20 Grand Slam titles under the belt. The world’s greatest grass court player and a darling of Wimbledon fans, the Swiss player broke hearts when he hung up his racket.

As Djokovic continued to scale new heights and break records, he had Nadal to challenge him sparsely. Murray’s injuries caught up with him and the new generation began breaking through slowly.

But as the world gears up for two months of packed schedules in the sport with the French Open and Wimbledon along with the 2024 Paris Olympics, two of the remaining three who dominated the sport for a large portion of the 21st century are also ready to call time on their careers.

Former India no 1 Somdev Devvarman has watched both Nadal and Murray on tour and has played all four. And in this season of retirements, in an online interaction ahead of the Roland Garros 2024, Devvarman was full of praise for Nadal and Murray, along with Dominic Thiem, another Grand Slam winner who is retiring this season.

“What we’re seeing right now is inevitable,” said Devvarman when asked about the possible uncertainty creeping into men’s tennis with the eventual retirement of Nadal and Murray.

“We got at least three more years from Rafa [Nadal] than I expected, to be honest. Novak [Djokovic] is also likely to retire soon, but the question is how much more does he have in him to continue?

“But also you have to look at the last few champions of Grand Slams like [Carlos] Alcaraz and [Jannik] Sinner. So I think in this next phase of men’s tennis, we’re going to see more Grand Slam champions than we did in the past 20 years or so.”

Federer briefly held the record for most Grand Slam titles in men’s tennis, but was overtaken by Nadal who has 22. Djokovic increased the mark to 24 – level for the all-time record with Margaret Court.

Although it has been a while since Devvarman, once ranked as high as No 62 in the world, the few memories that he has of Murray and Nadal is enough to paint a picture.

“Andy has had a great career,” said Devvarman, who played against the three-time Grand Slam champion twice – at the 2011 US Open and the 2014 ATP 250 Shenzen Open.

“I feel like the guy dissected the game in a way that very few people had seen before. The grit and IQ he played with, those were the things that stood out to me first. But when I played with him, I realised how physical and strong he was.

“He was a different breed – how well he saw the court and how few weaknesses he had, his amazing attack from different positions, his court awareness and the smarts.”

Devvarman explained that despite not winning that many majors, the Brit’s level of competition was on par with Djokovic, Nadal and Federer.

Out of the four, Murray is the only player to have won three Olympic medals – two gold in men’s singles (at London 2012 and Rio 2016) and one silver in mixed doubles with Laura Robson in 2012. Nadal has one gold in men’s singles (Beijing 2008) and Federer has one gold in men’s doubles with Stanislas Wawrinka, also in Beijing.

When asked about how Nadal could fare in what will be his swansong on his favourite court at the French Open, Devvarman remarked on the dominance that the Spaniard has had on this surface.

“[Nadal is] the greatest clay-courter ever, tennis is lucky to have him,” said the 39-year-old Indian.

Nadal, a 14-time winner of the clay-court Slam, has been drawn to play world No 4 Alexander Zverev from Germany in the opening round on Court Philippe Chatrier.

“You always expect a dramatic match when it comes to Rafa, you expect him to fight and give himself a chance to win,” said Devvarman. “Especially on Philippe Chatrier which is his most successful court and against Zverev who is going to be uncomfortable playing despite having success recently in Rome.”

As is expected when greats like Nadal approach the finish line, the question of who is the next Nadal or Federer inevitably crop up. But Devvarman cautions against making early comparisons and also advises against taking those words to heart, especially for the youngsters.

“I feel like the comparisons will be made naturally, but that kind of gets old quick,” explained the former player-turned-broadcaster. “Much like with Iga Swiatek who has been compared to Serena [Williams] or [Steffi] Graf, what is required is improvement and not to focus on what the chatter is all about.

“So these players [Alcaraz, Sinner], despite being young, one of the reasons that they’re good is because they’re very mature and don’t let a whole lot of things get to their head,” he added.

With inputs from Samreen Razzaqui.

The French Open 2024 will be broadcast live on the Sony Sports Network starting on May 26.