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Why Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer are still dominating tennis

CONTRIBUTOR
Feature
Timeless

Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer
Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer

From 2004 until now we have been seeing the dominance of the triumvirate of tennis, the three greatest players to have ever picked up a tennis racquet - Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic.

The three players, popularly called the 'Big 3', have amassed a massive total of 55 Grand Slams between them. And in the last three years, all the Slams have been captured by them - five by Nadal, four by Djokovic and three by Federer.

Why is it that even though all the three players are above the age of 30, they are still able to beat people who are 10 years (or more) younger than them? There have been a lot of theories as to why this has happened, but I would like to put forth a different theory as to why the Big 3 of tennis are still dominating.


Novak Djokovic (L) and Rafael Nadal after the 2019 Australian Open final
Novak Djokovic (L) and Rafael Nadal after the 2019 Australian Open final

If we look at 2019 very closely we will see that the Grand Slams have been dominated by the three players, but when it comes to the Masters titles there's a different story. The Big 3 don't dominate as much in that area - out of the nine Masters, Nadal won two, Djokovic won two and Federer won one.

The younger players like Daniil Medvedev and Dominic Thiem have managed to pick up Masters titles this year, along with a forgotten veteran Fabio Fognini. What has caused this difference?

The answer is the format of Grand Slams. Tennis' four showpiece events are played in a best-of-five sets format while the Masters are played in a best-of-three format. The NextGen players seem unable to bring their best in best-of-five tournaments, and I think there's a reason for that.

The young Daniil Medvedev has won 2 Masters titles in 2019
The young Daniil Medvedev has won 2 Masters titles in 2019

There aren't many best-of-five tournaments; just the four Majors. But if we go back to 2005 we would see that even tournaments like Hamburg and Basel had best-of-five-sets finals. Both Federer and Nadal were active on the tour at that time, and playing all those five-set matches helped them learn the intricacies of the format very well.

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If there were more tournaments played in the best-of-five format now, maybe the NextGen players wouldn't find it so difficult to succeed at the Slams. Maybe, just like Federer and Nadal, they would learn how to manage their workload over long matches and put their best foot forward in the sport's most prestigious events.

People always remember the epic matches played over five sets, like the 2008 Wimbledon final or the 2012 Australian Open final. And it is time for the NextGen to be remembered in the same vein as the Big 3.

Perhaps it won't be a bad idea to bring back the best-of-five format for at least the Masters and the season-ending ATP Finals.

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