Is The Tennis “Triopoly” Nearing its End?

Photo credit to Essentially Sports.

In the past ten years, there have been seven different NHL champions. Similarly, nine different teams have won the Superbowl since 2010. In tennis, however, the story is a little different. Out of the last 60 Grand Slam events, the “big three”, namely Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic have won 51 titles. However, is the “triopoly” ’s dominance starting to weaken, as the “next-gen” begins to gain some ground at the top?

For many tennis enthusiasts, Roger Federer is considered to be the greatest player of all time. Federer is tied with Rafael Nadal for most Grand Slam men’s singles championships, and has the second-most singles wins after Jimmy Connors. After suffering a knee injury that kept him off the tour for much of 2016, Roger made a triumphant return the following year, taking both the Australian Open and Wimbledon, as well as his latest Grand Slam trophy at the 2018 Australian Open. However, the legend’s injuries came back to haunt him and forced him to withdraw from much of the 2020 season. Federer is turning forty this year, making him one of the oldest players on tour. While he is expected to make a grand return in Doha this month, speculation about an imminent retirement is growing. 

the “big three”, namely Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic have won 58 Grand Slam titles combined

Rafael Nadal is the “king of clay”, having won thirteen titles at Roland Garros on that surface. At thirty-four, Nadal is still playing remarkably well and ranks second in the world. “Rafa” has faced numerous injuries in the last several years, but his unparalleled dedication meant that he always found ways back to the tour. Perhaps the most dominant player of the 2010s, thirty-three-year-old Novak Djokovic rose to the top of the ATP rankings in 2011 and has held that position for much of the last ten years. In less than ten days, he will have spent a total of 311 weeks as world number one, surpassing Federer’s all time high record of 310 weeks. With eighteen Grand Slam titles, and given his performance in recent years, it would come as no surprise to many if the Serbian were to outshine Nadal and Federer in the race for most Grand Slam trophies. “Nole” is also the only player among the “big three” to hold a positive head-to-head record against the two other players. 

The “triopoly” ’s rule on tennis meant that generations of excellent tennis players failed to crack the top three for a significant amount of time. Many outstanding athletes failed to even capture a single Grand Slam title: Ferrer, Berdych, Davydenko, Tsonga, Nalbandian, – the list goes on. In fact, since 2004, only two players besides Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic have been able to win more than one Grand Slam, namely Andy Murray and Stanislas Wawrinka, who both hold three titles. Scottish legend Andy Murray’s success in tennis is perhaps the closest there was to the “big three” ‘s in the last fifteen years, with forty-six singles titles to his name, including twelve masters. He is sometimes grouped with Federer, Nadal and Djokovic as a part of the “big four”.

It may seem like forever since we’ve seen a level playing field in tennis, but that day may be closer than ever. The “next-generation” players are winning more and more titles, and the list of potential stars grows every year.

It is safe to say that Stefanos Tsitsipas, often nicknamed “the Greek God” has been getting a lot of attention lately. The twenty-two-year-old holds the sixth place in the ATP rankings. Tsitsipas turned professional in 2016 and has reached the semi-finals of two major tournaments, namely the Australian Open and the French Open. His elegant technique and confident nature make him one of the best players on tour. Russian prodigy Daniil Medvedev has been winning titles left and right since last year, even capturing the 2020 ATP Finals in London where he beat both Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. He stands on the podium as third in the world at only twenty-five years old. Standing tall at 6 ft 6, his serve is a force to be reckoned with. Alongside Tsitsipas, fellow Russian Andrey Rublev, Alexander Zverev, and Dominic Thiem, Medvedev is considered by many tennis fans as a top contender for the number one ranking, having reached two Grand Slam finals, including this year’s Australian Open where he lost to Novak Djokovic.

Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev have become household names in the past few years. Both have beaten the “big three” numerous times. As of today, Thiem is the fourth highest ranked player in the world after capturing his first-ever Grand Slam title at the 2020 US Open, making him the first player outside the “big three” to win a Grand Slam title since Stanislas Wawrinka five years prior. World number seven “Sasha” Zverev holds thirteen titles to his name. Those include three ATP masters, as well as a trophy at the prestigious year-end ATP Finals – all in the last four years. His game has been steadily improving each season, and it may only be a matter of time before the German clinches his first Grand Slam title.

Canadian stars to watch out for are Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger Aliassime. Both players have been climbing fast in the ranks, earning several titles in the process. Nineteen year-old Jannik Sinner’s shocking run at last year’s French Open made him the youngest Grand Slam quarter-finalist in nearly twelve years.

While the future of tennis is definitely in good hands, the “next-generation” has yet to topple the ruling order. Besides Thiem, who won last year’s US Open following Djokovic’s disqualification from the tournament, no youngster has been able to win “where it matters most”: at Grand Slam events, reminiscent of generations of tremendous players who failed to do so. Tennis fans know it, their favorite sport will probably never witness anything like the “big three” again. 

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