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  • Divija Vaish and Sarthak Gandhi

Breaking the Compact: A Look Ahead to Tennis in 2024

2024 promises to be an interesting year for the tennis world, as the next generation of men’s tennis comes to the fore, taking on already-established figures in the four Grand Slams and the Olympics. In the women’s game, we could see the beginning of the end of the unpredictable chaos that marked the late 2010s and early 2020s, with the emergence of three clear-cut superstars. With this in mind, Edict Sports’ tennis duo, Divija Vaish and Sarthak Gandhi, preview 2024 and the years ahead in tennis. 

Tennis and the Post-Big 3 Era

Divija: Imagining the future of men’s tennis without the Big 3 — Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, and Rafael Nadal — seems impossible and slightly ridiculous when you’ve never had to watch a tournament without at least one of these men playing. The start of the new millennium brought in an unstoppable force that effortlessly swept away everything in its path for almost two decades. Countless records were broken. Between the three of them, Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have won more than 60 of the last 80 Grand Slams. 

The uncertainty of what came next, to be fair, did not last long. Only a few weeks later, Carlos Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner played the most spectacular match of the year in the US Open quarter-final, a five-hour-long match that ended at 3:00 am. Alcaraz went on to win the tournament and subsequently became the youngest man to be world No. 1 at 19 years, 4 months and 6 days. We are, I think, firmly in the era of these two players.

Sarthak: We may not be entirely past the Big 3 era though, because women’s tennis may be seeing an unprecedented consolidation of the field. Iga Swiątek, Aryna Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina have not only captured the hearts of fans but also solidified their positions by winning five out of the last seven Grand Slam titles. These numbers are approaching those attained by perhaps the last WTA “Big 3” of Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams. While the men’s game may see a more diverse set of winners in the years to come, this trio looks set to not cede an inch of space in the women’s game in the foreseeable future. 

Who will Tennis Belong to in the Years to Come?

Divija: At only 20 years old, Alcaraz already has four Masters 1000 titles and two Grand Slam titles to his name, along with the privilege of saying that he beat Nadal on clay and Djokovic on grass. People have been comparing him to Rafael Nadal, even calling him the “new Nadal” since he was 15. While the comparison isn’t entirely fair, they aren’t baseless either. Both Spaniards have displayed anomalous mental and physical prowess with their shared ability to come back from a set down and win. In 2023, Djokovic won three out of four Grand Slams — he lost at Wimbledon to Alcaraz. Not only was this an end to Djokovic’s four-year Wimbledon streak, but italso marked the beginning of the new generation’s takeover. At Roland Garros too, the otherwise perfect Serbian showed rare vulnerability against Alcaraz, before the young Spaniard got a muscle cramp in the third set and was quickly swept away.

According to Goran Ivanisevic, Djokovic’s coach, the other man bringing in the future of tennis is Jannik Sinner. His razor-sharp down-the-line forehand is so similar to early Federer’s, that the official YouTube page of the Australian Open has made a side-by-side comparison video of them playing an almost exact point. Although yet to win a Grand Slam, his five-hour-long 2022 US Open quarterfinal against Alcaraz was an open display of the kind of power and ability he is capable of. He also holds a rather interesting, but significant, achievement over the Big 3 — he managed to save more match points before the age of 21 than Federer, Nadal, or Djokovic. Statistics like this are crucial because they show the kind of path Sinner has set himself on, and he has the ability to be an unstoppable force akin to none. The young Italian proved this in November last year when he beat Djokovic thrice in 11 days starting with the round-robin stage at the ATP Finals. Sinner eventually lost the finals to him but got his revenge at the Davis Cup semi-finals where he rose from 3 match points down to beat the Serb in the singles’ semi-finals, and later the doubles, to lead Italy into the finals and eventually to victory for the first time in 47 years. It takes serious quality to beat Novak thrice in two weeks, and Sinner is full of it. 

The third major player appeared from nowhere when he made headlines by defeating Djokovic at the 2022 Paris Masters. Unseeded and just 19 years old, Holger Rune not only robbed Djokovic of a seventh title but also became the youngest champion since 1986 when Boris Becker won as an 18-year-old. Some might call his attitude cocky, some might call it confident. Either way, he brings a certain flair that is a unique mix of Djokovic and Kyrgios, something the courts haven’t seen in a while. Like Sinner, he has yet to win a Grand Slam but his climb in ATP rankings is unparalleled. In early April 2022, he was ranked 91st. By November, he had broken into the top 10. His biggest advantage over other players is his all-round game and the fact that he isn’t heavily reliant on any one aspect of it. Since he doesn’t have any particular shot he keeps returning to, his opponents are always unable to predict his next move and this has often worked beautifully to his advantage. Now, with German tennis legend Boris Becker as his coach, Holger Rune could master the art of the game and very well soar to the top position.

Sarthak: Iga Swiątek, a 4-time grand slam champion at the age of just 22, has been nothing short of a revelation. With a distinctive blend of athleticism and finesse, the current world number 1 has become a force to be reckoned with on all surfaces. Her powerful groundstrokes, executed with precision and grace, leave opponents scrambling to keep up. Swiątek's prowess on clay is unparalleled, but her adaptability and tenacity have proven equally formidable on hard and grass courts, making her a major contender for the slam Down Under. The Polish superstar has cemented herself in the “pole” position for this year’s Australian Open and will be a hot favourite going into the tournament. 

Aryna Sabalenka is a powerhouse on the court, armed with a blistering serve and thunderous groundstrokes. The Aussie Open defending champion possesses an aggressive playing style that puts immense pressure on her opponents. Sabalenka's relentless baseline attacks and fearless net approaches make her a daunting adversary, while her mental fortitude has come to the fore in crucial moments. With an innate ability to dictate play, Sabalenka's dominance is not limited to any specific surface, making her a genuine contender for any Grand Slam crown. Being the reigning champion, she will be keen to play her best tennis and defend her title.

Kazakhstan's Elena Rybakina has rapidly ascended the rankings, announcing her arrival with an authoritative display of skill and determination. The 2022 Wimbledon victor’s towering presence on the court is matched only by her powerful serve and aggressive baseline game. Her ability to strike winners from virtually any position on the court makes her a constant threat. But it’s her mental strength that sets her apart from the rest of the pack. Silent and composed yet lightning quick and lethal like a Stealth Bomber jet, Rybakina's mental and physical fortress ensures she remains a formidable opponent, ready to conquer any challenge that comes her way. 

So, Just Another Big 3 in Men’s and Women’s Tennis?

Divija: Well, no. There’s always Zverev and Medvedev who will be there or thereabouts for the next few years, at least. There’s also the small business of the most successful player in Men’s tennis history still being on the circuit.  Djokovic will undoubtedly be the biggest obstacle to overcome this year, starting with the Australian Open, which he has won a record 10 times. Unfortunately for all other players, the Serbian legend is not looking to retire from the sport any time soon. He is at the peak of his game, leaving behind an anomalous list of records set and broken including a joint record for most Grand Slam titles which he shares with Australian icon Margaret Court. This year will also include the Paris Olympics where, if things go according to his plan throughout the year, he will be looking to win his first Golden Slam. However, the Olympics’ tennis tournaments will be taking place at the Stade Roland Garros — the home of the French Open, where a certain Spaniard has been almost unbeatable since 2005. If Djokovic, or rather any other player, hopes to win the Olympics then Rafael Nadal is the man to beat. So far, amongst the next generation of players, only Alcaraz has managed to beat him on clay. 

If you’re still searching for more players to look out for, start with Alex DeMinaur. The 24-year-old Australian made headlines only three days into 2024 by defeating Novak Djokovic in straight sets at the United Cup. Three days after this, he also beat Olympic gold medallist Alexander Zverev.  Three years younger than DeMinaur, American player Ben Shelton has been another to look out for ever since he reached the quarter-finals of the 2023 Australian Open which was only his second Grand Slam ever. He then went on to break into the top 20 when he landed a place in the 2023 US Open semi-finals, where his quarter-final win against fellow American Frances Tiafoe went viral because of his phone call celebration. One of the biggest names in the new generation is 25-year-old Casper Ruud. He is a 3-time Grand Slam runner-up, with career-high rankings of No. 2 in singles and No. 1 as a junior. One senses, though, that there is a little way to go before these three can stake their claim to the top. 

Sarthak: In the kaleidoscopic world of women's tennis, unpredictability has become its defining feature, with new champions emerging from the shadows to claim the spotlight. The recent Grand Slam history has been a testament to the sport's ever-evolving nature, as proven by the likes of Coco Gauff and Marketa Vondrousova, the 2023 US Open and Wimbledon champions respectively. As a result, these two will be a duo to look out for this summer Down Under. The “Greek Goddess”, Maria Sakkari, and the resilient three-time Slam finalist, Ons Jabeur, will be a couple of high-ranked players hungry to win a maiden slam. So as the Australian Open looms on the horizon, the stage is set not only for the established triad of Swiątek, Sabalenka, and Rybakina, but also for these stars who could yet again spring a surprise.

The crux of women's tennis in recent years lies in some sort of inherent unpredictability, where the script is never set in stone and the underdogs have a habit of doing the unexpected. It’s what makes it so fun, and if Swiatek, Rybakina, and Sabalenka solidify their status as a “big 3”, it’s what will make their achievement historic. 

As the tennis world awaits the Australian Open, the question lingers — will we witness another underdog story, a rising star seizing the moment, or an established contender solidifying their dominance?

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