It's 2010; the US Open has just concluded with Rafael Nadal beating Novak Djokovic in a thrilling four-setter. We, sitting comfortably in our homes and cafes, start the "Djokovic still lacks the conviction to win against Nadal and Federer, he still lacks the conviction to win the big matches, he still lacks..." conversations. But we are totally unaware of what is to come in 2011.
Little did we know that we were about to witness one of the greatest individual performances, not just of the upcoming season, but of the upcoming decade!
With a few lows and many highs, Novak Djokovic has become the best male tennis player in the history of the game. For many around the world, it was (and still is) tough to accept him as the GOAT as we still had legends like Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal playing alongside him. But the Serb has forced tennis fans (read as Federer/Nadal fans) into accepting his greatness.
With a total of 60 Grand Slam titles shared equally among them, these three have dominated the sport of tennis unlike ever before. And Novak Djokovic has been the most dominant of them all in the past decade.
The list of Grand Slam winners since 2006 is a little surreal to read. Unsurprisingly, the only names repeated on the list are of these three greats, along with Andy Murray (3) and Stan Wawrinka (3). The other players who have won only one Slam title, like Juan Martin del Potro (US Open 2009), Marin Cilic (US Open 2014) and Dominic Thiem (US Open 2020) are few and far between.
There's no doubt that the tennis community absolutely adores the Big 3; we consider ourselves among the luckiest of generations to have witnessed all three of them playing against each other. But we have also been longing for a new, younger star to emerge.
We see glimpses of these stars in the ever-so-unpredictable US Open, but most of them seem to fade away with time. Eventually, the supremacy of the Big 3 remains unchallenged.
With younger players such as Alexander Zverev, Daniil Medvedev, Matteo Berrettini and Dominic Thiem knocking hard on the fortress, it was important that one of them got a win over a Big 3 member in an important match. And there is no match more important than a Grand Slam final.
Dominic Thiem winning the US Open in 2020 was significant too, but that pales in comparison to Daniil Medvedev's 2021 US Open triumph. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal had opted out of the 2020 US Open, and Novak Djokovic was disqualified from the tournament for hitting a lineswoman by mistake, so Thiem didn't really complete that cathartic breakthrough.
Daniil Medvedev's US Open win over Novak Djokovic will give him and the rest more conviction
This was the third Grand Slam final of Daniil Medvedev's career. In both of the previous two he had to be content with the plaque instead of the trophy. And in one of them he couldn't even win a set.
We circle back to where we started: conviction. The conversations we had before 2011 about Novak Djokovic and his lack of conviction made a comeback 10 years later, but this time they were around the younger players.
"The younger players still don't have the conviction to win." "When push comes to the shove, Djokovic / Nadal / Federer will outperform / outclass / outplay these new players." "The younger lot just doesn't have the same hunger that the three greats have even at this age and point in their careers." There were many more such declarations, with even less flattering language.
But Daniil Medvedev's US Open win over Novak Djokovic could put an end to all the doubts.
As a tennis fan, I hope that this win becomes a similar switch that Djokovic turned on in 2011 - not just for Medvedev, but for this whole new crop of young tennis players. I hope that they get the conviction, the belief that they can actually win even when the Big 3 are around.
Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer will likely still hang around for a while longer, especially the first two. They are still likely to win a few more Slams. But the fact that they now have a more confident and assertive younger generation as challengers, will make for more compelling contests at the business end of tournaments. And the only winner in such a situation is the sport of tennis.