22 February 2020 06:58 PM

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PARTAB RAMCHAND | 8 FEBRUARY, 2020

Gap Between the Big Three and GenNext is Narrowing

The duel continues


The gap between the Big Three and the GenNext of players is narrowing. The quartet of Stefanos Tsitsipas, Daniil Medvedev, Alexander Zverev and Dominic Thiem have been hot on the heels of Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal for the last couple of years but while they have been winning major tournaments like the Masters 1000 and the year ending ATP Tour finals when it comes to rankings and the Grand Slams it is the Big Three who have been still calling the shots. The fact that Djokovic’s triumph at the Australian Open was the 13th straight Grand Slam title the three have shared between them underlines this.

Indeed when it comes to the Big Four competitions only Thiem has made it to the final three times – at this year’s Australian Open and twice running he has been losing finalist to Nadal. Before this year’s Australian Open the best results among the other three was Tsitsipas entering the semifinal at Melbourne Park in 2019 and Medvedev making the title clash at the US Open also the same year. This year Zverev who till then had never made it past the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam and Thiem clashed in the semifinal of the Australian Open while it was Djokovic vs Federer in the other last four clash.

Zverev won the year ending ATP Tour finals in 2018 and last year the champion was Tsitsipas. The quartet of GenNext players have occupied the No 4 to No 7 slots in the ATP rankings for quite a while now but have been unable to topple the Big Three from their positions though Zverev reached the No 3 spot briefly in 2017.

So what can be expected for the rest of the season? From the evidence of what one saw at Melbourne Park it is quite clear that Federer’s career has started its downward slide. It can now finally be said that In his 39th year the man with the most Grand Slams in history (20) is past his best – but only just. He had two great escapes against players ranked well below him and then was beaten in straight sets by Djokovic in the semifinals. Federer last won a Grand Slam in 2018 (the Australian Open) but his intense competitiveness – he made it to the Wimbledon final last year losing to Djokovic in five sets - still makes him a formidable opponent on court. However with Father Time and young and old rivals closing in it is going to be difficult for the great man to win another Grand Slam though he himself believes he can add to his tally.

At the moment the focus will be on Nadal and Djokovic who regained the No 1 spot with his victory at the Australian Open – his 17th Grand Slam. He is closing in on Nadal’s tally of 19 and the manner in which he is playing the Serb has it in him to the leader of the pack. He has already spoken of his ambition to end up as the player with the most Grand Slam singles titles when he finally hangs up his racket. Aware of the fierce competition around him Djokovic reckons that with careful career management he can keep challenging for the sport’s majors.

Djokovic is in his 33rd year a year younger than Nadal who despite his comparatively early exit at the Australian Open – he went down in the quarterfinal to Thiem – is showing no signs of slowing down. Nadal may be associated most closely with the French Open which he has won 12 times but then he has also seven other Grand Slam titles and last year besides his customary French Open title he also won the US Open.

So the duel for supremacy between the Big Three and the GenNext which has been going on for some time will continue this year too. And whether the gap will narrow further and whether the younger set can make a mark on Grand Slams or displace the trio from the exalted status in the rankings will be the subject of much interest during the season.
 

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