For a third straight time, the ATP Finals singles title has been won by a player who isn’t Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer.
Stefanos Tsitsipas defeated Dominic Thiem in this year’s finale at London’s O2 Arena, following in the footsteps of Alexander Zverev in 2018 and Grigor Dimitrov in 2017. All three were just 21 when lifting the trophy.
So the question now being asked in the men’s game is: will we finally see a new face win any of the four Grand Slam crowns in 2020? Since 2004, only six players other than Djokovic, Nadal or Federer have won Slams: Andy Murray (3), Stan Wawrinka (3), Marat Safin (1), Juan Martin Del Potro (1) and Marin Cilic (1) and Gaston Gaudio (1).
Federer is now 38, Nadal is 33 and Djokovic 32, yet their grip on the sport’s four biggest titles – the Australian, French and US Opens, plus Wimbledon -remains as firm as ever. But there are signs that next season might be the one which ushers in a new era of younger Slam winners.
Defending champion Zverev, 22, defeated Nadal 6-2, 6-4 on day two at this year’s ATP Finals, giving him wins over the all of the big three in the past 12 months. Thiem, 26, claimed victories over Federer and Djokovic in the group stage, reaching the semi-finals and final at the O2 for the first time.
This year’s elite eight-man field in London also included Daniil Medvedev (23) and Matteo Berrettini (23). Thiem was competing in his third consecutive ATP Finals. Slowly but surely, the new generation are starting to make more of an impact.
Thus far, however, no player born after 1990 has won a Grand Slam, although three have reached finals. In 2016, Milos Raonic was beaten at Wimbledon by Murray. Thiem lost to Nadal in both the 2018 and 2019 French Open. Medvedev was beaten by Nadal in this season’s US Open, but the rising Russian star forced the Spaniard to spend four hours and 50 minutes winning his 19th Grand Slam.
In the semi-finals at Flushing Meadows, Medvedev overcame Dimitrov. Earlier this year, Tsitsipas and Berrettini reached the semi-final of Australian Open and US Open respectively, but Nadal ended their runs.
Among all players in their 20s, Thiem might be the closest one to his first Grand Slam trophy. The Austrian has more experience compared to his peers and a stable world ranking; he has not been out of the top 10 since 2016.
He also has a strong and long-standing relationship with his coaching team, having worked with Gunter Bresnik since he was just eight years old. Bresnik also coached six-time Grand Slam winner Boris Becker.
After winning at ATP Finals crown, Tsitsipas declared he was ready to win a Grand Slam, but thus far he has only beaten Federer from that dominant top trio. Zverev, who has had a better overall ranking than the Greek in the past two years, has yet to reach the final four of any Slam event.
But the young guns are making progress. The last time that the ATP Finals line-up had four participants under 23 was 10 years ago, when Nadal (23), Djokovic (22), Murray (22), and Del Potro (21) all featured.
Out of the current big three, it will surely be Federer who is first to decide his time is up. The Swiss legend plans to play at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, but will turn 39 during the Games, and retirement is beckoning.
Nadal and Djokovic may both yet overhaul Federer’s record of 20 Grand Slam titles, but both have had injuries that will start to slow them down. Murray has returned after hip resurfacing surgery, but it is generally felt unlikely that he will be able to make it a ‘Big Four’ again.
Tennis fans will continue to cheer the big three to the rafters, and most will mourn Federer’s eventual retirement, but this year’s ATP Finals showed that the sport’s future is bright and in the safe hands of a younger, talented group of players.
Main image of the ATP Finals at the O2 Arena by Jess C via Flickr Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC 2.0