Is the Reign of Tennis’ Big Three Over?

A brief look into the future of men’s tennis.

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Roger Federer, a member of the Big Three, serves the ball in a match against Denis Istomin, during the 2012 London Olympics.

The 2020 U.S. Open was momentous for the tennis world. For the first time in four years, a player outside of tennis’ ‘Big Three’ had won a Grand Slam. When Dominic Thiem defeated Alexander Zverev in the men’s final, he broke the Big Three’s Grand Slam winning streak.

The ‘Big Three’ is a tennis term used to refer to the decade’s most dominant men’s tennis players: Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, and Rafael Nadal. Since Wimbledon in 2003, the Big Three have won a total of 58 tournaments out of the 70 Grand Slams played. Federer has won 20 of those 58 Grand Slam titles, Djokovic has won 18 of those 58 Grand Slam titles, and Nadal has won 20 of those 58 Grand Slam titles. Over the past eighteen years, they have become household names in tennis, beating out their opponents with their speed, precision, and experience. 

Every now and then, however, the Big Three’s control of the court falters, and other tennis greats, like Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka, manage to break through and claim the title. The most recent player to find success in the shadow of the Big Three is Dominic Thiem, the first men’s tennis player born in the 1990s to win a Grand Slam. 

Thiem’s feat excited the tennis world with the possibility of a new dominating force in men’s tennis. Joining Thiem in conversations of the rise of a new era in men’s tennis are Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, and Alexander Zverev, the runner up of the 2020 men’s U.S. Open final, among others. 

After the 2020 U.S. Open, many tennis fans have become hopeful of seeing a new tennis legend rise with the trophy in the future. Despite this hope, some feel that the Big Three still have a few more years at the top of the throne as the next generation of tennis stars may not yet be experienced enough.

Zverev, Medvedev, and Tsitsipas are all in their early-to-mid twenties and have not yet won a Grand Slam. Thiem won his first, and only, Grand Slam at age twenty-seven. Compared to the Big Three, Thiem, Zverev, Medvedev, and Tsitsipas are a little late. Federer was twenty-one years old when he won his first Grand Slam at Wimbledon in 2003, Djokovic was twenty years old when he won his first Grand Slam at the Australian Open in 2008, and Nadal was nineteen years old when he won his first Grand Slam at the Roland Garros in 2005. By the time the Big Three were at the age Zverev, Medvedev, Tsitsipas, and Thiem are now, they were already accomplished tennis stars with at least one Grand Slam win under their belt and many more to come in the future. 

Julia Yoon ’22, a member of the Girls’ Varsity Tennis Team, said, “As time goes on, the Big Three are going to have trouble keeping up their performance, especially considering their age and the rise of new younger players. However, this doesn’t change the fact that they are the greatest players of all time.” 

Critics also note that Thiem’s U.S. Open win was only a result of the circumstances at the time. Nadal had opted out of the tournament due to safety concerns, Federer had opted out to recover from an injury, and Djokovic was disqualified in the fourth-round after he accidentally hit a line judge with a tennis ball. 

Because the Big Three could not defend their throne, many have discredited Thiem’s win, claiming that the trophy would not have been his if Djokovic had not been disqualified. However, in the end, Thiem’s name will forever be carved into the 2020 U.S. Open men’s trophy, especially after a much deserved win from a long, hard-fought battle against Zverev. 

In regards to the question of when we will see the rise of a new champion, it seems as though the Big Three will reign for a little longer, especially seeing as Djokovic recently claimed the Australian Open title on February 21st, 2021. Despite being in their thirties, they still manage to stay in control. We can still hold out hope for a breakthrough in the near future, but it will be a while before we see total dominance by a player outside of the Big Three. 

“As time goes on, the Big Three are going to have trouble keeping up their performance, especially considering their age and the rise of new younger players. However, this doesn’t change the fact that they are the greatest players of all time,” Julia Yoon ’22, a member of the Girls’ Varsity Tennis Team.

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