By Arjun Pindiprolu
Tennis fans have been wondering when the Next Generation of tennis stars will take over. Many have pondered when the day would come when they would start beating The Big Three (Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, and Novak Djokovic). 2020 seemed to give us a glimpse at the future of tennis and who will soon reign over the ATP. Here are some of the up and coming stars in the game of tennis:
Dominic Thiem – The 27-year-old Austrian arguably had his greatest season in a shortened 2020. Coined as a clay court specialist earlier in his career, 2020 established him as one of the best hard court players in the game. He reached his first Australian Open Final, nearly defeating eight-time winner Novak Djokovic in a match where Thiem wasn’t fresh. In his run to the final he recorded marquee victories over the likes of Gael Monfils, Rafael Nadal, and Alexander Zverev. However, the greatest result for Thiem came to the tune of his 1st career Grand Slam in Flushing Meadows. His US Open victory made him the only active man under 30 to hold a slam. Thiem’s first slam took Federer undergoing knee surgery, Djokovic being defaulted for hitting a lineswoman, Nadal not traveling due to the pandemic, and Zverev cracking under pressure while serving for the title. Thiem won in a fifth set tiebreak which certainly wasn’t the highest quality as both were physically and mentally defeated. Thiem also showed encouraging signs on Indoor Hard in 2020 defending his finals spot at the 02 in London where the Nitto ATP Finals takes place. He defeated the likes of Nadal and Tsitsipas to reach the semifinals where he went on to beat Novak Djokovic in 3 sets. He was in control for much of the final until Daniil Medvedev battled back to steal the title from Thiem. Heading into 2021, Thiem seems poised to make more runs at grand slams.
Daniil Medvedev – Although the 24-year-old, 6’6” Russian didn’t play his best for most of the season he finished as the hottest player on tour. Medvedev won the Paris Masters and Nitto ATP Finals, arguably the biggest tournament to win outside of a slam. He won his last 10 matches to conclude the shortened 2020 ATP season. He notched victories over Alex Zverev, Diego Schwartzman, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, and Dominic Thiem. The latter 3 are currently ranked 1,2, and 3. Medvedev played his best tennis in the biggest points of matches keeping his nerves in check. His best slam result came at the 2020 US Open where he made it to the semifinals and fell in straight sets to Dominic Thiem. In that match he served for both the 2nd and 3rd set but nerves crept in and kept him from capturing those sets. His 2020 delivered him his first win over Rafael Nadal, 5-0 ATP Finals run, 3rd Masters 1000 title, a semifinal at the US Open, and quarterfinal at the Australian Open. His unique game style will set him up for success in 2021 and many years to come.
Alexander Zverev – In Flushing Meadows, Zverev nearly etched his name in tennis history as he served for the biggest title of his career at the US Open. Nerves were the only thing that held Zverev back from winning. He was in firm control for the first 2 sets, but that started to fade as he didn’t seem completely fresh and physically able to keep his nearly invincible level up. In Zverev’s 2 previous rounds he had played 9 sets, which isn’t a recipe for success in slams. Nevertheless, although he choked a chance to win a slam he made a huge step in 2020 reaching his maiden grand slam semifinal at the Australian Open and then beating that at the US Open making the final. 2021 should provide him another chance at winning his maiden slam.
Many other Next Generation players such as Andrey Rublev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Jannik Sinner, Denis Shapovalov, Felix Auger-Aliassime,Hugo Gaston, Maxime Cressy and Alex de Minaur flashed potential to reach the level of Grand Slam contention. 2021 might be the year the Next Gen puts a stranglehold on the ATP.