The 2020 tennis season has been one of the more heavily disrupted during the pandemic, with barely a quarter of the tournaments completed before its suspension.
This year’s ATP Tour was set to be particularly interesting as a group of younger players have emerged as potential successors to the ‘big three’ who have dominated the men’s singles game for over a decade.
While Roger Federer is still going strong despite approaching his 39th birthday, the landscape is likely to change long before Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic – already well into their thirties – reach that milestone.
We’ve run the rule over the game’s leading players who are still under 30 and looked at when they might shine on the ATP Tour.
The ATP Tour schedule
Based on the 2021 schedule, there are 66 events on the ATP Tour which earn a player ATP Rankings points. The number of points on offer varies wildly: winning one of the four Grand Slams yields 2,000 while over half of the tournaments are worth a maximum of just 250. Besides the ATP Finals at the end of the season, the only other events which can offer a four-digit number of points are the nine ATP Masters 1000 tournaments.
While the tour begins in January, which sees the first of the four Grand Slams – the Australian Open – take place, the busiest month is February when 12 tournaments are scheduled during 2021. While most of these offer just 250 points for the winner and will not all be contested by the game’s top players, the sheer amount of tennis being played allows us to get a good look at potential stars of the future.
The second Grand Slam isn’t until the French Open in May, followed by Wimbledon just over a month later and finally the US Open at the end of August. From then on, attention inevitably turns to qualification for the ATP Finals in November, as the number of potential points available starts to reduce drastically.
With none of the last four ATP Finals having been won by one of the ‘big three’ and last three champions having never even won a Grand Slam before, it’s turning into a fantastic proving ground for the stars of the future.
Who are the ATP’s emerging stars?
When the 2020 season was suspended, over half of the top 20 players in the ATP singles rankings were still set to be under 30 years of age at the end of the year. While none of them have yet won a Grand Slam, their recent records offer plenty of encouragement for next season and beyond.
Dominic Thiem has reached the semi-finals in each of the last four stagings of the French Open, progressing to the final in the latter two, while also finishing as the runner-up in this year’s Australian Open. The Austrian is also the only one of the 12 younger players in the current top 20 to have won half of his meetings with the current ‘big three’ since the start of 2017.
Thiem’s closest rival in the race to the top of the men’s game could be Alexander Zverev who, despite being three years younger, has reached more Grand Slam and ATP Masters 1000 quarter-finals in the same time period. Zverev has also won the next highest proportion of his matches against the game’s dominant trio.
Completing a potentially new ‘big three’ in men’s tennis is 2019 ATP Finals champion Stefanos Tsitsipas, who defeated Thiem to win that tournament. The Greek star is over a year younger than Zverev and the only other player to have won at least a third of his matches against the current big three. Tsitsipas also ranks joint-third in our list for the number of quarter-final appearances at ATP Masters 1000 events since 2017 with five.
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