The landscape at the top of men’s tennis was very different when it was first announced that Turin would be taking over from London as the host city of the ATP Finals. Indeed, ‘The Big Three’ were very much still the sport’s predominant force back in 2019 and so Italian fans surely anticipated watching Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal do battle.
However, Djokovic is the only one of ‘The Big Three’ to be in Turin for the first ATP Finals held in the northern Italian city. With Federer and Nadal both out injured, with the former’s career reportedly at risk, ‘The Big Three’ might be a thing of the past. Turin, though, might well have been afforded a preview of the future.
Saturday will see Daniil Medvedev and Sascha Zverev join Djokovic in the semi-finals of the ATP Finals amid a growing sense that a changing of the guard has occurred. Djokovic might still be the one setting the standard for all else, but it appears only two rivals are now capable of sticking with the Serbian.
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Medvedev, of course, is now a Grand Slam champion having beaten Djokovic in straight sets in the final of the US Open in September with the Russian close enough in the rankings to target becoming world number one in 2022. There isn’t much at all between Djokovic and Medvedev at this moment in time - see their recent meeting in the final of the Paris Masters for further evidence.
In many ways, Medvedev has been a better version of Djokovic in the second half of the season with the 25-year-old’s defensive game just as impenetrable as that of the Serbian’s. Medvedev might be somewhat unorthodox in his technique, but the principles that underpin his game are similar to those that have sustained Djokovic as the best in the sport for such a long time.
The only other player to have bettered Djokovic in a high-profile match in recent times is Zverev, who fought back from a set down to see off the 34-year-old at the Tokyo Olympics on his way to winning gold. Much like victory at the 2012 Olympics was a watershed for Andy Murray, it could also prove to be a turning point in Zverev's career.
Of course, Zverev has yet to make his Grand Slam breakthrough, but the German has made a breakthrough in terms of his mindset over the last 12 months or so. He made the quarter-finals of three out of the four Grand Slams in 2021 and the semi-finals in two of the four. On top of this, Zverev also won Masters 1000 events in Madrid and Cincinnati.
There is a growing gap between the three best men’s players in the world and the rest. There is a new ‘Big Three’ in place. Some might point to Stefanos Tsitsipas as part of that elite group, with the Greek already a Grand Slam finalist at 23, but he lacks the consistency to be considered at the level of Djokovic, Medvedev and Zverev at this moment in time.
For years, a changing of the guard has been anticipated. The prospects of the sport’s next generation have been assessed as a monolith, as if the rest of tennis had lined up to prove itself worthy of ‘The Big Three.’ Finally, a generational shift has now taken place. The sight of Djokovic, Medvedev and Zverev in Saturday’s semi-finals at the 2021 ATP Finals is another sign of the new order at the top of men’s tennis.
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