New rivalries burgeoning

Medvedev's ATP Finals win heralds younger generation's threat to 'Big Three' of tennis

Russia's Daniil Medvedev returning to Austrian Dominic Thiem en route to his 4-6, 7-6 (7-2), 6-4 win for a maiden ATP Finals title. It was the last Finals to be held in London ahead of the season-ender's move to Turin next year.
Russia's Daniil Medvedev returning to Austrian Dominic Thiem en route to his 4-6, 7-6 (7-2), 6-4 win for a maiden ATP Finals title. It was the last Finals to be held in London ahead of the season-ender's move to Turin next year.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • The "Big Three" rivalry between Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic has produced epic matches that continue to be talked about years down the road.

But fresh off his maiden ATP Finals victory at the O2 Arena in London, Daniil Medvedev feels the younger generation of tennis stars have the potential to create their own rivalries to match the sport's biggest stars and in turn, capture the public's imagination.

The Russian, who lost all three of his group matches last year, completed a remarkable week with a 4-6, 7-6 (7-2), 6-4 win over US Open champion Dominic Thiem on Sunday to land the biggest title of his career.

His victory over the world No. 3, following a semi-final win over 20-time Grand Slam winner and French Open champion Nadal and a group-stage win over top-ranked Djokovic, means he is only the fourth player to beat the three top-ranked men in a single event.

He joins David Nalbandian (Madrid 2007), Djokovic (Montreal 2007) and Boris Becker (Stockholm 1994).

He also became the fifth successive first-time winner of the title. Alexander Zverev, 23, and Stefanos Tsitsipas, 22, won the last two titles here while Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov won in 2017 but none have gone on to claim a Grand Slam.

But there are signs the gap to the "Big Three" is closing.

Thiem made the breakthrough at Flushing Meadows, becoming the first player other than Djokovic, Nadal or Federer to land a Slam since 2016 and giving encouragement to his peers.

With Federer now aged 39, Nadal 34, and 17-time Major winner Djokovic 33, their incredible rivalries have a limited time to run.

The hope is for Medvedev, Thiem, Tsitsipas, US Open finalist Zverev and Canadian Denis Shapovalov to soon provide similar blockbuster rivalries.

Asked if his rivalry with Thiem, 3-2 in the Austrian's favour, can develop into something special, fourth-ranked Medvedev said: "Hopefully, we can be there for a long time, maybe let's say pushing the other generations back.

"The top three, they probably went through two, three generations without dropping their level, which is not easy.

"But what is definitely good from us, from Dominic, from me, if we talk about this tournament, we managed both to beat Rafa and Novak, which is an amazing accomplishment.

"It can give me a lot for my future career, Not even talking about the title itself. It means a lot.

"It shows what I'm capable of when I'm feeling good mentally and physically."

Thiem agreed that the new vanguard would continue to push the "Big Three", adding: "For tennis there are exciting times coming. Super important for the sport in general."

Having ended the year on a 10-match winning streak, including the Paris Masters title, Medvedev will head into next year brimming with confidence.

"To beat Dominic the way he played today and to manage to beat him is probably my best victory of my life," he said.

After 12 years in London, the ATP Finals will be staged in Turin, Italy from next year till 2025.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 24, 2020, with the headline 'New rivalries burgeoning'. Subscribe