For years in men’s tennis, we had the ‘big four’: comprising Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray.
The latter’s recent injury problems shortened that list by one, but the world’s three greatest players continued to win virtually every Grand Slam going.
But, with a combined age of 106, Federer, Nadal and Djokovic are no longer the sole leaders of the men’s game. They have been joined by the ‘next gen’.
The loose term, taken from the youth ATP Finals event staged in November, has grown to mean the successors to three of tennis’ greatest stars ever.
But do the last 18 months prove we need a rethink?
The making of the ‘big five’
Since the start of 2017, the aforementioned trio have swept up 14 of the 15 Grand Slams on offer.
Only Dominic Thiem has stopped them – at last year’s US Open – in a tournament Federer and Nadal didn’t play, and which Djokovic was disqualified from.
But the Austrian has proven, nonetheless, that he has what it takes at the top level of the men’s game.
Since 2018, he has reached four Grand Slam finals – going a set better in each one before eventually beating Alexander Zverev in Flushing Meadows.
He has also stepped up at the season-ending ATP Finals and, while he hasn’t yet won the event, he has defeated Djokovic (twice), Federer and Nadal in the last two years.
The man he lost to in this year’s final, Danill Medvedev, can also lay claim to being part of the new-look ‘big five’.
The Russian, aged 24, is yet to win a Slam, but he did run Nadal close in the 2019 US Open final, as well as winning this year’s ATP Finals in London.
Medvedev and Thiem are both genuine contenders to win February’s Australian Open – but with that comes extra pressure.
They can no longer afford to exit Slams at the first round – as Thiem has done in each of the last two Wimbledon’s and Medvedev in his last four French Open’s.
Medvedev must also get off the mark sooner rather than later.
At 24, you’d be forgiven for thinking he was young and worthy of far more time.
But Federer won his first Slam aged 21, Djokovic at 20 and Nadal just three days after his 19th birthday.
Those are the challenges that face both the Russian and the Austrian.
But for now, it is very much a ‘big five’ at the top of men’s tennis.
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