Big Three aim to extend dominance in Australia

  • Simon Cambers

A new decade of tennis begins this month at the Australian Open and change is in the air. There is new leadership behind the scenes and several new, exciting faces on the courts.

But while the likes of Daniil Medvedev, Alexander Zverev, Dominic Thiem, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Denis Shapovalov go into the new year with high hopes, in this era, at least, the more things seem to change, the more they stay the same.

In 2010, the top three seeds at Melbourne Park were Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. In 2020, only the order has changed, with Nadal top of the pile, ahead of Djokovic and Federer.

TICKETS: see the Big Three, and their challengers, in action at AO2020

Their longevity is as much a reason for their success as their talent and work-rate. While Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka have dipped in occasionally, with three Grand Slam titles apiece to their names, the top three have won 55 of the past 66 major titles, dating back to when Federer won Wimbledon in 2003, and the trio have shared the past 12 between them.

I look at the list of who finished world No.1, who has been world No.1 all these years, and it's just crazy that it's always one of us.
Roger Federer

Far from hindering each other, playing in the same era has seemingly added to their motivation and just made them work harder. Even with Federer 38, Djokovic to be 33 in May and Nadal 34 in June, they still seem to want it as much as they ever did. And it is their sheer refusal to give in to the next generation is keeping them on top.

At some stage, of course, the next generation will take over but perversely, the fact that this generation of young guns actually do appear to be the real deal may be prolonging the big three’s domination, providing them with the impetus to stay on top.

Federer believes the new breed have the quality to win Grand Slam titles but knows why breaking through is so difficult. “The only issue is that it seems like me, Novak, and Rafa are healthy, healthier than maybe in previous years,” he said in London at the ATP Finals in November. 

“I look at the list of who finished world No.1, who has been world No.1 all these years, and it's just crazy that it's always one of us. But we are not getting any younger. So chances increase (of new winners) not because we are getting worse but because they are getting better, I believe.”

And so we come to this year’s Australian Open, which could prove to be pivotal in deciding which of the three ends up with the most major trophies. Nadal’s fourth US Open win took him to 19 slams, one behind Federer, while Djokovic’s two slam victories in 2019 lifted his tally to 16. 

Remarkably, Federer has won in Melbourne in two of the past three years while Djokovic’s record in the city is second to none. He won his first Grand Slam title here in 2008 and he has come out on top on six other occasions. If the niggling elbow injury which affected him in the last quarter of 2019 has been resolved, few would doubt his ability to win for an eighth time, especially not those who witnessed his demolition of Nadal in the final 12 months ago.

It’s a lovely thought that the three men could end up on the same number of slams but don’t be fooled by their politeness in public. Each wants to end up on top, even if they have already achieved so much.

“You can't be all day looking next to you (thinking) about if one (has) more or one (has) little bit less because you will be frustrated,” Nadal said after winning in New York. “All the things that I achieved in my career are much more than what I ever thought and what I ever dream.

“I would love to be the one who (has) more (slams), yes. But I really believe that I will not be happier or less happy if that happens or not happen. What gives you the happiness is the personal satisfaction that you (gave) your best. In that way I am very, very calm, very pleased with myself.”

When Djokovic won in Melbourne 12 months ago, he immediately set his sights on chasing down Nadal and then Federer. “It seems like I'm getting closer, but also they're winning slams,” Djokovic said at Wimbledon last summer. 

“We're kind of complementing each other. We're making each other grow and evolve and still be in this game. Those two guys (are) probably one of the biggest reasons I still compete at this level. The fact that they made history of this sport motivates me as well, inspires me to try to do what they have done, what they've achieved, and even more. Whether I'm going to be able to do it or not, I don't know. It just depends how long I'm going to play, whether I'm going to have a chance to make (history).”

The trio have already set so many records in their careers that their places in history is assured. In what order they sit, this year’s Australian Open might have a hand in deciding.