Can Anyone Beat The Big Three To Win US Open?

Nadal in action, just minutes away from winning the U.S. Open.

As tennis fans we’ve been incredibly blessed to live in the era of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic. With 54 Grand Slam titles between them, the trio have set the benchmark in men’s tennis for the last fifteen years.

As the eyes of the tennis world turn towards Flushing Meadows at the end of August, it goes without saying that Federer, Nadal and Djokovic will be the three heavy favourites in US Open 2019 betting odds. The fact that those three have been at the top of the game for such a long time shows that none have been able to match their sheer quality, or their desire to maintain such success, to set records and astonish crowds time and time again.

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Can anyone topple this tennis hierarchy? To do so requires a player to perform above and beyond both his abilities and his expectations. The likes of Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka have stood firm against this trio in the past, each having won three Grand Slam titles, a remarkable achievement when set against the formidable challenge of defeating the three greatest players of all time.

Nonetheless, there will be those who head to Flushing Meadow eager to break down the status quo. The nature of Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic’s excellence inspires a desire to best them, to defy odds and expectations and achieve glory.

Dominic Thiem is a player who has threatened to disrupt this hierarchy for a few years now. The Austrian has 13 career titles to his name but is yet to crack the key of winning a Grand Slam. Two French Open final appearances have seen Thiem succumb to the king of clay Nadal, and apart from that, the world number four’s Grand Slam results leave something to be desired.

That said, Thiem is a player who undoubtedly has the ability to outshine the big three in the way that Murray and Wawrinka have done in the past. He has often been described as an heir to the throne in regards to the greatest men’s players, and this pressure has arguably worked against him thus far in his career. Perhaps success at last at the US Open could be the springboard the Austrian needs to fulfil his undoubted potential.

Alexander Zverev is perhaps the most exciting young player in the men’s game. Still only 22 years of age, the German is not short of confidence, nor the ability to match it. Last year’s victory at the ATP Finals in London was evidence of that, and you feel that a significant run at one of the sport’s majors is only just around the corner.

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Zverev’s youth arguably offers him an advantage against the seasoned pros. There is not necessarily the weight of expectation – though this will mount as the German’s stock continues to rise – and the carefree manner in which Zverev plays could allow him to deliver his best on the biggest stage.

Then there are the experienced campaigners such as Juan Martin Del Potro and Marin Čilić. Both men have won Grand Slams before, and know what it takes to bring their A-game to the major events. Čilić has experienced something of a slide in the rankings, where he currently sits 17th, but if class is permanent then the Croat can never be discounted. He has won the US Open before and clearly understands how to win in the cauldron that is Arthur Ashe stadium.

Del Potro, meanwhile, is a player who you feel would have won much more had injuries not played such a devastating role in his career development. This year will mark ten years since his success at the US Open, and it feels like an eternity ago given the injury turmoil Del Potro has had to endure. The Argentine is experienced, and rarely fazed, and undoubtedly has the attributes to achieve Grand Slam success again.

Make no mistake, it is entirely likely that Federer, Djokovic, or Nadal will lift the trophy at Flushing Meadows once again. But the challenge of toppling them is one that every player in the men’s game undoubtedly relishes. These three have raised the standard of the men’s game to a level never seen before. To beat them is an almighty challenge, but that makes the prospect of victory even sweeter.

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  • Hartt · July 15, 2019 at 10:03 am

    Scoop, I continue to be an Alexander Zverev fan, despite his recent slump. But I was surprised to see you refer to his “carefree manner.” I think he is anything but carefree. In fact, I think one of his big problems is getting tight during matches, and reverting to staying too far behind the baseline and being too cautious. And the way he can pretty well disappear when he starts to lose, and then get trounced is a very bad sign. For Alexander to fulfil his talent he needs to learn how to play well in big matches.

  • catherine · July 15, 2019 at 11:08 am

    Hartt – I agree with you here, although I haven’t seen Sascha play that many times. He doesn’t strike me as ‘carefree’ – sometimes he looks weighed down with mental burdens – maybe the pressure of expectation in Germany and various personal problems which have recently been discussed in the press. And his coaching situation seems a little vague – is Lendl there or not there ? Whichever – it’s not helping.

    Does he use his height well ? He looks gangly – not always in control of his limbs. I know there are other taller men but Sascha is on the slim side – he’s not a hulk. And playing so much from the baseline means a lot of running.
    I can’t see him making a splash at the USO in his current state.

  • Hartt · July 15, 2019 at 2:21 pm

    Because Sascha is in a legal dispute with his former manager he is doing a manager’s job himself. That has to be a huge distraction. I keep wondering why he does not have a family member take on that role if he is prevented from hiring another manager. or maybe it would be worth it to simply pay whatever his old manager is demanding so he can concentrate on his tennis. I wonder if he is losing more in prize $ than what a financial settlement would be.

    Zverev has a few problems with his game. He has a very good BH, but not a good FH. He isn’t effective at the net, although he is supposed to have been working on that. And he doesn’t seem to dig down and fight hard when a match starts to go against him.

  • Leif Wellington Haase · July 15, 2019 at 2:37 pm

    Apart from Thiem, who really should be considered a favorite, the next best chance of unseating the Big Three at the Open probably belongs to Karen Khchanov. He’s had an underwhelming and disappointing year but is still ranked #8 in the world, should have beaten Nadal last year, and has the needed firepower (see Wawrinka, Del Potro) to win against the top players even when they are having a pretty good day.

    For a true dark horse, Reilly Opelka. He’s on the cusp of the top 50, has started to get traction against good players (defeating Wawrinka at Wimbledon), is still only 21, and has the unlimited power both on serve and off the ground to give anyone fits.

    Should any American win a Grand Slam in the next five years it will almost certainly be Opelka so he might as well start now. More likely: a run to the quarters accompanied by oppressive media coverage, then a “slump,” followed by a real challenge by Reilly for majors (should he not be derailed by injuries or suspect motivation) at 23 or 24. (by the way, don’t sell those Tommy Paul futures just yet)

  • Jeff · July 15, 2019 at 2:52 pm

    There is no chance anyone else will win the U.S. Open. Roger will focus on it, he is already skipping Montreal. Rafa needs it to get year-end No. 1. Novak needs it to get closer to Rafa and Roger.

    These three will do everything it takes to win and it looks like no Del Potro will be there. You would have to guess that it will take probably until 2022 until another player wins a Slam; maybe then Felix or Casper Ruud can break through.

  • jg · July 15, 2019 at 2:59 pm

    Good call on Tommy Paul, I predict he has a big summer. Also a dark horse for the US Open Daniel Mednedev, he’s in the top ten now so should have a good draw first few rounds, he may win Cincinnati or Montreal.

  • Scoop Malinowski · July 15, 2019 at 5:45 pm

    Yes Paul is a rising force, saw first-hand how good he can play in Sarasota open, crunched Sandgren in final. Expect good summer for Tommy.

  • Jeff · July 16, 2019 at 12:50 am

    I too believe Tommy Paul can win a Grand Slam, like Scoop and the others. We have seen him slay the beast that is Kyrgios and Paul has numerous other impressive wins. I saw one of his matches in Washington a year ago. He will be challenging Fritz and Tiafoe as the top American player soon.

  • Scoop Malinowski · July 16, 2019 at 11:47 am

    Ann Grossman, former top American, rates Paul as the young American with best potential. Just daw Karlovic walk by granollers in memorial both with coaches, no greetings.

  • Michael in the UK · July 17, 2019 at 8:11 am

    Interesting question and comments. I agree with Leif, Kachanov could be a strong contender. But overall, the continued dominance of the big 3 is remarkable, astonishing, and I feel very fortunate to be living during this era, for tennis.

  • Dejan · July 23, 2019 at 11:47 am

    Its riddiciolus even think how many young talented players feel when they watching continuously 30+ three best players of tennis dominate the tour. In the same time its embarrassing for nextgen and their efforts on Grand Slams. They just need to hope that Bif Three will retire soon enough (obvisoly not soon enough) to reach some big result.I am personally Novak fan he is the greatest butt Rafa and Roger are also amazing and extraordinary. Unbelievable three master of universe…

  • Scoop Malinowski · July 23, 2019 at 12:41 pm

    Dejan, the problem is the younger players expect to lose to Fedalkovic. And they give too much respect. Need that young Hewitt McEnroe rebel attitude.

  • Andrew Miller · August 8, 2019 at 12:57 am

    The jury’s still out on all this stuff. Basically, players are praying the big three retire, and picking up scraps in tournaments such as Atlanta. I’ve been delusional enough to believe that some player playing well or now in the top five is on the verge of something. Reality is they are on the verge of getting destroyed by any top three player that navigates a five set match like a walk in the park.

    As amazed as I am by the strokes and talent of the new players, count me as underwhelmed by their mental toughness in best of five set matches, and by their lack of preparation and courage in most of their big matches.

    The kid I like most is the one Scoop praised in the past, Felix. He has a lot to work on to even get to a big slam match in a later round. Tsitsipas is a fine player as well and especially promising, but has much to work including his serve.

    As for the Americans they are good. I think for some time the U.S. men’s players have been very talented and I think it began with Klan’s run in 2013. It woke everyone up. For the most part Querrey has lived up to his massive potential, which has been awesome. Depending on how other players develop, whether they take the kind of approach Fish and Ginepri and Blake did, or Wawrinka, to improve their games, sure why not. Odds of that?

    Zero. They have to prove it. Fritz showing he’s serious, which wasn’t clear for a while. But much as before he’s gotten better at being himself, while most of his game is as ugly as ever. It’s no wonder De Minaur picked up apart in Atlanta. I love Tiafoe – he’s fun to watch. But suffers from the same issues as all other American players. No strategy, modest improvement, just waiting for other players to retire.

    Sampras didn’t wait for retirements and Nadal didn’t either. Mayotte didn’t either. Maybe players have it too good these days. Hang around the top hundred, collect

  • Andrew Miller · August 8, 2019 at 1:05 am

    Believe it or not Kyrgios is great for the game. It doesn’t even matter if he wins a slam, or that he lost first round in Montreal. Or that sometimes he is the worst sport in the world. His run to the title a week ago was great – great fun abd a total spectacle. His decision to forego stuff like analytics in favor of fan decisions on where to serve – again, just outstanding stuff.

    He reminds me of Santoro and Monfils at his best, and Connors and McEnroe at his worst. Yet Kyrgios too has become more of a master of the best of three set tournament, given his lower level of fitness and how he has a tendency to give up on himself. Still, he’s memorable.

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 8, 2019 at 8:29 am

    Welcome back Andrew! Actually believe Felix is ready right now to do major damage in a Slam. His rate of improvement is faster than the others and hard for mere mortals to see happening to the naked eye. I think he’s ready for the big explosion of shocking a top 3 guy and maybe even winning US Open or AO or French next year. I think he can do it within the next year or sooner. Everything is ready to click. Even Nadal wants to see him do it, wouldn’t that be a great irony if Felix takes out Nadal this week or at US Open.

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 8, 2019 at 8:34 am

    Andrew, I was equally astounded by the Kyrgios show in Washington, he’s Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali, John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Santoro, Rios, Monfils, all wrapped up in one, pieces of each. But he’s an original at the same time. The best thing will be if he continues to try hard, like he did with Edmund but it just wasn’t there, his tank was not full, his hunger and desire were still a little off from the glorious career highpoint at Citi Open. He has to eliminate those angry tank jobs from his performances, he has to manufacture the drive to try hard 100% every time on court. Then the fans will be wrapped around his finger. The tanking and fake injuries and then being seen playing basketball the next day must never rear it’s ugly head again.

  • Andrew Miller · August 8, 2019 at 9:15 am

    We’re not guaranteed another Citi Open performance from Kyrgios – like you said he has the Rios factor. See him live, hopefully on a good day, and live for the moment because the Kyrgios you see one match is unlikely to be the same player mere days later. That’s Kyrgios. It used to be that was the tour until this toxic combination of luxilon strings, slowish court speed, and other technology improvements turned the equally bad ten second tennis of the Sampras and Ivanisevic serving contests into the marathons and slugfests of today.

    But like Scoop said, it’s like Rios. We’re not likely to see a ball hit like this for a while, and we’re equally unlikely to see a motivated Kyrgios for more than a handful of glorious hours. He’s not Mr. Dependable where winning is everything, and if we’re lucky enough to catch him on a good day against an opponent that’s also ready to put on a show like Tsitsipas, we’re not going to care because it will be so deliriously good. Dan’s talked about McEnroe’s brilliance and I think Kyrgios, when he’s at maximum entertainment and flight, elevates the sport.

    I’ll limit all talk about the next generation of disappointments – they have much to learn and it will take a miracle for them to figure it out and pull it off. Count me unimpressed. I recognize what I’m saying is scathing. And for sure I’m glad to see a nice Zverev backhand, or some of Tsitsipas old school shots and fine movement. Felix reminds me of Safin without the headcase.

    I’m still completely unconvinced, especially as many of them take on the same excuses players had before them. “what can I do when (Novak, Rafa, Roger) is playing like that? Too good.” They don’t get it – the big three guys at an advanced age for tennis are STILL winning matches in the locker room even before they step on a court. U.S. players still haven’t even caught up to Roddick in terms of his achievements at age twenty when playing against an equally formidable set of opponents. These guys still don’t get that every time a big three player practices with them they figure out yet another way to beat them and further their dominance.

    I’ll stick with my prediction: if one or more big three retire, and assuming Murray is done and Wawrinka is considering the exits, then this next generation will find themselves stumbling around in slam finals. They won’t care how they got there or that they couldn’t break through a group of super champions that will in turn be handing them the trophies and rubbing it in – as if to say, “hey kid, glad you finally got one of these…only took our retirement!!! Sorry you were never good enough to knock the racquet out of our hands…”

  • Andrew Miller · August 8, 2019 at 9:34 am

    One last missive for today. I hate the idea of on court coaching for the men’s game (it’s awful for the women’s game), and it would be a terrible idea to turn slams into best of three set matches. Why is that even gaining any currency. It’s trying to solve a problem the tour doesn’t have, and it will cheapen the sport.

    The best additions to the sport over decades have been tournaments improving their facilities for players, better grass and lawn care and new strains of grass at Wimbledon and other grass tournaments, Hawk Eye, and co-ed tournaments (for many reasons from getting more match play to having a more collegial environment, or simply community or healthier relationships or whatever in a cutthroat, Darwinism, gladiator sport).

  • Andrew Miller · August 8, 2019 at 9:37 am

    Props to Edmund for the win over Kyrgios. Edmund got to quarters at Citi Open and ran out of steam on a hot day vs Gojo. He probably felt he had a shot at the title, and didn’t mind proving that by knocking out Kyrgios.

  • Andrew Miller · August 8, 2019 at 9:54 am

    Maybe. Unlikely, but you never know. If the big three are healthy and hungry, forget it. If there’s some wrinkle in the tournament, Opelka somehow learns how to break serve, you never know – that could do a favor for another player looking for their first or second or fourth slam.

  • Andrew Miller · August 8, 2019 at 10:02 am

    Scoop, it’s the kiss of death for a player to believe what the big three say about them or to take any compliment seriously.

    Many players we know as fans have crumbled when faced with the opportunity to win crucial matches against these big guys or even the matches in front of them as expectations of great performances soon give way to the reality of early exits against hungry opponents.

    Let’s call a spade a spade. Djokovic, Nadal, Federer are ruthless. Ruthless. They praise the next generation while beating them silly. Even when they lose a big match like Federer did at the Australian, did he really care that much – he beat Tsitsipas soundly next time they played and then made the Wimbledon final. The big three, while praising young guys like Felix publicly, have no problem wiping the court with them.

    People forget this. They forget Nadal is relentless every second of every match in every month and year, even when he’s hurting. They forget his friends don’t even want to play golf with him, as Nadal said in his book, because Nadal focuses only on winning the golf game and doesn’t even talk to anyone. Worst guy to play in ping pong, wifi tennis, checkers, you name it.

    That’s who players are dealing with. They forget this.

  • Andrew Miller · August 8, 2019 at 10:23 am

    Thanks Scoop, hope you and all are ok. Back for the tennis. If the board goes off topic, I’ll take a break again. Politics is just bad for the brain, makes everyone enemies.

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 8, 2019 at 10:28 am

    Kyrgios is just what the tour needs, a rebel, super talent, Rios, unpredictable star all rolled into one. Have to have that contrast of characters and talents. What I find interesting is how the old guard media really like him. Myself, Dan and Richard Pagliaro watched with Peter Bodo, Nick battle Coric out on an outer court on grandstand in a broiling afternoon sun. Pete Bodo was loving the show and you rarely see him out at a match especially in the hot sun, he’s usually in the media center at his desk working. Kyrgios has the drawing powers that attract and appeal to kids and also old time veterans. He’s so different and unpredictable. Don’t even count out the second coming of Bud Collins coming back from the dead to cover Kyrgios 🙂

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 8, 2019 at 10:34 am

    Andrew, the shorting of best of five is for money, it’s better for TV coverage, could probably lure more sponsors. It also helps to prolong the careers of the big money makers Rafa, Fed and Serena and Maria. I would like to see the WTA and ATP experiment with a short set format, or an 8 game pro set. One or two or three tournaments a year. See how it goes, how the fans and players feel about it. And if it is an overwhelming success (which I highly doubt), maybe try it at one major. But I like, and most people do, like tennis how it is and don’t want to see 5 setters exterminated.

  • Andrew Miller · August 8, 2019 at 10:35 am

    Scoop, as you know I make the worst predictions on the next tennis champs. I didn’t even think Federer would be as earth shattering as he has been, or Nadal as dominant a force, or Djokovic as arguably the best player of all time (arguably, this trio is the reason that that topic is a thing).

    I thought Juan Carlos Ferrero was our next great champion back in 2002, knocking off Agassi on his way to a losing battle with Albert Costa, one of the many, many Spaniards who made winning the French Open his reason for playing the sport, and as time goes no one thinks of either guy. Cruel sport. I thought Ferrero would handle Hewitt and keep the promising Federer at Bay. Then Federer won Wimbledon and the Houston ATP finals, absolutely obliterating Agassi both times they played – barely in a best of three setter then without mercy in a best of five set match.

    So, I don’t have a good eye for this stuff. My only comment is that it will take some seriously good luck for any of these guys, Felix included, to wrench away a title from the big fellas. I couldn’t tell you who could do it – none of them seem as purpose driven even as Del Potro was in finding his way to a US Open crown.

    I’ll agree with you, they don’t have the I’m Lleyton Hewitt and you’re going to need to beat me to win this match, or the I’m Sampras and I don’t care if you don’t know who I am I just beat Lendl and I’m sure as heck not going to lose to you out here.

    They’d have to show that. Win points pretty quickly, stop waiting for the cows to come home. Smash the opponent then say good job. Show your more talented opponents something they didn’t expect out there, such as a ferocious return of serve.

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 8, 2019 at 10:36 am

    We also have to remember now that Nick is in superstar mode, all the other players want a piece of him, he’s got a target on his back. So now Nick has to deal with that added pressure, he’s not the underdog anymore, now he’s expected to win most of his matches. Edmund was the right guy at the right time.

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 8, 2019 at 10:52 am

    Andrew, good points. The Big Three kill with kindness. I would not put it past Nadal to be softening up Felix with these quotes, knowing his words are intentionally now adding new extra pressure to Felix. Oh wow, Rafa Nadal is annointing Felix to be the next king. Now he has to do it. That’s big pressure and expectation. Federer worked this mental gymnastics on Andy Murray for years. Sloane Stephens never fully recovered from Serena’s mind games. Curiously they have not played each other in years. Awaiting that rivalry rekindling.

  • Andrew Miller · August 8, 2019 at 11:21 am

    Federer learned it from Nadal. Praise your opponent, don’t give them any reason to beat you. Federer wisened up. Lendl invited Sampras, age 18-19, to practice at his home, paved to match the US Open surface, but Sampras looked around, said to himself, “I can beat this guy” while Pete Fischer was saying to him, Sampras, even if you haven’t won a slam, your opponent is just another guy to beat to get your name in the record books.

    Let’s just remember any player that gave the big guys a run for their money had to take the game to them. Verdasco, 2009 Australian. Gonzalez, 2007 Australian. Baghdatis, 2006 Australian. Safin, 2005 Australian. Cilic. Wawrinka. Del Potro. Nishikori. Even Thiem for as long as he could.

    They all had to put all the reverence and praise aside and rip into the big guys. Put pressure on them the whole time, start to finish.

    That’s usually the only place the big guys lose, at the bitter end. But you have to be there right with them, essentially walking them towards the runner up trophy, saying hey, good match, you’re an amazing player. And then being the champ yourself. That’s what’s needed.

  • Andrew Miller · August 8, 2019 at 11:29 am

    Scoop, Nadal believes what he says and expresses he likes Felix and believes he has the demeanor, game. If only it were so easy.

    Nadal said all that and obliterated Felix when they played on the dirt. Obviously the gap betwern Felix and Nadal can’t even be talked about, it’s an ocean.

    If Felix wants in on the winner’s circle he’ll have to play like Soderling in a QF. Merciless. Unrelenting. We’re friends off court and I enjoy beating you I smithereens on court. It was savage but I’m pleased etc etc

    There’s some weird thing where today a player can’t acknowledge that this is a gladiator sport. The only one, the only one I’ve seen that even expresses something like this is Kyrgios through his transgressive tactics such as asking the crowd where to serve, hitting drop shot serves, etc. He gets it that you use the whole court and your talent to win. Get the crowd on your side by earning it (hopefully in a positive way – I’ve seen players get the crowd sympathy, not on purpose, only because they are an underdog and it works!).

    Tennis is a gladiator sport. It’s boxing on the court. After match fine, be friends, make peace, talk about how great your opponent is etc etc. But on the court? No. Take your game to the opponent and soak it up out there.

  • Andrew Miller · August 8, 2019 at 11:34 am

    Scoop, at some point we’re heading towards something like 2001-2003 or 1990 here in men’s tennis, like the WTA where people won’t know the slam champs well. The big three are basically deciding when that happens. I can see players lining up to make their name in the new era, but I prefer they live up to the hype now. They should NOT let the big three determine who wins or loses slams. Sampras didn’t. They should stop waiting for permission to win slams.

  • Andrew Miller · August 8, 2019 at 11:35 am

    Soderling is the right model for Felix. He reminds me of Safin, but he should study Soderling for his no guts no glory style.

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 8, 2019 at 11:44 am

    Felix is improving leaps and bounds and its possible he could beat Rafa now, or anyone in the draw. Let’s see. Khachanov will be tough though, very interesting challenge. Shapovalov crashed out again to Thiem. Again, it looks like Shap has stagnated. Or did he hit his career peak two years ago?

  • Hartt · August 8, 2019 at 11:45 am

    Andrew, welcome back! I just read your posts and thoroughly enjoyed them.

    I don’t think Félix will be influenced by Rafa’s praise. He is pleased, of course, but he is level-headed and knows he has to continue to work very hard to achieve the success he dreams of. FAA has no trouble trying to beat his good buddy Shapo, and he will be just as determined when he meets Rafa.

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 8, 2019 at 11:46 am

    Andrew I see Felix having a far better career than Robin Soderling and that is no knock because the Swede was a great player and carved out an excellent career in a tough era. Soderling had some unforgettable performances of Safin like destruction tennis and even won the last tournament he ever played before being forced to retire with a bad case of mono (hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm??)

  • Andrew Miller · August 8, 2019 at 1:07 pm

    Hi Hartt, glad to see you and everyone keep bringing excellent insight to this tough but fun sport.

  • Andrew Miller · August 8, 2019 at 1:30 pm

    Scoop, as you know I’m awful with predictions. I was excited that Kosakowski put up a fight when he qualified at Indian Wells and predicted he’d ride that shot of a one handed backhand into higher ranks. As soon as Kosakowski broke the top two hundred, he was on his way to leaving the sport, given how tennis is precarious beyond the top hundred. Same thing with Jarmere Jenkins, who began tearing up the futures and making headway in the challengers before injuries took hold. Kozlov, who showed absolutely unreal anticipation in threading the needle in challengers before coming up against old foes like Fritz that somehow now had his number.

    So no, I can’t speak to the talent of Felix, and even as he shows a similar talent to others like Zverev in that he can hit through the court, something that Berdych and Safin have done before them, that’s not what makes slam champs these days. To my eye at least, a player can no longer just have a hot tournament, or play lights out for a week etc.

    They actually need a strategy, a plan A, a plan B. Old, boring stuff that everyone from Laver to Djokovic figured out and use to perfection. None of these guys are Ivanisevic, whose passion for Wimbledon went so far beyond reverence, and whose serve was more unreadable than Karlovic, Opelka, Isner, and anyone still on tour.

    But, like Harrison in the past, who broke out of his slump for a period before going back to the slump (!), anyone can get better and even far better than they expect by working on new parts of their game. It’s been said before today’s versions of Djokovic etc could beat a younger version. I don’t know if that’s true and it’s certainly not possible. But I think what those people mean to say is they developed new shots and worked on their weaker shots (eg an excellent backhand became like a forehand, a good volley became a great volley, an unbeatable overhead became more versatile still).

    So…young players…jokes on you. Get better or die on the court. That would be Nadal’s advice (and was his advice to Verdasco in the 2008 Davis Cup tie in Argentina…Nadal, who sat the tie out from his epic year, literally told Verdasco to die on the court when playing the final match against Jose Acasuso (had to look him up, Acasuso was so good, such a classic, Sampras-like game, but alas not the best movement for a giant).

    What’s driving these guys? Who knows. But like the WTA shows, new champs arrive and that’s sport. Just that so long as the big three have a bottle of Advil nearby they will never, ever let go.

  • Andrew Miller · August 8, 2019 at 1:39 pm

    As for Felix’s rise to stardom…again, I can’t tell. He has a good attitude and a nice game. That’s worked for Thiem, so at least Felix can take something from that.

    The rest is up to him, up to them. I don’t see much because a player has to show they can win big titles BY WINNING THEM. There’s no other way. Some players melt after such victories (see Ostapenko). Some come out of nowhere to claim what they think is theirs (see Kerber or Sloane Stephens, Sloane is so good when she wants to be). Some have to get decked a few times (Halep, similar to Ivanisevic). The WTA is more like ATP ca 1990 and ca 2002.

    Another good example of a breakthrough is Pat Rafter. He had such a good volley and overhead, and was such a good athlete. He improved his forehand and game from the back of the court, and suddenly found his mark. I’d still say Rafter is a lot better than every non big three guy today, but the point is he added to what he already did so well.

  • Hartt · August 8, 2019 at 1:52 pm

    I don’t about other young players, but FAA has been very clear about what drives him. He wants to win Slams and be No.1. Obviously there are areas of his game he needs to improve, especially his 2nd serve and a tendency to get nervous in big moments.

    But he has so many skills for a (today) 19-year-old. He has a good first serve, that should get even better. He is very quick around the court. His FH and BH are both weapons. He is willing to come in, and often volleys well, although this is another area where he could improve. He can construct points. He has both good offense and good defense. He generally stays composed on the court. And he will fight to the last point, often coming back when behind in a match.

    FAA is known as a hard worker, and he understands it won’t be easy to achieve his lofty goals. Barring injury, I think he will reach them. I don’t know if he will win a Slam soon or not, but think it is just a matter of time before he does.

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 8, 2019 at 2:04 pm

    What drives these players? Jimmy Arias said he was content with the fame and money that being top 5 gave him, he lost a desire to get better and do better and then the game passed him by. Arias admitted he chickened out about daring to be great, or fear of success. I think a lot of players like Monfils, Gasquet, pre Citi Open Nick, Tomic, Berdych, Sock are content with their ranking and bank accounts and don’t really have that burning obsession desire to be the best like Fed Rafa and Djokovic. Acasuso was good player but I remember Spadea said in Break Point or was it Dan’s story from doing the book that Acasuso had mashed potatoes for brains.

  • Andrew Miller · August 8, 2019 at 2:28 pm

    Hartt, Felix is a fine player. It’s hard to know what players do from here on out. I think only a few players have ever demonstrated that knock the racquet out of the hand sensation.

    Kyrgios is the only one that comes to mind for me, but hard work tends to beat talent, or talent plus hard work defeat otherworldly talent alone. But I’m not going to say, you know, definitely the next non big player to win a slam in the last five years!

    On performance alone, it would be good to see Thiem follow up his French breakthroughs. Muster once once an all court player and Thiem should at least want to have a better record at the US Open than Muster (he might already). It would be hard to count out a guy like Medvedev, who is hard to beat and works hard to trip up his opponents with his Djokovic light game.

    Khachanov is good, but to my eye only good. Not great. Not amazing, just solid, very good. Another good Russian player without the skills of Kafelnikov, etc.

    Who were the ordinary champs on tour in the last twenty years? I’d think 2002 Johannson (Australian 2002), some French Open champs like Al Costa (2002) and Gaston Gaudio (2004). They were lucky to get a slam before these big three plus guys came along!

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 8, 2019 at 2:44 pm

    Goran was very lucky to get his one and only major too, at the expense of Patrick Rafter. Maybe Muster was lucky too.

  • Andrew Miller · August 8, 2019 at 3:11 pm

    True, Goran, Muster “lucky”, but Goran made several Wimbledon finals already, and Muster before Nadal, before Coria, “owned” best streak on red clay. Can’t say same for anyone else outside the big guys these days.

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 8, 2019 at 3:44 pm

    Goran had a lucky draw as a wildcard and his final with Rafter essentially came down to a fifth set 97 in the fifth.

  • Hartt · August 8, 2019 at 6:17 pm

    Yes, it is impossible to predict with any kind of certainty who will win Slams in the next 5 years, but I agree that Thiem has an excellent chance. RG is the obvious one, but the slow courts at the USO should suit him as well. He has been playing much better on hard courts, as his IW title showed. And after never winning a match at Rogers Cup in the past, this week he has won 2 so far, despite jet lag and having to make a quick switch from clay to hard courts.

    I am pretty confident that Félix will win a Slam within the next 5 years, in other words before he is 24. Of course he still has to improve his game, but more experience will make a big difference.

    Tsitsipas, who has a well-rounded game and who is very ambitious, is another likely candidate. He will be just 25 in 5 years, and I think he has an excellent shot at a Slam within that time frame.



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