Big Three. GenNext. Changing of the guard: It’s been a recurring theme that has now performed on an infinite loop in men’s tennis. At the begin of each new season over the final 5 years, the question pops up: will this be the year through which the younger crop topples the outdated area? At the finish of each year, the answer is an emphatic NO.
Every year, besides this one.
Even in a season headlined by Novak Djokovic’s Calendar Slam chase, a subplot quietly brewed. The guard was altering; the baton beginning to transfer palms; the door finally opening, even when barely.
None of the 4 Grand Slam finals this year was contested between the Big Three – Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer – who’ve a staggering 60 Slams break up neatly between them. It’s the first time this has occurred since 2018, a season through which Marin Cilic, Dominic Thiem, Kevin Anderson and Juan Martin del Potro challenged every of them in Major finals with out success. In distinction to 3 of the 4 who haven’t been capable of replicate their kind and health from that season – 2020 US Open winner Thiem being the exception – the present challengers seem hungry for extra after having tasted completely different slices of the Grand Slam pie.
Daniil Medvedev, 25, Alexander Zverev (24) and Stefanos Tsitsipas (23) have, individually and collectively, taken the GOATs (best of all time; take your choose amongst the 20-20-20 trio) by the horns this season. They have appeared them in the eye, fought them, crushed them. And, in a break from the previous, they did it even when the huge matches got here calling.
The season started with that every one too acquainted feeling of these positive mid-20 abilities flattering to deceive in opposition to the 30-somethings on the huge stage regardless of the odd victory over them in ATP tournaments. Take Medvedev, for instance. The 25-year-old had crushed Djokovic in the year-ending 2020 ATP Finals however taking part in in opposition to the identical opponent three months later for the Australian Open title, he froze, shedding 7-5, 6-2, 6-2.
However, indicators that the younger troop was marching nearer to the three-king fortress took place in the French Open remaining, the place Tsitsipas pressured Djokovic to search out his deepest psychological and bodily resolve to win the throne after shedding the first two units. Months earlier it was the Greek who was at the different finish of the spectrum, defeating Nadal in the Australian Open quarter-finals from being two units to like down.
These have been the type of victories that would probably flip a chapter; break the shackles that tied these children whereas battling these legends. It did, in the very unlikely stage from the very unlikely candidate. Zverev spectacularly rotated a 6-1 opening set setback to stun Djokovic 6-3, 6-1 in the subsequent two at the Tokyo Olympics semi-finals.
A younger gun denied the world No. 1 a shot at the Golden Slam. A younger gun was to quickly deny him the Calendar Slam. Medvedev did to Djokovic in the New York remaining what Djokovic did to him at the begin of the year in Melbourne: drew the marker early on who was the boss of the day and by no means let it shift.
“I think there has definitely been a shifting of the guard,” Leander Paes, India’s 18-time Grand Slam champion, stated in a latest chat. “One where Federer is not winning Grand Slams, Nadal has not played so much throughout the bubble. Djokovic has been a huge revelation and I feel barring injury, he is going to overtake everything in the next 2-3 years.”
That’s been the different essential issue: Djokovic having to hold the bulk of the Big Three workload of late. Nadal, 35, and Federer, 40, have missed two Grand Slams every this year, their injured and ageing our bodies needing additional restore and relaxation.
Tilting head-to-head numbers
That the collective authority and aura of the Big Three is on the wane additionally displays of their head-to-head information in opposition to Medvedev, Tsitsipas, Zverev and Thiem. The numbers are nonetheless largely in the favour of Djokovic, Nadal and Federer however the steadiness has tilted in latest instances.
Medvedev has a 4-5 win-loss file in opposition to Djokovic, which turns right into a optimistic 3-2 from their final 5 conferences. The solely time the Russian has crushed Nadal of their 4 conferences has been of their earlier encounter final year at the last-four stage of the ATP Finals. Tsitsipas is 2-7 in opposition to the Spaniard however has break up the two leads to 2021 with the victory in Australia. Against Federer, the Greek is 2-2, having crushed him in straight units at the 2019 ATP Finals, their most up-to-date duel.
All of Zverev’s three wins from his 9 clashes with Nadal have come of their final 4 conferences, whereas in opposition to Federer he has a wholesome 4-3 file together with successful the earlier two matches. Against Djokovic the German is perhaps 3-7 however he beat him in Tokyo and stretched him to 5 units in the US Open semi-final, taking part in his half in snuffing the wind out of the Serbian’s sails heading into the remaining.
And then there’s Thiem, the first man not amongst the Big Three to win a Slam since 2016 in New York final year, who has gone via a confidence- and injury-hit 2021 season. The Austrian although has gained greater than he has lost in his final 5 matches with each Nadal and Djokovic (3-2), going one higher in opposition to Federer (4-1).
Three of these 4 gamers are in the top-five of the world rankings (Medvedev is No. 2, Tsitsipas No. 3 and Zverev No. 4) whereas the fifth, Andrey Rublev, will flip 24 subsequent month. The Russian pushed Nadal out of the top-five spot earlier this month for the first time since April 2017.
“I think it has already started in a way, with Dominic Thiem winning here last year,” Djokovic stated when requested about the transition after his US Open remaining defeat. “Look, it is normal. The transition was inevitable. The older guys are still hanging on. We’re still trying to shine the light on the tennis world as much as we possibly can. But the new generation… Of course, they are going to take over.”
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