The last four winners of the ATP World Tour Finals have been Grigor Dimitrov, Alexander Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Daniil Medvedev, with the latter two having beaten Dominic Thiem in the last two finals. At the Masters 1000 level, Zverev and Medvedev have already captured 3 titles each, Thiem and Khachanov have each won one. However, at Grand Slam level the “big 3” still rule with an iron grip: since the beginning of 2017, only one Slam was won by someone other than Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic and it was in very special circumstances: at last year’s US Open, right in the middle of the pandemic, Federer and Nadal didn’t take part and Djokovic got bizarrely disqualified in his round of 16 match. The final was contested between Thiem and Zverev, with Thiem eventually taking it in the 5th set tiebreak, in a match whose quality didn’t really suggest either guy was ready to take over the tour.
The biggest question in men’s tennis going into 2021 is whether the younger generation will finally start making some real inroads at Grand Slam level, specifically at this year’s Australian Open. Most people are expecting Djokovic or Nadal to take the title, but maybe the likes of Tsitsipas, Zverev, Thiem, Medvedev, Shapovalov or someone else can cause a surprise? One of the staples of big 3 domination at Slams is almost invariably navigating through the first week with minimal energy expenditure, while the younger guys have been known to get into long dogfights or even get upset early on in the biggest tournaments.
In the first round, the pretenders to the throne generally achieved those easy, uneventful victories they need in order to have the energy reserves necessary to topple the big 3 deep in the tournament, but round 2 will bring new challenges; the likes of Thiem, Zverev and Shapovalov will be in action today against much lower ranked opponents and winning will not be sufficient, they’ll be expected to do it in very efficient fashion to maximize their chances later in the tournament.
The last four seasons each ended with a new winner and surprising results at the ATP World Tour Finals in London, but then come Australia it has always been same old, same old. This first week will show us whether this has the potential to change this year or not.