Before the 2022 Miami Open began, there were some concerns that the men’s event might lack a little star power. That was because of the top 40 male players in the world, the only ones not appearing in Florida were the Big Three – Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer – who have dominated men’s tennis for so long. However, as the tournament approaches finals weekend, it can be conclusively said that it has given us at least a glimpse of the post-Big Three future of men’s tennis. And that future looks as bright as the average Miami day.
2022 Miami Open Gives Glimpse of Post-Big Three Future
No Escaping Alcaraz
There is no escaping the fact that the most thrilling prospect in men’s tennis is Carlos Alcaraz and he has confirmed that again this week in Miami with a succession of truly extraordinary performances. First, he defeated Stefanos Tsitsipas, the world #5, in a match that was so fiercely competitive and stunningly inventive that it was almost bizarre that it only lasted for two sets. However, Alcaraz’s eventual 7-5, 6-3 win belied the fact that the young Spaniard was 5-2 down in the first set before reeling off five games in a row, in a manner reminiscent of Federer’s still-astonishing comeback against Nadal in the final set of the 2017 Australian Open. That may have been a five-set Major Final, as opposed to a three-set Masters fourth round match, but there was no denying the similarity of the two performances, as Alcaraz 2022 matched Federer 2017 for somehow generating and then sustaining the momentum to win a set, and a match, from seemingly nowhere.
Yet if anything Alcaraz doubled down on his display against Tsitsipas in his next match, the quarterfinal against Serbia’s Miomir Kecmanovic. Kecmanovic, who is a hugely gifted young player in his own right, demonstrated that he has an all-court game that is almost the match of Alcaraz’s. The encounter went to a third-set tiebreak that Alcaraz looked like losing, until he rode another great wave of momentum to win the last three points, with the match-winning point coming after a characteristically brilliant pick-up near the net and stunning flick down the line.
In those two matches against Tsitsipas and Kecmanovic, Alcaraz demonstrated yet again, as he has done all year and indeed pretty much since his emergence on the main tour last spring, that he might just be the ultimate post-Big Three Player, because – incredibly – he combines elements of each one of The Big Three. He has the baseline domination of Nadal; the net mastery of Federer; and the mobility and resilience of Djokovic. Obviously, it is still early days, but such is Alcaraz’s almost unbelievable rate of progress (and he is still only 18 years of age) that it is just possible he will eventually emerge as a more complete tennis player than any of The Big Three.
But There’s An Incredible Supporting Cast
Even if, for the moment at least, Alcaraz looks by far the best of the young male players coming through, there is still a remarkable supporting cast – other young players who look as if they can compete for Masters and even Majors in the years ahead. As already mentioned, Kecmanovic’s performances in Miami proved that he deserves to be included among those other contenders.
However, there is also Jannik Sinner, the young Italian who coolly dismantled Nick Kyrgios before having to retire injured in his quarterfinal against Argentina’s Francisco Cerundolo; Jenson Brooksby, the young American who defeated Roberto Bautista Agut in the round of 32 and who might just be the man to end America’s near 20-year wait for a male Major winner (the last was Andy Roddick at the 2003 US Open); and Lorenzo Musetti, another young Italian who already has the best backhand in tennis – men’s or women’s.
Incredibly, there were others who, although they may not yet be at the elite or near-elite level, showed enough in Florida this week to suggest that they too can challenge for the Major prizes in tennis, or at least for places in the world’s top 20, in the future. Indeed, it would almost be possible to name 22 players from Miami 2022 who have shown that they can have a real future in the game.
That list would have to include Hugo Gaston, the diminutive French tennis artist who tamed the mighty (in every sense) John Isner; Ugo Humbert, another young Frenchman who may lack Gaston’s flair but makes up for it with even greater intensity on court; and Emil Ruusuvuori, the 22-year-old Finn who not only held match points against Sinner but actually resembled Sinner in his outstanding hitting and ice-cool composure.
Will The Next Next Gen Overwhelm The Next Gen?
Spearheaded by Alcaraz, it is even possible that the Next Next Gen, as this outstanding crop of players under the age of 22 has already been dubbed, could overwhelm the Next Gen, their slightly older peers, such as Daniil Medvedev, Andrey Rublev and Stefanos Tsitsipas, who were supposed to be the natural successors to The Big Three. Yet, as demonstrated perfectly in the Alcaraz-Tsitispas match, when the Spaniard beat the Greek for the second time in succession after winning a five-set epic between them at the US Open last September, those who were supposed to be next in line to the throne may just be usurped by their even younger successors.
Of the Next Gen, only Dominic Thiem, who won the 2020 US Open but has been plagued by injuries ever since, and Daniil Medvedev, who succeeded Thiem as the King of New York last year, have won Majors, and only Medvedev has beaten one of The Big Three in a Major final, having defeated Djokovic in The Big Apple to deny him the Calendar Grand Slam.
But Thiem is currently struggling to rebuild his career after a series of injuries, while Medvedev seems to have taken Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent universal hostility to almost all things Russian to heart. He has clearly not been the same player since the conflict began, as if fearing that there will be calls to ban him as so many other Russian athletes have been banned from so many other sports.
Rublev, of course, is Russian too, but he is yet to scale the heights of Medvedev at the Majors. And the way that Nick Kyrgios totally took him apart in Miami, when the Australian maverick demonstrated yet again that at his best he is not just a potential top 10 player but a potential top 1 player, will only have increased the doubts that already existed about Rublev’s capacity to compete at the very top of men’s tennis.
Equally, Tsitsipas seems to have lost his way a little recently, perhaps because he is still feeling the effects of the injury that ended his season last year prematurely. What is certain, though, is that it no longer appears a foregone conclusion that he will one day win a Major. In the forthcoming era of Alcaraz, Sinner, Brooksby et al, he may just face competition that is almost as fierce as that of The Big Three era.
Miami – The Birthplace of Spanish Tennis Legends?
It was in Miami in 2004, that Nadal really launched himself on to the world stage, when he defeated the then dominant world #1 Federer in straight sets in the third round. If Carlos Alcaraz can win in Miami 2022, then the Spanish-sounding city, in which Spanish is so often not just the second language but the first, will surely come to be regarded as the birthplace of Spanish tennis legends.
Of course, Alcaraz has to reach the final before he can win it. In the semifinal, he faces Hubert Hurkacz, the defending champion in Miami, in what already looks like a pivotal battle between a member of the Next Gen (Hubert Hurkacz) and the flagbearer for the Next NextGen (Alcaraz). But whoever wins, Miami 2022 has already proved beyond doubt that whenever and wherever The Big Three finally call it a day, the future of men’s tennis will remain utterly and completely compelling.
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