This is it. The future is now. No Novak Djokovic. No Rafael Nadal. No Roger Federer.
For the first time since 2004, a Masters 1000 tournament will be played without any of the ‘Big Three’. Their absence, along with the absence of world No 4 Dominic Thiem, means the top four seeds at this week’s Miami Open will be Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev and Andrey Rublev. A 25-year-old, a 22-year-old and a pair of 23-year-olds. All four have already impressed this year, but victory in Miami – the biggest tournament so far this season outside of the Australian Open – would be another step forward. Particularly as it will be against their peers, not the “cyborgs” of Djokovic, Nadal and Federer.
Medvedev comes into the tournament as the newly-crowned world No 2 after his victory at the Marseille Open. That was his 10th career title – three of which have been Masters tournaments – and his form this year suggests he should be the one to beat in Miami. But Medvedev is not the only one who has enjoyed success over the last month.
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Tsitsipas followed up his semi-final run at the Australian Open by making the last four in Rotterdam, quarter-finals in Marseille and final in Acapulco, where he lost to Zverev. The last five meetings between the pair had been won by Tsitsipas, but Zverev ended the streak to claim his biggest title since the ATP Finals in 2018 and bounce back after a surprise first-round defeat in Rotterdam.
And then there’s Rublev. Master of the ATP 500 events – until he saw his 23-match winning streak ended by Aslan Karatsev in Dubai – Rublev still needs to take the biggest jump of the four. The world No 8 is yet to win a Masters tournament, along with Tsitsipas, and knows this is an opportunity with the ‘Big Three’ not playing.
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“I want to be as ready as I can for Miami, because there’s going to be no Rafael Nadal, no Roger Federer and no Dominic Thiem,” he said in Dubai. “And in my case, all 1000s tournaments, I have no points there. So I can win a lot of points by winning a couple of matches, if I go further I can win a lot of points. So it’s a really great challenge for me.”
Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime will also be hoping for deep runs after making the semi-finals in 2019 while 19-year-old Jannik Sinner has the tools to impress at only his fourth Masters tournament.
It’s a great challenge for all those in and around the top of the game, but especially Medvedev, Tsitsipas, Zverev and Rublev, three of whom have not fared well in Miami so far in their careers. Tsitsipas holds a 2-2 record, Rublev is 4-5, and Medvedev is 3-2. The only one to achieve success so far is Zverev, who lost in the final to John Isner in 2018 and made the quarter-finals the previous year, although in his last appearance he was beaten in the first round by David Ferrer.
Alexander Zverev won the 2021 Acapulco Tournament
Image credit: Getty Images
The previous showings highlight that there is plenty to work on, as Medvedev, Tsitsipas, Zverev and Rublev – the next ‘Big Four’? ‘Big Three’? ‘Big Two…’? – prepare to step into the void that will be left when Djokovic, Federer and Nadal retire. Already it seems likely that the trio will be playing fewer Masters events as they conserve themselves for bigger tournaments. It might not be quite as clear cut as Denis Shapovalov put it over the weekend – "They’ve been there, they’ve won Masters, they’ve won Slams, so they don’t have a reason to go and play" – but they will be happy to leave the Masters to the ‘NextGen’ if it means a few more Grand Slam titles.
The challenge for those now stepping up is consistency. Djokovic, Federer and Nadal might not worry too much about Masters titles these days, but for years they dominated them, rarely letting others getting a look. Now these tournaments feel like the platform for Medvedev, Tsitsipas, Zverev and Rublev to make their mark, whether they are competing against the ‘Big Three’ or not. A maiden Grand Slam remains the biggest challenge for all four, but beating Djokovic, Nadal or Federer at a Masters event is a step towards that. And if you can’t do that, beating those around you is the next best thing.
Only two players in the Miami field - Marin Cilic and Andy Murray – have won a Grand Slam while only three - Murray, Zverev and Medvedev – have won multiple Masters events.
Zverev said his win in Acapulco last week felt like a “big stepping stone”, but victory in Miami could prove to be a big leap forward.
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