Tennis fans and analysts are keen to talk about the next generation of major tennis names that will wrest dominance from the big three - Nadal, Federer and Djokovic. The "NextGen" for short, could include such hopes as Denis Shapovalov, Andrey Rublev, and Felix Auger Aliassime as future champions who will gain the bulk of grand slam and Masters 1000 titles. Matt Bradshaw of Coffee Break Tennis has spoken about the "lost generation" in-between the big three and the youngest stars. Players like David Goffin, Grigor Dimitrov and Kei Nishikori were similarly tipped for great success but never achieved hegemonic dominance. Dominic Thiem has just won his first major, and all credit to him. The time taken since turning pro to win a major was nine years compared to Federer and Djokovic's five and Nadal's four. In the same time it took Thiem to win his first Masters 1000 in Indian Wells last year, Federer had won thirteen. So it's easy to say that because of the big three, no new generation has had such success.
But the term "big three" obscures the fact that tennis did pass on from one generation to another - from the domination of Federer to the domination of Djokovic. Grouped together in a unit we can see that from Federer turning pro in 1998 to 2020, the big three have captured most grand slam and Masters 1000 titles. The grouping however fails to separate Federer from Djokovic, and if we do, it's clear to see a shift in generational superiority. Federer is indeed a different generation to Djokovic or Nadal, being six years older and turning pro five years earlier than the Serb, while being five years older and turning pro three years before the Spaniard.
2011 marks a distinct year where Federer's dominance ended and Djokovic's started. From 2003 - 2010 Federer won 50% of available grand slam titles, Djokovic won 3% and Nadal won 28%. But from 2011 - 2020, Federer went down to 11%, Djokovic skyrocketed to 43% and Nadal dipped slightly to 27 %. 2011 is also important because Djokovic won three of four grand slams - the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open. 2020 alone is an impressive year even with a global pandemic. Djokovic has captured two more Masters 1000 titles in Cincinnati and Rome. Before the US Open exit, he had a winning streak of 26 matches. Winning Cincinnati also meant that he had won all Masters 1000 titles at least twice - the double "golden Masters".
Advances in sport science, therapy and conditioning mean that as time continues the longevity of older players competing way past what many would consider their prime seems more and more likely. Federer can and does still win big titles, but the age of his unquestioned superiority is sadly at an end. Hopes and thoughts about the youngest players supplanting Djokovic may be a little premature. The NextGen already took over in 2011 and it doesn't seem to be going anywhere - we are still in the midst of the age of Djokovic.
Cover photo: Leonard Zhukovsky, "NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 9, 2018: 2018 US Open champion Novak Djokovic of Serbia posing with US Open trophy during trophy presentation after his final match victory against Juan Martin del Potro", Shutterstock.com.
See Matt Bradshaw, Coffee Break Tennis, YouTube, "Federer comments on a Lost Generation, Nadal STILL Injured", 01/09/18, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2-Vaox6e_p8.