With age having begun to catch up with the ‘big four’ players who have dominated the ATP tour for so long and the top of the women’s game already wide open, it is likely that we will see a first-time tennis Grand Slam winner in 2021.
We’ve run the rule over the five most likely candidates on each tour based on their recent performances.
The most probable setting for a first major win by a male player appears to be the US Open. The last 10 finals have featured 12 different players – four more than any of the other Grand Slams – with six of them lifting the trophy at least once. Furthermore, eight of the last 20 first-time major winners on the ATP Tour triumphed at the US Open, including Dominic Thiem this year.
Our data suggests that Alexander Zverev is best-placed to be the next male tennis player to lift a major trophy. The towering German burst onto the scene in 2018, reaching the quarter-finals of the French Open before defeating both Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic to win the ATP Finals. With both a final and semi-final appearance at Grand Slam tournaments in 2020, it is surely only a matter of time before he makes the final leap.
Another surprise ATP Finals champion is also in contention. Daniil Medvedev reached two successive US Open semi-finals – winning one – before closing out the 2020 Tour with his triumph in London. A close-run US Open final against Rafael Nadal in 2019 went to five sets, so it wouldn’t take much of an improvement for him to secure a major trophy.
The third player in our list is also a recent ATP Finals champion, becoming the youngest player to win the tournament since Lleyton Hewitt in 2001. Stefanos Tsitsipas followed up that 2019 success with a semi-final appearance at the French Open in 2020 and has plenty of time to develop his game.
Switching our attention to the women’s game, the most promising setting for a first-time Grand Slam victory looks to be the French Open. Along with the Australian Open, the last 10 finals have each featured 14 different players, with eight of them lifting the trophy at least once. What gives the Paris-based tournament the edge is that eight of the last 20 first-time major winners triumphed there, including in each of the last five years.
Our analysis suggests that Elina Svitolina is the likeliest first-time major winner on the 2021 WTA Tour. Since her WTA Finals win in 2018, Svitolina has reached at least the quarter-final stage of all four majors. In two of these she progressed to the semi-finals, so she won’t need much improvement to reach a Grand Slam final.
The best alternative candidate is Karolina Pliskova, who finished 2020 with a similar ranking. Her first quarter-final appearance at a Grand Slam saw her go all the way to the final of the US Open in 2016. Since then, there have been two defeats in major semi-finals and four at the quarter-final stage.
Another promising all-rounder is Madison Keys, who has reached at least the quarter-final stage in each of the four majors, with a semi-final appearance in three of them. If the French Open is a likely setting for a first-time major win, then we should also consider Johanna Konta, given that she reached the semi-finals in Paris – along with two other Grand Slam quarter-finals – in 2019.
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