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Is 2020 the year tennis stars Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray’s dominance ended for good?

It speaks volumes that you can count on one hand how many times in this decade a men’s singles Grand Slam title has been won by someone not named Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray. 

The quartet, often referred to as the ‘Big Four’ in men’s tennis, amassed a combined 36 Slam titles from a possible 40 on offer in the decade. It is a domination few sports can even come close to mirroring. 

Stan Wawrinka has three to his name, having stepped up as the biggest challenger to Federer and Co, with Marin Cilic’s US Open win in 2014 the only other time the Big Four fell flat at a Slam.  

Roger Federer is 38 but he remains one of the best performers on the men’s singles tour

Rafa Nadal is showing no signs of slowing down as he claimed two Grand Slam titles in 2019

Rafa Nadal is showing no signs of slowing down as he claimed two Grand Slam titles in 2019

There have been plenty of false dawns, times when fans thought Mother Nature would finally call time on Federer and Co and a new wave would dethrone the long-standing elite. 

But it just has not happened. Federer is 38 now, Nadal is 33, Djokovic is 32 and Murray is also 32. 

So there will remain a level of scepticism heading to Melbourne for the start of the 2020 Slam season at the Australian Open in January that the game’s young players can finally announce themselves as the best on court. 

Novak Djokovic gave a thumbs up after he went on to Wimbledon in epic fashion this summer

Novak Djokovic gave a thumbs up after he went on to Wimbledon in epic fashion this summer

Andy Murray has battled injuries in recent years but has had rich success across the decade

Andy Murray has battled injuries in recent years but has had rich success across the decade

Nadal and Djokovic won two Slams each in 2019 – with Nadal and Federer the losing finalists in two of them. 

But with Dominic Thiem – beaten by Nadal at Roland Garros in the French Open final – and Daniil Medevdev defeated at Flushing Meadows in the final Slam of the year, there is renewed hope that these rising stars can finally go ahead and claim their first Slams in 2020.  

Dominic Thiem

Age: 26

Current world ranking: 4

While he may be a tad fortunate to still be considered a ‘young’ player at the age of 26, Thiem appears closer than most to getting that first Grand Slam on the board. 

A master on clay, Thiem is simply unfortunate he has run into Nadal, perhaps the most dominant sportsman on one surface that we have ever seen.  

Beaten in Paris this summer but having re-run the 2018 final, Thiem showed a marked improvement and threw everything at Nadal, generating previously unseen power on his returns, to take the second set. Ultimately, it was a consolation as he lost the final two sets 6-1, 6-1. An improvement on the year before, but plenty of work to do. 

Dominic Thiem has risen to a career high ranking of world No 4 following a superb season

Dominic Thiem has risen to a career high ranking of world No 4 following a superb season

Overall Thiem has plenty to smile about as he looks ahead to 2020. He finished the year with an overall record of 49 wins and 19 losses with five ATP Tour titles to show for his efforts (and $7.8million (£6m) in prize money as well).

What have they said?

Djokovic (after ATP Finals defeat): ‘I thought he deserved to win. He just played very courageous tennis and just smacking the ball. He went for broke.

‘I mean, the entire match he played the same way he played the last point. I mean, I have to put my hat down and congratulate him, because he just played a great match.’ 

Nadal (after French Open final): ‘First thing I want to say: Dominic, sorry, you are one of the best examples we have on tour. You are one of the hardest workers and always with a smile on your face. That’s the most important thing. Thanks for being that great inspiration for me and a lot of small kids around the world. 

‘I know how tough it is to lose finals but that’s the sport. If I wanted to lose to someone, it’s with you because you deserve it. Keep going, you will win this for sure.’ 

What does he need to work on? 

While he undoubtedly had a strong season, defeats in the first round at Wimbledon and the US Open represent major cause for concern. 

Thiem has touched on it himself but he has to improve his net game if he is confident he has what it takes to slug it out with the best of the best. That could come from playing more doubles – as Tsitsipas found – or simply working on it more in training, instead of being so reliant on deep baseline rallies.  

He showed he is ready to be Nadal's successor after an enthralling French Open final in Paris

He showed he is ready to be Nadal’s successor after an enthralling French Open final in Paris

Daniil Medvedev

Age: 23

Current world ranking: 5

‘I just stay calm, I do my job, and bam, done.’ 

Those were the words of an ice-cold Medevdev after he defeated Zverev in the Shanghai Masters final in October. Winning, not playing, is his job, he says. He won’t celebrate just doing his job, he adds.   

It’s a ballsy mentality to have, and one the rest of this young core can definitely learn from. There is a fearlessness and a real edge to Medvedev – which saw him become a pantomime villain with the crowd at the US Open in New York due to his surly on-court interviews. 

He is one down on his career high ranking but a 59-21 record represents a phenomenal return in 2019. Nadal edged him in an epic at the US Open, he won his maiden ATP Masters 1000 title and reached six consecutive finals last season. 

Daniil Medvedev has tunnel vision as he remains determined to become the world No 1

Daniil Medvedev has tunnel vision as he remains determined to become the world No 1 

Now he needs to go force his luck to turn and swap minor titles for the sport’s biggest prizes. He definitely has the Big Three looking over their shoulder.  

What have they said?

Nadal (after US Open final): ‘Daniil is super tough mentally. He showed everybody during all this year what he achieved. If you are not able to be very solid mentally, is impossible, honestly. 

‘Today is one of these days that, as I said on the court, one time of one thousand you lose this match, and it happened today. Very happy for that. Very sorry for him, honestly, because lose a match like this is tough, and it’s painful. I feel very sorry for Daniil.

Marat Safin (former world No 1): ‘I believe he can be number one in the world.

‘His all-around game… we just need to work on certain small things. I’m sure that his coach knows what to do and I wish him the best to start the year well by winning the ATP Cup.’

What does he need to work on? 

Definitely not his serve. There are NASA officials studying that before launching their next rocket. 

He knows himself, he won’t need telling, that he doesn’t posses the raw power off his forehand to blow opponents away so his route to success must be different. 

Medvedev’s reading of the game must continue to improve and perfecting his net volleys, something he insists has improved from the start to the end of the year, will only make life easier against awkward and lesser-ranked opponents who look to make him move.  

His serve is one of his biggest assets but he needs to work on his positioning in baseline rallies

His serve is one of his biggest assets but he needs to work on his positioning in baseline rallies

Stefanos Tsitsipas

Age: 21

Current world ranking: 6

Without piling the pressure on Tsitsipas, his victory at the penultimate edition of the ATP Finals in London will do little to ease expectation on his shoulders.

The end-of-season tournament, played by the top eight singles seeds, has seen a number of false dawns with previous winners Grigor Dimitrov and Alexander Zverev struggling to build on their season-ending triumph thereafter.  

But Tsitsipas, now up to world No 6, has so much in his game to suggest he is ready to buck the trend.  

Stefanos Tsitsipas has established himself as a serious threat to the old guard's dominance

Stefanos Tsitsipas has established himself as a serious threat to the old guard’s dominance 

Just three titles – Estoril and Marseille adding to the ATP Finals win – avoids falling in to the spectacular category but there remains a number of notable wins along the way, raking up a record of 54 wins and 25 defeats. 

His win to knock Federer out of the Australian Open back in January kick-started the ‘changing of the guard’ narrative. It ultimately proved premature. 

But with his net play superb following his successful commitment to playing doubles as well as singles – outside of Slams – he is refining the various elements of his arsenal.  

What have they said?

Federer (after ATP Finals defeat to Tsitsipas): ‘I look across the net and I thought that he played really well. He took the ball early, I know he does that. I thought I returned actually pretty good on the first serve. 

‘On the second serve of break points and stuff, I guess there were better moments, but for the most part I wasn’t quite getting into the rallies the way I wanted to. I think I have to credit him for pushing me to not playing at the level I was hoping to today.’

Djokovic (after Tsitsipas beat Federer in Melbourne): ‘Stefanos showed great maturity and ability to cope with pressure, you know, in those moments when obviously it’s Roger and crowd and support and everything that is happening. 

‘Considering everything that he was going against, Tsitsipas did phenomenally well. You know, for someone that is 20 years old, it’s definitely very impressive.’

What does he need to work on? 

In Tsitsipas’ opinion, his biggest weakness is overthinking. He can often get inside his own head, particularly when he takes on his bitter rival Medvedev, and that will continue to hinder him when the pressure is on at Slams.

And so he must now move forward with complete faith in his own game. 

The Greek player lifted the ATP Finals trophy last month after impressing at the O2 Arena

The Greek player lifted the ATP Finals trophy last month after impressing at the O2 Arena

That does not mean he has to lose his edge, become lax and fall into the slump of Zverev, but he needs to instill a winning mentality to shift the aura that surrounds Federer, Nadal and Djokovic. 

Make that adjustment and 2020 could be the year the 21-year-old announces himself as the future king of the division.  

Alexander Zverev 

Age: 22

Current world ranking: 7

It was 2015 when a tri-lingual German player by the name Sascha Zverev was named ATP Newcomer of the Year. Fast forward to 2017 and Rafa Nadal called him ‘the future of the sport’ and the then 20-year-old’s stock was soaring.

But come 2019, and with others around him like Tsitsipas showing him up, Zverev has failed to kick on and is still yet to go beyond a quarter-final of a Slam. 

The German dominates matches before falling flat in the next match as he lacks consistency

The German dominates matches before falling flat in the next match as he lacks consistency

He reached the last eight in Paris this year, but a first round exit at Wimbledon summed up the inconsistency which riddled his campaign. 

Geneva was the only title he claimed this year and a record of 44 wins and 25 defeats is another indicator of his mixed season.

What have they said?

Federer (after losing to him in China): ‘I told him at the net that he showed great character, you know, that he was strong and he didn’t — I thought he didn’t show any frustrations or too much negativity. 

‘He has tendencies to get a bit down on himself, especially this season he hasn’t been playing maybe so well, so that impressed me the most.’ 

Boris Becker (talking to Eurosport in September): ‘For me, the game of Zverev is a bit too unidimensional and readable for the opponent.

‘The good players have studied him and know how to hurt Sascha Zverev. This is the point I have to criticise. He has not improved in the last 18 months.’

What does he need to work on? 

In short, quite a bit.  

His serve remains a superb asset – often surpassing 144mph when he is really in the swing of it – but he is often reluctant to come to the net and that leads to long baseline rallies.

Ivan Lendl was thought to have come in as a hard taskmaster to turn this gifted German into a Grand Slam champion, but alas, it has not transpired. Zverev needs to reduce his game time and show more mental strength to avoid facing five-set matches on a regular basis. 

Taking the first set before collapsing on the match became way too common this season. Take the Miami Open back in March. He was facing David Ferrer, ranked outside the top 150, and despite taking the first set 6-2, Zverev collapsed and went down 6-2, 5-7, 3-6, and he was out. 

Alternatively, take the Halle Open quarter-final against David Goffin. A 6-3 opening set suggested he was in for a routine afternoon but his belief system failed and a 6-1 second set collapse was followed by a 7-6 tie-break defeat. He will never grab the throne if he cannot turn his early dominance into comfortable wins.

Alexander Zverev has struggled to live up to lofty expectations since he burst on the scene

Alexander Zverev has struggled to live up to lofty expectations since he burst on the scene

Felix Auger-Aliassime 

Age: 19

Current world ranking: 21

At the start of 2019, Felix Auger-Aliassime was ranked outside the top 100 and only the tennis cognoscenti were tuned in to what this emerging Canadian had in his arsenal. 

What has happened since has paved the way for talk that a Grand Slam title is not too far in the distance. 

On the face of it, no titles and a 33-23 record is little reason for cheer but Auger-Aliassime has firmly established himself in the conversation and is well worth a place alongside the others already referenced in this list. 

Having only turned pro in 2017, there is plenty still for the Canadian to learn. Go back to Queen’s and his semi-final against Feliciano Lopez having taken the opening set 7-6. He should have seen it out from there but collapsed under the experience of Lopez and was eliminated. 

Felix Auger-Aliassime remains one of the most talked about prospects emerging in tennis

Felix Auger-Aliassime remains one of the most talked about prospects emerging in tennis

Something similar happened in the round of 32 at Indian Wells and so there will be plenty of film to reflect on ahead of an eagerly-anticipated 2020 for FEA.  

What have they said?

Nadal (after face-off at the Madrid Open): ‘I like his character. He’s a very well-educated and nice guy. 

‘He’s very passionate about the sport. He’s one of the players that I would love to see at the top position and winning trophies because I think he deserves it.’ 

Djokovic (in pre-Wimbledon press conference): ‘He’s very impressive in many aspects. He’s very mature for his age. Very, very nice guy. Good manners. Respectful. Wants to learn. He’s very dedicated. 

‘He’s probably the one that I like the most from the young generation as a tennis player and as a person, I think. All the superlatives for him definitely. He’s been impressive this year, everything he has done. 

‘Still a teenager, but he’s one of the best players in the world. If you see the results from this year, he’s one of the most consistent players.’ 

He is the latest star to emerge from the Canadian production line populating men's tennis

He is the latest star to emerge from the Canadian production line populating men’s tennis

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