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One bold prediction for the 2021 ATP and WTA seasons

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Serbia’s Novak Djokovic poses with the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup trophy after beating Austria’s Dominic Thiem (R) in their men’s singles final match on day fourteen of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on February 3, 2020. (Photo by Saeed KHAN / AFP) / IMAGE RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE – STRICTLY NO COMMERCIAL USE (Photo by SAEED KHAN/AFP via Getty Images)

ATP: The ‘NowGen’ will win at least 2 of the year’s Grand Slam tournaments

This has been talked about for years on end. When is the changing of the guard in the ATP? When will the Big 3 finally fade away? Every time anyone has brought that to any attention, the Rafael Nadal-Novak Djokovic-Roger Federer trio has squashed it like a bug on a windshield. With a combined 57 major titles (20 each for Nadal and Federer), they’ve absolutely dominated the sport for the last 15-plus years.

However, things have begun to look up for everyone else. World No. 3 Dominic Thiem finally broke through for his first Grand Slam title in New York last season and Alexander Zverev became the third member of this group to reach a major final (Daniil Medvedev 2019 US Open), narrowly losing to Thiem in a hard-fought five sets.

What stood out the most, though, was how this “Next 4” played against their veteran rivals. Here’s how each of the four fared against Nadal, Djokovic, and Federer in 2020, with their results in Grand Slams in parentheses:

Dominic Thiem: 3-1 (1-1)

Daniil Medvedev: 2-1 (0-0)

Alexander Zverev: 1-1 (0-0)

Stefanos Tsitsipas: 0-3 (0-1)

Are these stats out-of-this-world good? Not yet, but let’s keep this in mind. Thiem had Djokovic on the ropes in Australia in 2020, holding a two-set-to-one advantage before losing in five. Daniil Medvedev stormed back from two sets to love down against Nadal in the 2019 US Open final before falling in the final set. Similarly this year, Tsitsipas did the same against Djokovic at the French Open semifinals before ultimately falling.

All four of these players have finally begun to hit their stride and have become more consistent as a result. Sure, they don’t have the greatest of records against the Big 3, but a stellar match one day could just propel them over the top.

In terms of how many Grand Slams this younger group can win in 2021, I believe it’s safe to say that an even split makes sense. Nadal has Paris wrapped around his finger (quite like his athletic tape), and unless Thiem pulls out some magic, it seems all but confirmed that King of Clay will get to 21 majors this year. As for Wimbledon, Federer is a huge question mark following his injuries and after deciding to pull out of the Australian Open, there’s isn’t a clear sign on which version of him steps onto Centre Court. For that reason, Djokovic will take Wimbledon for the 6th time this year.

The hard-court majors are where it’s most wide open. The slower surface in Melbourne has historically benefitted the consistent grinder (i.e. Djokovic, Federer). This, in my opinion, is the perfect storm for one player specifically: Daniil Medvedev. He’s given the Big 3 fits at times throughout the last two years, his unorthodox style of play combined with his power and lateral quickness makes him the perfect choice to win the event.

As for the faster, lower-bouncing courts of the Concrete Jungle, we just saw two of the four slug it out last year for the title. While that same final can’t be guaranteed, both Thiem and Zverev have the firepower to beat anyone.

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