This article also appears in ESPN The Magazine’s September 5 issue.
Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic just keep getting better with age. Upsets in Rio aside, both are poised to dominate their younger competition at the U.S. Open, which starts Aug. 29.
With Serena and Venus Williams still so prominent, it can feel like little has changed in the past 15 years of women’s tennis. But Serena might be even better today, a month shy of 35, than she was as a teenager. She’s gone from battling for titles against women close to her age (Martina Hingis and Venus) and older (Lindsay Davenport, five years her senior) to dominating against a much younger group of rivals who have yet to break through, mainly because of, well, her. If she can get past the shoulder pain that hampered her in Rio, she’ll aim for an Open-era-record 23rd major title.
The best players on the ATP Tour right now are also among the oldest. Djokovic, No. 1 at 29, is joined at the top by No. 4 Roger Federer (35) and No. 5 Rafael Nadal (30). Djokovic’s biggest threat — second-ranked Andy Murray, who’s been on a hot streak with recent wins at Wimbledon and the Olympics — is one week older than the No. 1. But Djokovic, who’s won five of the past seven majors, is especially dominant over the younger set. Only two players his junior have banked a major win during his career — Juan Martin del Potro in 2009 and Marin Cilic in 2014, both at the U.S. Open. Any upstart looking to shift the balance of power in Flushing will have some daunting history — and hard-hitting elders — to get through.