If you are a fan of competition, there has been no better advertisement for the competitive nature of men’s tennis than the constant change in champions at the highest levels of men’s tennis. In 2021, every Masters 1000 event, bar one, was won by a different person. In 2022, the exact same trend has occurred. Over nearly 2 seasons, only Alexander Zverev and Carlos Alcaraz have been to win more than 1 masters title over the space of a season.
In times gone by, many pundits have often criticised the women’s game’s ‘inconsistency’. However, perhaps the real answer is not inconsistency, but the the depth of competition is so equal, and high, that no player can really stand above the pack. The ATP is experiencing a similar embarrassment of riches. Never in the last 17 seasons has there been as much excitement as to what new faces could win any given tournament- and this is a great thing for fans.
In Cincinnati yesterday, tennis saw the rebirth of Borna Coric. Coric was a player who featured in the inaugural next gen finals in 2017, alongside names such as Karen Khachanov, Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Andrey Rublev. Alexander Zverev also qualified, but skipped the event due to qualifying for the ATP finals. What is also often forgotten is just how different the next gen players were in terms of ability. For instance, in 2017, while Alexander Zverev was ranked 4th in the world, winning 2 Masters 1000 tournaments, Tsitsipas was 91st in the world and did not have a high enough rank to play masters events. Medvedev was 65th+ in the world, and would often the miss the 64 man cut for many Masters and 500 level tournaments.
Nevertheless, on the topic of Masters 1000s, over the last 2 years, we are yet to see a single player who has been able to dominate the 1000 level events. Compare this to roughly a decade ago, when Novak Djokovic won 5 masters 1000 titles in a single season. However, it wasn’t just that year. Over the past 17 seasons, at best, 4 or 5 men have won a masters tournament in a season. Last season alone, there were 7 different champions, and this season we are already at 6 different champions (with Paris is still yet to be contested in November) .
This fact in the depth of competition however never seems to never get brought up enough when most analysts discuss the nature of the current men’s game. Despite grand slams being more or less won by the usual suspects, the “big 3” have certainly lost grip of their dominance of the best-of- 3 scene. This is reflected in the fact that none of the “big 3” have won the season ending ATP finals since 2015. The ATP finals is one of the biggest prizes the sport has to offer, and offers almost an equivalent amount of points as winning a grand slam, so why haven’t the big 3 won it in 7 years? Is the answer really as simple as the big 3 not prioritizing masters events anymore? That also cannot be so- given their participation at all of the year-end finals over this period.
So the question remains: are we witnessing the most competitive and equal era of men’s tennis in nearly 20 years, or the weakest era of tennis?