TSITSIPAS’ VICTORY PUTS BALL IN YOUNG GUNS’ COURT
▶ Greek latest first-time winner of ATP Finals without a major title and consistent challenger to the old guard
Stefanos Tsitsipas said he is ready to continue his surge in men’s tennis by winning his first grand slam title after winning the ATP Finals in London.
The Greek, 21, was full of confidence after claiming a 6-7, 6-2, 7-6 victory over Dominic Thiem in the season-ending final, having ousted 20-time major winner Roger Federer in the semis.
“I believe I’m really close to being crowned a grand slam champion,” a delighted Tsitsipas told a bumper crowd at the O2 Arena. “I know these are strong words that I say but I do feel I belong there.”
Victory saw Tsitsipas become the youngest winner of the tournament since 2001 and also the fourth first-time champion in as many years at the season finale.
But those past victories have so far proved a poor launchpad for more success.
Germany’s Alexenader Zverev hammered Novak Djokovic in last year’s ATP Finals but endured a miserable time at the grand slams.
The Serb, meanwhile, lifted the Australian Open and Wimbledon titles to takes his tally at the majors to 16.
Meanwhile the hugely talented but frustratingly inconsistent Grigor Dimitrov was crowned end-of-season champion 12 months before Zverev but has not won a title since beating David Goffin in that 2017 final.
Injury plagued Andy Murray has won only two trophies since he secured his sole ATP Finals title in 2016, crowning his strongest season.
Djokovic, 32, was the last of the “Big Three” – also including Rafael Nadal and Federer – to win the season finale, in 2015.
Despite the glitz and razzmatazz of the ATP Finals, which this year offered up an eye-watering $9 million (Dh33m) in prize money for the eight finalists, the grand slams remain the true barometer of success in tennis.
Since 38-year-old Federer won his first grand slam in 2003, the Big Three have collected an astonishing 55 out of the 66 majors on offer, with Murray and
Stan Wawrinka also winning three apiece.
There has long been speculation over who of the “next generation” would have the talent to overthrow the established order. However, so far the likes Milos Raonic, Dimitrov and Kei Nishikori have consistently failed to challenge the dominant trio.
In fact, Nadal, 33, ended the year as world No 1, having also collected a record-extending 12th French Open and a fourth US Open title.
That is not to say there is no hope for those younger players.
Russia’s Daniil Medvedev, 23, who alongside Nadal and Djokovic has signed up for December’s Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi, pushed Spaniard Nadal all the way in the US Open final in September.
The world No 4 should have avenged the loss at the ATP Finals but he collapsed in spectacular fashion, with Nadal saving match point at 1-5 down to prevail 6-7, 6-3, 7-6.
Zverev then demolished Nadal to reach the semi-finals in London, but was disappointing in a straight-sets defeat against Thiem.
Tsitsipas’ impressive win against Federer in the semi-fi
nals also felt like a statement of intent – backing up his victory against the Swiss at the Australian Open.
Federer, 38, predicted after that defeat that 2020 would prove the toughest yet for the Big Three to maintain their positions as undisputed kings of men’s tennis.
“It’s the same question every year at the end of the year,” said Federer. “But does it feel like this year might be the best year yet? Possibly. But then 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 not because we are getting worse but because they are getting better.”
Zverev, 22, predicted next year will bring a new major champion, saying the “young guys are playing incredible tennis”.
But Tsitsipas warned that it was crucial to dislodge Federer, Nadal and Djokovic in the early rounds as they tend to improve as tournaments progress, adding that the five-set format also played into their hands.
“For the young guys it’s all about time,” he said. “I don’t know. We will have to beat them or wait for them.”
Clockwise from right, Stefanos Tsitsipas, 21, lifts the ATP Finals trophy, as did Alexander Zverev and Grigor Dimitrov before him