27 October 2020 12:00 AM

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PARTAB RAMCHAND | 26 SEPTEMBER, 2020

Superstars - Gennext Rivalry to Continue at French Open

Battle for supremacy


It’s a battle for supremacy that’s been going on for a long time now – the one between the established superstars known as the Big Three and the GenNext of players. And despite the gallant efforts of the younger lot the superstars continued to stay at the top, occupying the first three spots in the ATP rankings and winning the Grand Slam events. The GenNext players did narrow the gap by winning other major events and finishing runners-up in Grand Slams. But overall despite their advancing years Messrs Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic managed to stay in front even as Messrs Dominic Thiem, Daniil Medvedev, Alexander Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas played catch up.

With Wimbledon being put off to next year following the pandemic the status quo was maintained but the dramatic events at the US Open has finally resulted in a dent in the dominance of the superstars. For one thing for the first time since Stan Wawrinka won the US Open in 2016 a Grand Slam title was won by a player other than the Big Three. And secondly his triumph at the event meant that Thiem has broken into the top three at the expense of Federer who has dropped to No 4. And while Djokovic and Nadal continue to occupy the first two positions the other three members of GenNext are in slots 5 to 7 meaning that their challenge from them as well as Thiem continues to be strong.

The drama was not only about Thiem’s triumph and breakthrough but also concerned Djokovic. With Federer and Nadal not taking part in the US Open the No 1 ranked player was the prohibitive favourite to win the title. But his disqualification in the fourth round for inadvertently hitting a line judge opened the gates for the GenNext and one of their representatives did not falter even as Zverev finished runner-up.

Among the GenNext players the 27-year-old Thiem would appear to have the best credentials. Not only has he broken into the top three in the rankings he is also the only one among the quartet to win a Grand Slam. Indeed he has the best record among them when it comes to the Majors for besides winning the US Open he has finished runner-up at the Australian Open this year besides being a finalist at the French Open in 2018 and 2019. The best among the others is Zverev and Medvedev who have been finalists at the US Open this year and last year respectively.

The French Open postponed from its traditional May – June slot because of the pandemic could well see the next phase of this battle for supremacy. The Grand Slam event scheduled to be held at Roland Garros from September 27 to October 11 will see the return of Nadal who has made the tournament all his own winning 12 of his 19 Grand Slam titles here and the fact that he is one short of Federer’s all time record of 20 will serve as the supreme motivation.

Nadal however is woefully short of match practice with the just concluded Italian Open in Rome being his first tournament in seven months. The rustiness showed when he went down to a shock defeat in the quarterfinals to Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman whom he had defeated in all nine previous meetings.

At the moment it would appear that Djokovic can do no wrong. So far this year he has a 31-1 win loss record with the only loss being his disqualification at the US Open. His latest triumph at the Italian Open – his fifth in the competition – saw him notch up a 36th Masters crown one more than Nadal. By his own admission he didn’t play his best tennis throughout the tournament but as he succinctly put it ``I played at my best when I needed it at the decisive moments.’’

Despite his awesome record this year Djokovic will have to at his best at the French Open a title he has just won once in 2016. Based on rankings he is the No 1 seed at Roland Garros while Nadal is No 2 but the Spaniard must still be the favourite given his eye rubbing and mind boggling record on the clay surface something that even Djokovic readily acknowledges. However it will just be the Big Two at the tournament with Federer missing out due to injury. Does this give a window for the quartet of GenNext of players who will be at full strength to make one more dent in the supremacy of the superstars?

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