24 January 2021 10:03 PM

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PARTAB RAMCHAND | 28 NOVEMBER, 2020

Big Three vs GenNext Rivalry Spills Over Into 2021

Narrowing gap


It’s been a fascinating rivalry that has been going on for about two years. The Big Three trying their best to hold on to their supremacy even as the GenNext of players are doing their utmost to take over at the top. And at the end of the 2020 season – which culminated in the ATP Tour finals in London on Sunday - it is clear that the battle for supremacy will spill over into 2021.

Year by year the gap is narrowing. Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal continued to dominate the Grand Slam events. However by winning other major titles, by getting the better of the three superstars in various tournaments and making it to the final of the Grand Slams the GenNext quartet of Daniil Medvedev, Alexander Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Dominic Thiem served considerable notice that they were hot on the heels of the Big Three.

This year there have been clear indications that the gap has narrowed down further. For long the first three places in the ATP rankings were occupied by Messrs Djokovic, Nadal and Federer. However the year-end rankings have Federer at No 5 while Thiem and Medvedev are ranked above him even as the first two places are occupied by Djokovic and Nadal. Again the ATP Tour finals were contested by Medvedev and Thiem with Nadal and Djokovic going down in the semifinals with the former emerging victorious.

It is worth recalling here that Tsitsipas won the ATP Tour finals event last year. Also Thiem broke the monopoly of the Big Three when it came to Grand Slams. They won the last 13 Grand Slams between them until Thiem triumphed in the US Open. Djokovic and Nadal won the other two Grand Slams the Australian Open and the French Open while Wimbledon was not held because of the pandemic.

In a way Djokovic who had a great year and stretched the lead at the top of the rankings further was perhaps a bit unfortunate in the US Open when he was disqualified for inadvertently hitting a line judge in his fourth round match. That paved the way for Thiem who made the most of the opportunity. The triumph at the Australian Open gave Djokovic his 17th Grand Slam title and he is hot on the heels of Nadal and Federer who each have 20.

Nadal had an indifferent year but raised his game when and where it mattered most – his favourite clay surface at the French Open which was postponed due to the pandemic. But whether it is May or November Nadal showed why he is a master on the clay surface by winning his 13th title at Roland Garros. This brought him level with Federer with a record 20 Grand Slam titles and the two masters will obviously corner much of the attention in 2021 as to which of them can nose their way to the top with title No 21.

For Federer it was a year to forget. He didn’t win a single Grand Slam though to be fair he competed only in the Australian Open. For only the second year in his long and illustrious career he finished the year without a title. But to be candid his season was cut short because of an injury to his right knee midway through the season and he took the rest of the year off recovering from surgery so that he could be back on court next year. But Federer is into his 40th year and even for someone with his sublime skills, vast experience and being supremely fit it is difficult to see him regain his old glory. The last Grand Slam he won was at the Australian Open in January 2018. Nadal five years younger and still the supreme athlete has it in him to go to the top as far as Grand Slam titles are concerned particularly when it is clear that but for Thiem who finished runner-up to him twice at Roland Garros there is none to seriously test him at the French Open.

Djokovic at 33 however is far from past his best and will carry the hopes of the Big Three continuing to stay in front despite the intense challenge from the younger quartet. Their performance at the Grand Slams and the ATP Tour finals was the main reason why their progress was limited initially but not any more. Thiem has won the US Open, has been runner-up twice at the French Open and was also runner-up at the Australian Open this year.

Medvedev was the finalist at the US Open last year and Zverev this year. As far as the ATP Tour finals are concerned Zverev won the title in 2018, Tsitsipas last year and Medvedev this year. The Russian in fact became the first player to sweep the top three players in the rankings at the season finale. Gradually the quartet has been climbing up the ladder in the ATP rankings and Tsitsipas and Zverev are right up there at No 6 and No 7 respectively.

Oh yes, viewed from more than one angle it should be a fascinating season in 2021.

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