Federer says the tennis world’s ‘big three’ are on borrowed time

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Updated November 17, 2019 12:21:00

After dominating the tennis world for so long, Roger Federer thinks the sport’s “big three” — himself, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal — could face their toughest challenge yet from a new generation in 2020.

Key points:

  • Roger Federer says he, Djokovic and Nadal are not getting worse, but the new generation are “getting better”
  • Federer was beaten in the semi-final of the ATP Finals series in London by 21-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas
  • Federer won four tournaments this season, ending the year ranked third behind Nadal and Djokovic

Federer’s 2019 season ended with a 6-3, 6-4 semi-final loss to Stefanos Tsitsipas on Saturday at the ATP Finals, having seen Djokovic and Nadal eliminated in the group stage of the tournament this week.

Tsitsipas, a 21-year-old Greek who is playing at the ATP Finals for the first time, is among a handful of up-and-coming talents looking to finally end the unprecedented era of dominance by that trio.

Other youngsters at the season-ending tournament include US Open runner-up Daniil Medvedev at 23 and defending champion Alexander Zverev at 22, who was beaten in the second semi-final by 26-year-old Dominic Thiem 7-5, 6-3.

However, it is not the first time the 38-year-old Federer has faced talk about a talented crop of youngsters, even though none of them have so far been able to break the iron grip of the three men on the competition.

In the last 10 years, all but seven grand slam titles have been won by tennis’s all-conquering triumvirate.

“It’s the same question every year at the end of the year,” Federer said about the new generation.

“But does it feel like this year might be the best year yet? Possibly … But then I look at the list of who finished world number one, who has been world number one, all these years, and it’s just crazy that it’s always one of us.

Year-End ATP World Number One:

Year Player
2004 Roger Federer
2005 Roger Federer
2006 Roger Federer
2007 Roger Federer
2008 Rafael Nadal
2009 Roger Federer
2010 Rafael Nadal
2011 Novak Djokovic
2012 Novak Djokovic
2013 Rafael Nadal
2014 Novak Djokovic
2015 Novak Djokovic
2016 Andy Murray
2017 Rafael Nadal
2018 Novak Djokovic
2019 Rafael Nadal

“But we are not getting any younger. So chances increase, not because we are getting worse but because they are getting better.”

Nadal clinched his fifth year-end number one title this week, putting him level with both Federer and Djokovic. Since 2004, the only other person to finish the year atop the rankings was Andy Murray in 2016.

No player since Andy Roddick in February 2004 has even held the number one spot for so much as a week.

In addition, the Big Three have won the last 12 grand slam titles between them. And until one of the youngsters ends that streak, any talk of a generation shift is premature.

“Definitely it’s that next step they need,” Federer said.

“The only issue is that it seems like me, Novak, and Rafa are healthy, healthier than maybe in previous years, as well.”

The third-ranked Federer ends the year with four ATP titles, but failed to add to his record haul of 20 Grand Slams when he lost an epic Wimbledon final to Djokovic, despite holding two match points in the fifth set.

He also fell short of a record-extending seventh ATP Finals title after converting just one of 12 break points against Tsitsipas, losing 6-3, 6-4.

As long as he stays healthy, though, Federer is confident he’s still good enough to compete for more majors next season.

“I’ve got to keep on playing at the level like I have this year, and then I will create some chances,” he said.

“Then when the matches come, it’s not maybe as easy as it was maybe 10, 15 years ago, where you’re just going to play very good, day in, day out.

“[Opportunities] were there today … They were there in other moments as well this season … But I’m happy how I played this season, and I’m extremely excited for next season.”

Nadal also won four titles, including the US and French Open crowns to end the year as world number one, whilst Novak Djokovic won five titles, including the Australian Open and Wimbledon.


Topics: sport, tennis, united-kingdom, england

First posted November 17, 2019 09:02:31

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