On the eve of the draw of the first major of the year, the recurring question continues to cross the minds of tennis experts and fans alike; “Does the Big Three dominance at the majors continue or is the ‘Next Gen’ finally ready to take over?”
Since the 2004 Australian Open, 50 of the last 60 Grand Slams were won by either Federer, Nadal or Djokovic – a domination rarely seen in the sport or in any other sport.
The remaining 10 majors were shared by Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka, Marat Safin, Juan Martin del Potro, Marin Cilic and Gaston Gaudio; most of these names would have been close to double digit Grand Slam winners in any other era.
Every time one has written off any of the Big 3, they have only come back stronger and proved the age old saying, “it’s not over, till its over”.
Federer’s comeback from the 2016 injury layoff while getting into his late 30s, Djokovic’s comeback in 2018 from two years of lows not seen before for the Serb, and the countless Rafael Nadal comebacks from injuries, serve as evidence of their relentless desire for supremacy and longevity.
Over the last decade and a half, tennis has not had a shortage of talent outside the Big 3 – one can only look to Murray, Wawrinka, Delpotro, Berdych, Tsonga, Ferrer, Cilic, Nishikori to name a few. Yet, when it comes to the major, it really has been about the Big 3.
The last 18 months on the circuit continue to see an uprising of talent and tournaments like the Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan showcase more of this.
Consistent success at the ATP Masters, 500s and 250s (Alexander Zverev, Karen Khachanov, Borna Coric, Dominic Thiem, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Daniil Medvedev, Alex de Minaur, Frances Tiafoe among others) has definitely created a strong argument that the changing of the guards may well be upon us.
Zverev’s impressive performance at the Tour Finals in London, beating Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic in the semi- finals and finals respectively, to win what has sometimes been called “the Fifth Grand Slam” was perhaps the strongest evidence that the tide was changing.
Federer’s losses at Wimbledon, the US Open and Shanghai Masters, alongside Nadal’s continued injury woes, and Djokovic’s losses to Tsitsipas, Khachanov and Zverev in the second half of 2018 are further testimony that their dominance maybe waning.
What will actually transpire in 2019 still remains to be seen though.
While Djokovic still begins the year as favorite at every Slam, with Federer a close second in Melbourne and SW19, and Nadal equally favored at Roland Garros, tennis fans should not be too surprised if 2019 is indeed the year of a new slam winner.
New York probably seems the more likely venue for that, given an abundance of factors; but it could perhaps happen anywhere. And then of course, we may revisit this towards the end of 2019, with the Big Three extending their dominance into (almost) the next decade.
Let the games begin!