It feels like the same question has been asked in men’s tennis again and again over the last decade: Can anyone break the dominance of the Big 3? And, despite fleeting glimpses of players threatening to break the monopoly, the answer tends to end up being a resounding “no”, or at best, a “not yet”.
We know, of course, that the Big 3 has become the Big 2 over the last couple of years. It’s brilliant news that Roger Federer is back after almost a year off through injury, but it seems unlikely that he will be able to keep pace with Djokovic and Nadal consistently for the remainder of the year.
Pundits have looked foolish dismissing Federer before. But the Swiss will be 40 in August, and by his own admission, he won’t be able to compete at the top week-in, week-out. A Slam win, perhaps at Wimbledon, should not be ruled out. But Federer will pick and choose his tournaments otherwise.
Thiem US Open win was rare break of Big 3’s dominance
As for the Big 2, Slam dominance looks like it will continue. They have won 10 of the last 11 Grand Slams between them, with only Dominic Thiem’s US Open victory breaking the cycle. As you might expect, Nadal is the hot-favourite to win at Roland Garros when the French Open begins on May 6th. He is priced at just over even money to win. And, as with every year on the clay, it would be a massive shock if he did not go all the way.
Djokovic is the second-favourite at Roland Garros, although a win seems unlikely there given Nadal’s superiority on clay. The Serbian is the clear favourite in the 2021 Wimbledon betting odds for the men’s singles, as well as the US Open. It’s not unlikely that by late September, we will see a scenario where Nadal has 21 Slam victories, whereas Djokovic draws level with Federer on 20. As such, expect the argument over the G.O.A.T in men’s tennis to continue.
Of course, bookmakers can get it wrong. In every sport, betting odds are based partly on precedence. Odds-compilers place Nadal and Djokovic at the top of the odds (along with Federer, and Andy Murray in years gone by) because their dominance has made it impossible to overlook them.
Other players must prove they belong at the top
On current form, you might make an argument for someone like Medvedev, Zverev, Tsitsipas or Rublev, but they need to prove it – and then prove it again. The only player in the current world top 20 has a Slam win under his belt outside of Djokovic, Nadal and Federer. Even if there is a ‘blip’ and someone outside the Big 3 wins at Wimbledon, you can almost guarantee that it won’t upset the odds for the next Slam, the US Open.
We can make that last statement with conviction because players like Marin Cilic and Juan Martin Del Potro have threatened to break up the men’s tennis monopolies before. And that’s the challenge for the likes of Zverev and Tsitsipas: to prove that any Slam win is not a fluke; to back it up with another win in the next Slam. Fighting for scraps left by Nadal and Djokovic is not good for them, and it’s arguably not good for the game.