Out With The Old, In With The New
Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, and for a short time Andy Murray have dominated men’s tennis for more than a decade. Amazingly, the last time one of these players was not the year-end No. 1 was when Andy Roddick claimed the spot in 2003. In addition to this, since 2004, the “Big-4” has won 57/64, or 89%, of Grand Slam tournaments. Also, the last seven Grand Slams were won by either Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic. These are unreal statistics and clear-cut proof that these players have officially made tennis boring. Yes, I said boring. Don’t get me wrong, I like witnessing greatness, but I love competition. A gritty, tit for tat match between two relentless opponents beats a merciless massacre from a couple of unmatched opponents every time. But, for a long time, the ATP Tour hasn’t provided many fresh faces on the winner’s podium. However, 2020 is the year that will change.
In 2019, Roger Federer showed signs of slowing down and Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic both dealt with some nagging injuries over the course of the season. In 2020, Federer will turn thirty-nine years old, Nadal will turn thirty-four years old, and Djokovic will turn thirty-three years old. On top of their struggles against time, they are now having to deal with slower courts at most tournaments. In turn, these slower courts encourage longer rallies forcing players to undergo more physical stress. And, for everything going wrong for these legends, there is nearly everything going right for the young stars of the game including Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev, Matteo Berrettini, and Dominic Thiem. Not to mention slightly less successful next-gen players Denis Shapovalov, Felix Auger Aliassime, Jannik Sinner, Taylor Fritz, Alex De Minaur, Karen Khachanov, and many more. All of these players have shown great promise, but one, in particular, has a chance to win several tournaments, including a couple of Grand Slams this year.
2020 Is Dominic Thiem’s Year
In late 2020, Dominic Thiem will turn twenty-seven years of age. Not exactly young for an athlete but some take longer than others to develop, and I think we’ll see Thiem have his breakout season in 2020. In 2019, Thiem proved his ability to win at bigger tournaments with a Masters 1000 trophy added to his collection at Indian Wells. Thiem also made it to his second straight French Open final and the championship match of the ATP Finals.
So, when and where will Dominic Thiem start dominating the sport? Well, that is tough because Thiem has recently shown his ability to win on every surface. Even so, his abilities on clay have been proven many times and that is exactly where I expect him to thrive. I fully believe that Thiem will win six or more tournaments, with 3 or more of those coming on clay, in 2020. One of those should come at the French Open, where I foresee another finals match between Thiem and Nadal. This time, however, Thiem should get the best of Nadal and win his first Grand Slam. If Thiem doesn’t capitalize at the French Open, he will have a few more chances in the years to come. But, with the likes of Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, and many others knocking on the door, now is the time for Thiem to win.
On The Cusp Of Something Great
As well as Dominic Thiem possibly breaking through in 2020, there are a couple of players I think will have big seasons. These players are the aforementioned Stefanos Tsitsipas and Daniil Medvedev. Most people would consider Tsitsipas winning the 2019 ATP Finals his breakthrough moment but I don’t think it is. In 2020, Tsitsipas should receive favorable draws and ideally win three or more tournaments. Moreover, I see him making the semi-finals of the Australian Open and possibly of another Grand Slam. As for Medvedev, if you watched tennis from July-November then you know how dangerous this guy can be. During that stretch, he made it to the finals of six straight tournaments including the US Open. He won three of them in dominating fashion, with two of them being Masters 1000 tournaments. So, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Daniil Medvedev aren’t future threats, they want to win now.
To add a few more fresh faces into the mix, Alexander Zverev, Denis Shapovalov, Felix Auger-Aliassime, Jannik Sinner, and Alex De Minaur all look ready to compete on the tour. But, there is a different player I want to focus on for the 2020 season, a bit of a dark horse actually. That player is Karen Khachanov. From January 2018-July 2019 he jumped more than forty spots to a career-high eighth-place ranking but soon began tumbling back down the rankings. At the moment, Khachanov is ranked seventeenth and has had many struggles. However, I think this was all a good learning experience for the twenty-three-year-old. Granted, it may have been too much too soon, but now he knows how hard it is to play with a constant target on his back. He understands the pressure of always being expected to win and hopefully has learned how to be a professional on and off the court. Coming into 2020, I believe he will be on a mission to avenge his descent from the top of the rankings. Watch out for a good year from Karen Khachanov because he will be more determined than ever before.
It’s All For The Greater Good
Regardless of which young players have exceptional seasons in 2020, a new level of competition on the ATP Tour will prove beneficial to the sport. Casual fans and super fans alike are dying to watch anything but the same broken record they have for the past fifteen years. At the end of the day, more competition equals better publicity which equals more viewers. And, maybe, just maybe the next Roger Federer will fall in love with the sport.
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