Who will be tennis’ next ‘big four’?
Throughout the 2000s, the quartet of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray ruled men’s tennis. Combined, the big four have had a vice grip on men’s tennis and won it all: five Olympic gold medals, 66 Grand Slams and well over 100 ATP masters.
There were smiles all around as the Big Four enjoyed each other’s company the night before the action began at this year’s Laver Cup, but their get together signified the end of an era. Federer played his final ever ATP Tour match at the event and brought one of the greatest ever careers in all of tennis to a fitting conclusion. With nagging injuries and old age, these greats are in the twilight of their careers. It’s unlikely that a single player will emerge to signal the end of this era. More likely, the rise of a few players will coincide with the demise of the Big Four. In the past few years, we have seen the emergence of a few young players who are looking to take over from their monopoly in men’s tennis. Here’s our look at some of the brightest prospects who could make up the ‘big four’ of the future in their place.
Rafael Nadal was eliminated from the ATP Finals after Casper Ruud took the first set off Taylor Fritz in their round-robin match in Turin, which also ensured that Carlos Alcaraz would end the year as world No. 1. The 19-year-old Alcaraz, who is not competing at the tournament due to injury, will be confirmed as the youngest year-end No. 1 since the ATP rankings began in 1973. 2022 has been a landmark year for the young talent who claimed five ATP titles alongside his first Grand Slam in the form of the US Open at Flushing Meadows. He is also the youngest player to win the Rio Open (18 years and 10 months), the Miami Open (18 years and 11 months) and the Madrid Open (19 years). Alcaraz has taken the tennis world by storm and already has some staggering records to his name. He is still developing as a player and there is a long way to go if he wants to establish himself in the same class of player of some of the icons of the last decade, but he has all the capability and talent at his disposal to leave his mark. Injury might have plagued him in the latter stages of 2022, but he has made his intentions for the future crystal clear and has put the tennis world on notice.
While you may not have heard his name too much, Jannik Sinner is one of the brightest prospects for the future and has already broken into the ATP top 10. In 2021, he also became the first player born in the 2000s to break into the ATP top 10, winning a total of six ATP titles in singles. Growing up in Italy, Sinner was a keen skier, but turned his attention to tennis at the age of thirteen and started training with coach Riccardo Piatti. He began playing on the ITF Junior Circuit in 2016, but quickly progressed to the professional tour and turned pro in 2018. At the beginning of the year, Jannick was unranked, but soon broke into the top 100 in 2019. When he was 19 years old old, he became the first teenager to win an ATP 500 title, all occurring at Washington. Since 2020, Jannick has reached the French Open quarterfinal, achieved his first ATP title and the Australian Open quarterfinal. Djokovic, as a package, perhaps can never be replicated. He is a unique product of an upbringing in a war-torn country and natural talent forged in the fires of the most competitive era in men’s tennis history. Sinner is the closest we have seen to Djokovic in terms of his actual game, though, and he looks absolutely destined to win multiple majors before he is done in the game.
Casper Ruud is the highest-ever ranked Norwegian player in tennis history. He is the first Norwegian man to reach a Grand Slam final after finishing runner-up at Roland-Garros in 2022 and reached his second Grand Slam final at the US Open later this year. At just 23-years-old he has won nine ATP Tour events and reached the ATP Finals. Those wanting to bet on tennis should make sure to get free bets like these when they do. Norway’s previous highest-ranked men’s player peaked at 39th in 1995 and the country remains such a non-entity beyond him that Ruud competes in the lower divisions of the Davis Cup, even facing unranked non-professionals there. To rise to world number 2 then from a place with so little infrastructure is a more than commendable achievement. While Ruud’s junior career was actually propelled by hardcourt success, as a professional he has thrived on clay. Ruud grinds opponents down with his spin and physicality, while his vicious, heavy forehand is most lethal on the dirt. There is still some work to be done to replicate his success across all surfaces though, but he is improving all the time and showing maturity in his showings on the court especially for his age. He is the youngest ATP Finals qualifier this year, and his lofty success in his short career has led to him taking a seat at the top table in Turin even quicker than many anticipated. It will not be his last time there.
With an enormous wingspan on the forehand and backhand, he looks almost eagle-like as he strikes the ball. He glides rather than rumbles around the court and uses a hammer of a serve to set up points that can be won with topspin and brute force. Tsitsipas knows that his game is particularly effective indoors, especially given that he won the ATP Finals in 2019 played at the O2 Arena in London. It is the majors that have eluded Tsitsipas. At 24, he has already been ranked as high as No. 3 in the world where he currently resides. While Tsitsipas reached the final at the 2021 French Open, losing to Djokovic, and has reached four major semifinals, including at this year’s Australian Open, he has often faltered when it mattered most. Having said that he is still among the world’s best and has all the tools required to get over that hurdle. Once he claims his first, and it’s on the way, he will go on to claim plenty more.
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