Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon tries to predict the future in men’s tennis.
Once Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer retire, who steps in their shoes?
It’s a simple enough question, or at least it ought to be. When the current big 3, the three players who have seemingly won every single event of the past 20 years, retire, then who will be the ones lifting all the important trophies?
Granted, this scenario might be tough to envision right now after a season in which one of the big 3 came within a single match of completing the calendar-year Grand Slam. But truly, it will happen; it’s not a matter of if, but rather when. Father Time is undefeated, etc. etc. And when it happens, there will be a huge gap to fill at the top of the leaderboard in men’s tennis for the first time since, like, the beginning of the millennium? Yeah, it’s been a while.
From our vantage point, there are a few possible scenarios as to how the future might play out.
Answer A: The likely choices
If you’re looking for the two likelier choices, then you’re probably anointing Daniil Medvedev and Dominic Thiem. Both players here have the advantage of having shown that they can hang with and even defeat the best players in tennis. In 2021, Medvedev spoiled Djokovic’s immortal season and won his first Grand Slam title after having come so close at the 2019 US Open. Meanwhile, it was just a year ago that Thiem was unchocking, after having firmly choked, to capture his own first major title at the US Open.
If you believe in Thiem and Medvedev, you’re betting on two players who have shown ability and results. Not only that, but they each have a clear-cut surface where they will be the best player in hard courts (i.e. Medvedev) and clay (i.e. Thiem).
Answer B: The players who were promised to us
Here, we’re referring to the crown jewels of the next generation of likely champions of men’s tennis. They’re names like Alexander Zverev, Denis Shapovalov or Stefanos Tsitsipas, players who broke through while the dominance of the Big 3 was mostly down to that of Djokovic. They’re players who have fared better than those who came before them in Milos Raonic, Grigor Dimitrov and others, simply by virtue of when they were born. That said, the problem is that for all of their promise and potential these players still haven’t done it. Maybe next year?
Answer C: The “next gen” players from the next generation
In this case, the group includes Carlos Alcaraz, Jannik Sinner, and plenty of others we probably don’t know or haven’t met yet. They’re the players who are still firmly on the come-up but also with a large enough sample size that we know that their results and abilities are not to be denied.
Answer D: Nothing ever changes
In case you haven’t noticed, we’ve just completed a season where the top player in the world cemented his legacy as the greatest the sport has ever seen, made 7 finals in 11 events, won 5 titles and came ever so close to grabbing all four major titles of the season. That’s for Djokovic. Meanwhile, Nadal seems poised for a return to form and, if nothing else, should be the favourite at just about every French Open of the next decade. There’s also Federer, technically, although the future for the Swiss is a bit murkier.
In this scenario, nothing ever changes, time is a flat circle and the happiest of all are fans of the Big 3. Not too bad.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG