You have to go all the way back to 2002 to find a year without a Grand Slam victory for one of tennis’ Big 3 players – Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, and Rafael Nadal. To put it into perspective: Michael Jordan was still playing basketball for the Washington Wizards, the Brazilian Ronaldo was the world’s best soccer player (we had yet to hear of the ‘other’ Ronaldo), and Jack Nicklaus was still playing on golf’s professional tour.
Eighteen years, and 56 combined Grand Slams, later, we are still faced with the prospect of seeing that trio as the top-tier in tennis. That’s not a bad thing, by any means. Indeed, it suggests that we have been living through a golden era of men’s tennis. But all eras must come to an end at some point, and it feels like tennis has been waiting for the Big 3’s dominance to falter for a long time.
That moment has not come yet. If you look at tips for the major tournaments, you’ll inevitably see the names of Djokovic, Nadal, and Federer at the top of the list. But increasingly in the tennis betting tips and markets, we see other names begin to crop up. Sports ‘regime changes’ don’t happen overnight, but they do happen eventually.
Djokovic is US Open favorite
If we take, for example, the odds for the US Open at the end of the summer. Assuming it goes ahead, 888sport has ranked Novak Djokovic (6/4) and Rafael Nadal (4/1) as the two favorites. However, right on their shoulders come to the likes of Dominic Thiem (7/1), Daniil Medvedev (7/1) and Stefanos Tsitsipas (12/1). Federer is not listed in the odds because he will miss the remainder of the season due to surgery.
In the past, there was a clearer line between the Big 3 (and Andy Murray) and the rest of the field. Sure, on occasion someone like Stan Wawrinka or Marin Cilic would pop up with a Grand Slam victory, but the rarity of such victories was factored into both the betting odds and fans’ expectations.
Of course, many will point to the fact that the Big 3 are getting on in years. Federer will turn 39 in the summer, Nadal is 33 and Djokovic is 32. The latter pair have a few years left for sure, whereas Federer might just have a few tournaments left in him. That’s not meant to be disrespectful to the Swiss maestro; it’s rather a statement of fact. He picks and chooses his tournaments these days, allowing him to save his best for when it matters.
ATP Finals has showcased the new generation
With Federer less and less of a fixture at the top, the door has been opened for the likes of Thiem, who recently cracked the world’s top three, and Alexander Zverev, who won the ATP World Finals at the end of 2018. Tsitsipas won the same event in 2019, as did Grigor Dimitrov in 2017 and Murray in 2016, meaning the Big 3 have not won the ATP Finals since Djokovic in 2015. That’s highly significant, and tennis fans are expectantly waiting for the same kind of shift in dominance in the Grand Slams.
As we mentioned earlier, this ‘change’ will still take some time. Djokovic and Nadal are the favourites for the upcoming slams for a reason – they are the best. However, dominance is being eroded bit by bit. Over the past 18 years in tennis, the toughest question has always been which of the Big 3 would win a particular event. Now the question is whether they will win the next one at all?