ATP

Why the ATP’s next generation will begin to take over in 2021

The ATP NextGen finally took home a Grand Slam title in 2020. Here’s why they’ll begin to take over the tour in 2021.

The 2020 Grand Slam season has ended with Rafael Nadal’s 13th title at the French Open. While the 2020 ATP season still has a little over a month to play before play officially concludes to make way for next year, the speculation is already in full swing after what can only be described as a year unlike any other.

Dominic Thiem became the first man outside of the “Big 5” (The Big 4 and Wawrinka) to win a Grand Slam since Marin Cilic’s 2014 US Open title despite the unforeseen circumstances that came about due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Rafael Nadal came into his favorite event, Roland Garros, as just the slight favorite (a far cry from his previous years), but cruised through to the title without dropping a set. Finally, Novak Djokovic’s incredible start to 2020 led to questions on where this season would end up in tennis history before it all crumbled down after the restart.

With the idea that the pandemic won’t affect the tennis season again next year, we’ll have a full slate of tournaments. Here’s why the ‘NextGen’ group will take at least 2 of the 4 Grand Slams in 2021.

Based on the fact that Thiem just captured his first Grand Slam title for the NextGen group (Thiem, Tsitsipas, Medvedev, Zverev, etc), it’s certainly bold to say that they’ll jump out to capture at least half of next year’s slams. Given the way they’ve improved as a group, however, it isn’t out of the question.

Thiem finally won his first major title over Alexander Zverev to get over the hump. Not only that, Zverev made his first Grand Slam final, and Stefanos Tsitsipas advanced to his first major semifinal since the 2019 Australian Open, taking Djokovic to 5 sets along the way.

It isn’t just the major players in the field, either. Denis Shapovalov had three solid showings in a row, advancing to the quarterfinals in New York, the semifinals in Rome, and the quarterfinals in Paris. Andrey Rublev also put together a great last two months, adding a title in Hamburg and quarterfinal appearances in both Grand Slams to his career resume.

On the other end of the spectrum, age is a real factor in the sustained success of the Big 3. Novak Djokovic has looked extremely hampered by various injuries since August and, as a result, couldn’t execute in Grand Slams as he had in the past despite his 37-2 record. Rafael Nadal is playing the efficiency game and will likely begin to play fewer tournaments next year in order to preserve his body.

Djokovic doesn’t seem like the player to pull such a move, especially not now at “just” 33 years old. It’s something to certainly consider given his injuries but the overarching pressure of trying to match Federer and Nadal in Grand Slams has to be hanging over his head enough to play as many tournaments as possible in hopes of jumping them in the GOAT debate.

With the play of the younger generation improving exponentially, combined with the struggles that the Big 3 will go through as they age with injuries, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the future of the ATP will soon be in effect.

Now, let’s not get carried away. This doesn’t mean I’m saying that the Big 3 are going to implode and disappear next year. Nadal will likely be the favorite to win the French Open providing he doesn’t sustain any lasting injuries. Djokovic will of course enter the year as the best player in the world and as the defending Australian Open champion.

However, given how close Thiem came to taking the title in Australia over Djokovic and how well the rest of the younger group has performed in 2020 gives them an extremely solid chance to at least split the 2021 Grand Slams with the Big 3.