by Luke Wakeling
For over a decade now, the ‘Big Three’ (or Big Four depending on your opinion of Sir Andy Murray) of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have dominated men’s tennis. 2019 did not upset that trend, as Nadal and Djokovic each won two out of the four Grand Slams.
Indeed, there have been 52 Grand Slams since 2006; the big four have won all but five of them, with Marin Čilić (one), Juan Martín del Potro (one) and Stan Wawrinka (three) providing the anomalies. It is a quite remarkable record, unparalleled in tennis and arguably sport as a whole.
This reign is starting to crack though with the inevitable onset of age. Federer is incredibly still competing at 38 but is already missing key tournaments to prolong his career; surely even the great Swiss cannot defeat the constraints of time. Nadal is currently world no.1 and has come back from many injuries to become a force again in tennis. But, due to the more physical style of play the Spaniard has compared to Federer, you would not expect him to match the Swiss’ longevity. Djokovic is 32 and would hope to have at least three more years in him but again this is all injury dependent.
Therefore, many fans will be questioning who is next to dominate world tennis? There have been many challenges for the title over the years. Dimitrov was promising after winning the 2017 ATP finals but has since fallen off. Zverev is an exciting prospect and won the ATP finals last year but has not yet made it past the quarters of a Grand Slam which poses questions about his consistency. Kyrgios is immensely talented but has a questionable attitude – none of these as of yet have been able to encroach on the Big Three’s supremacy.
On November 17 at a raucous O2 arena, the Big Three were shaken by yet another challenge. Except this time, many believe this challenge will surmount to an upheaval. Stefanos Tsitsipas won the ATP Finals, a tournament that included the Big Three and the other five best players in the world, beating Dominic Thiem 6-7 (6-8) 6-2 7-6 (7-4). It is the biggest achievement in the short career of 21-year-old.
However, it is not the achievement that has excited the tennis world as Dimitrov and Zverev have won the same title. It is the style of play and composure Tsitsipas shows, well beyond his years, that convinces so many that he is the next ‘big thing’.
The long-haired Greek has a very versatile and attacking style, with a thunderous forehand and a beautiful backhand. He is not afraid to approach the net and take the ball early, as Federer has complimented. Tim Henman suggested in the semi-final between the two that “Tsitsipas beat Federer at his own game”, a statement which was not an exaggeration; it was as if Federer was facing a younger and more energetic version of himself.
It was an unsettling sight for Federer fan’s to see him so outplayed, but they should also consider themselves lucky to witness the pinnacle of an excellent break-through year for Tsitsipas. After only winning his first ATP match in 2017, Tsitsipas won the junior version of the ATP Finals last year and then reached the semi-final of the Australian Open in January. He ascended to no.5 in the world in August and believes he is “really close” to winning his first Grand Slam to make a serious blow to the perpetual wall of the Big Three. Few would suggest otherwise. The dynasty is crumbling and Tsitsipas is yielding the hammer; only time will tell how far away it is from total collapse.