Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal have spoilt tennis fans over the past 20 years in an era which has been described by many as tennis’ greatest. Social media has become the new norm in that time and the ‘Big Three’ alongside the creation of Instagram and Twitter has led to the game going global.
However, with all three appearing to be heading towards the twilight days of their careers, how will tennis continue to grow after they are gone?
Having analysed the Instagram followings of the other 17 male players who currently make up the world’s top 20 as of 8th July 2020 and compared this to the followings of the big three and it is harrowing.
A combined total of 24.5 million people follow Djokovic, Nadal and Federer on Instagram compared to 8.82 million for the remaining 17 players. The difference would be even greater if the 1.2 million followers of fellow grand slam winner and another player coming to the end of his career, Stanislas Wawrinka, were removed.
Even with Wawrinka’s followers the remaining 17 players combined still have less followers than Nadal who leads the list of male tennis players with 9.4 million followers.
The focus has to be on promoting stars of the future. Alexander Zverev (1m), Dominic Thiem (1.1m) and Stefanos Tsitsipas (879k) have the potential to carry tennis into its new era once the big three decide to hang up their boots.
Head of Digital Content at Wimbledon, Will Giles told the Sports Gazette, “As the home of tennis, Wimbledon has a key role to play in elevating the next generation, directly and with partners.”
Over the past two years a lot of their social media content has focused on the likes of Tsitispas and in particular last summer, teenage sensation Coco Gauff.
Gauff might well be the future of women’s tennis but at the moment a similar pattern appears in the social media followings of women’s players to that on the men’s side. Serena Williams, the sports biggest female star, tops all of the big three in followers. She has a following of 12.5 million people and this is over double more than any other female playing the game.
However, perhaps the biggest outlier in the statistics and the 5th most followed tennis player on social media is former Indian women’s No.1, Sania Mirza.
Mirza’s following of 6.4 million people is only topped by Williams and the big three of men’s tennis.
This potentially shows an area of growth for the ATP and the WTA to look into. According to the World Bank, India’s population sits around 1.3 billion. It is a huge market to dip into and this is further shown by the following of the nation’s biggest modern sporting star, Virat Kohli, who has 67.6 million followers on Instagram.
If tennis is to continue to grow dipping into Asia and in particular India and China can only be a positive.
Whatever happens after the coronavirus pandemic, one thing is certain, the golden era is coming to an end and how tennis responds will be huge for the sport’s future.