The year 2020 is setting up to be a big one for the ATP history books. The three greatest and most winningest players in history are separated by only four major titles. Federer is now 38 (20 majors), Nadal is 33 (19 majors), and Djokovic is 32 (16 majors). They are all on the “Back 9” of their careers, but still very capable of playing at an extremely high level on the court.
Rafa is coming off a great title run at the U.S. Open where he defeated Daniil Medvedev in an epic five set match. He played well throughout the year, winning the French (again) and U.S. Open and losing in the final at the Australian to Novak and semifinals at Wimbledon to Roger. Rafa finished the season with momentum during the North American hard court season, winning the Rogers Cup (6-3, 6-0 vs Medvedev) and dropping only three sets in New York. Rafa and his team tactically managed his load to save his body for a title run and it worked to perfection. (Although, it was a bummer to not see him in Cincinnati.) Rafa had a solid 6-3, 7-6(1) win over Raonic at the Laver Cup (Sep. 21), but then was shutdown due to injury and has since pulled out of Shanghai. Rafa’s biggest hurdle in his pursuit of surpassing Roger will be to remain healthy in 2020. He’s proven time and time again, when healthy he is a contender at all four majors.
Roger despite not winning any titles in 2019, still played at a fairly high level by his standards for the majority of the year. At Wimbledon, he beat four players ranked in the top 30 and two players ranked inside the top 10 (Nishikori & Nadal) before falling in the final to Novak in a marathon. It was the first 12-12 tiebreaker in a Wimbledon final and it seemed a bit anticlimactic in my opinion after a brilliant match. It’ll be interesting to see if Roger decides to play the French Open again, or if he decides to steer his focus on the other two surfaces like he’s done in the past. Wimbledon is his best chance to distance himself from Rafa and Novak, but at 38 nothing is getting easier.
Novak had an impressive 2019 and managed to win half the major titles in the calendar year, something he has done four other years (2011, 2015, 2018, 2019). When Novak is healthy and playing well, he may be the most dominant player on tour. The shoulder issue he faced in New York seems to be behind him (retired against Wawrinka), and he recently reeled off a couple impressive wins in Shanghai. Novak has won three majors in one year twice and it’s not crazy to think he could repeat that a third time. That would make the race to being the greatest a lot closer by the end of 2020.
Tennis seems to be gaining momentum in popularity with the next generation, both on the men’s side and the women’s side. They are successfully bringing new fans to the sport, but the story on court has remained the same. The Big 3 remain a riddle very few have been able to solve.