The reign of the Big Three has finally ended. The just concluded French Open drove home the point. The domination of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic lasted some two decades but over the last couple of years it had become clear that the GenNext of players was fast catching up.

What was keeping the three great players just ahead of the rest of the field was their performance at Grand Slam events. The younger players were winning their share of titles around the ATP circuit – even Masters 1000 tournaments and the year-ending ATP Tour finals – but their showing in the Grand Slams was below par which meant that the No 1 ranked player would still be Federer, Nadal or Djokovic.

Over the last couple of years there has been a marked change in the scenario. First Federer, clearly past his best, announced his retirement. Then last year Nadal, bothered by injuries, slid down the rankings, hardly won a title let alone Grand Slams and announced that 2024 would probably be his last year on the tour.

That left only Djokovic among the old guard to hold the fort and he performed superbly last year by winning three Grand Slams besides being a finalist at Wimbledon. This year however he made an early exit at the Australian Open, has not won a single title on the tour and has been strangely off colour.

He was looking at the French Open to boost his flagging career but two five set matches in a row took their toll and even the superbly fit Djokovic had to concede a walkover to Casper Ruud in the quarterfinal because of a damaged knee. The injury was so bad that it required surgery and his participation at Wimbledon must be in some doubt.

The 38-year-old Nadal in the meantime had an indifferent run on his favourite clay surface in the run-up to the French Open. Now ranked No 275 he was given a wild card but went down in the opening round to the ultimate runner-up Alexander Zverev.

It is never a pleasant sight to see the master of Roland Garros where he has won 14 titles – the most by a player at any Grand Slam – to depart in such an ignominious manner. As for Djokovic, his forced exit meant that he lost the No 1 ranking which he had held for so long to Jannik Sinner.

The 22-year-old Italian is the latest in a long line of GenNext players who have been threatening to end the domination of the Big Three. A few years ago the quartet of Dominic Thiem, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Daniil Medvedev and Zverev rapidly rose up the ladder and emerged as serious contenders to take over at the top.

But their inability to perform consistently at Grand Slam events saw to it that Messrs Federer, Nadal and Djokovic remained at the top in the year-end rankings. Now that is changing thanks principally to the emergence of Sinner and Carlos Alcaraz but there are others like Ruud, Holger Rune and Andrey Rublev, all in the top ten and hot on the heels of the leaders.

Sinner won the Australian Open this year and was a semifinalist at the French Open besides being a semifinalist at Wimbledon last year. His consistency has seen him take over at the top but the man of the moment is clearly Alcaraz. He is 21, a year younger than Sinner but has already won three Grand Slams and on three different surfaces – grass (Wimbledon), hard courts (US Open) and now clay (French Open).

It is a stupendous feat and marks him out as a future all time great. At No. 2 he is sandwiched between Sinner and Djokovic but he has already held the No. 1 position and there is little doubt that he will regain it ere long despite the competitive field that includes Zverev and Medvedev, currently ranked No. 4 and No. 5.

So at roughly the halfway mark in the season with two more Grand Slams still to be played the stage does seem set for the GenNext to confirm that they have taken over at the top. One simple fact will suffice to drive home this point. The Zverev – Alcaraz final at the French Open was the first title match at Roland Garros since 2004 without Federer, Nadal or Djokovic.

Right now Federer has retired, Nadal is on the verge of following him and at 37 even a superbly fit Djokovic cannot be expected to last very long. But it has been a glorious two decades in which the three all-time greats performed feats the kind of which eluded the all-time greats of the previous eras. A total of 66 Grand Slam singles titles between them underscores their dominance starting with Federer’s triumph at Wimbledon way back in 2003.

For long, Roy Emerson held the record with 12 Grand Slam titles. Pete Sampras surpassed this and at the start of the 21st century his 14 titles appeared to be quite invincible. But Federer with 20, Nadal with 22 and Djokovic with 24 kept raising the bar and they have provided the inspiration for the younger set to go for bigger goals.

But one feels that however great the next generation of players will be, the feats of the Big Three will stand the test of time. They set standards which will be virtually impossible to surpass.