I feel like my game is getting better over time, and I believe I’m really close on being crowned a grand slam champion. I know these are strong words that I say, but I do feel like I belong to be there. —Stephanos Tsitsipas
Breaking the stranglehold
By Roger Childs
Austrian Dominic Thiem’s four set victory over world number one, Rafael Nadal, in the Australian Open quarter finals is a major success for the younger brigade. For the last three years all the grand slams – twelve of them – have been won by the 30+ legends: Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. So is this the tournament where the stranglehold of these aging greats is broken?
Possibly. While Thiem will play 22 year old German Alexander Zverev in one semi-final, it is no surprise that Djokovic plays Federer in the other. The Serb who is ranked two in the world is expected to win that one, so then the opportunity for a new champion will come on Sunday.
Younger players coming through
A chink in the armour of the “three kings” came in last year’s ATP Finals. This is the most prestigious tournament outside the majors, as it pits the eight top ranked men in the world against each other. There were five players 23 or under in the group – Stephanos Tsitsipas 21, Daniil Medvedev 23, Denis Shapovalov 20, Alexander Zverev 22, and Matteo Berrettini 23. Tsitsipas, from Greece, won the trophy.
However, in the current Australian Open, only Zverev out of those five made the quarter–finals, whereas Nadal, Federer and Djokovic all did. The Spaniard is now out, but Fed and the Joker are in the semi-finals.
It is the grand slam level that is the measure of tennis greatness. To take over from the big three, the younger players have to start winning the majors.
The Times tennis reporter Simon Barnes commented in 2012 writing about Andy Murray – he had made a major error in [playing] at a time when three players of undisputed all-time greatness are all plying their trade.
Eight years on they are still playing very well and remain the three top ranked players on the planet. Thiem deserved his quarter final win over Nadal, however the Spaniard pushed him hard and the Austrian’s three set wins were all 7-6 after tie-breaks.
The big three are not going give up their supremacy easily, especially as they are keen to add to their grand slam totals — Federer 20; Nadal 19; Djokovic 16.
Can the breakthrough come in Sunday’s Australian Open final? Either Zverev or Thiem will have the chance against Djokovic. There is no question that a grand slam victory for one of these players in their twenties would be good for the game.