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Novak, Rafa and Roger still reign

China Daily | Updated: 2019-09-11 09:20
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Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer have combined to win 51 of the past 59 men's Grand Slam titles. They're all over 30, but the 'Big Three' are keeping the young guns at bay. [Photo/VCG]

The Big Three's battles with each other continue to be the most compelling storylines on the men's tour

NEW YORK - At some point, of course, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer will stop winning Grand Slam titles.

Someone younger will emerge and a shift at the top of tennis will happen.

Just not yet.

While so much attention has recently been focused on trying to figure out who will break up the dominance of the Big Three, it might just be more fun to contemplate - from now until the Australian Open in January, at least - how that trio's competition for the most major championships will end up when they've all walked away from the game.

After eventually emerging with a 7-5, 6-3, 5-7, 4-6, 6-4 victory over Daniil Medvedev in a memorable seesaw of a US Open final last Sunday, Nadal insisted that, yes, he wants the record by the time he's done, but, no, it's not all that matters to him or how he'll define his own happiness.

That's fine, of course. To each his own.

But the rest of us can - and should - track it and care.

"He's in a better position today," one of Nadal's coaches, Francisco Roig, said after his guy edged Medvedev in a four-hour, 50-minute marathon.

"But all three of them are still winning tournaments. It's a long way, but Rafa's in the best position."

Here's the current count: Federer 20, Nadal 19, Djokovic 16.

In 2019, Djokovic and Nadal won two majors apiece, drawing closer to Federer, whose most recent Slam trophy came at the 2018 Australian Open.

Each has notched a career grand slam, too: Wimbledon, US Open, French Open and Australian Open.

Federer's tally: Eight from Wimbledon, six from the Australian Open, five from the US Open, one from the French Open.

Nadal's tally: 12 from the French Open, four from the US Open, two from Wimbledon, one from the Australian Open.

Djokovic's tally: Seven from the Australian Open, five from Wimbledon, three from the US Open, one from the French Open.

The other relevant numbers are their ages: Federer is 38, Nadal 33 and Djokovic 32.

Nadal hasn't been this close in the "standings" since the "score" was Federer 1, Nadal 0, after Wimbledon in 2003.

By the time Nadal picked up his first major, at the 2005 French Open, he trailed 4-0.

For so many years, so many folks were prepared to proclaim Federer the "GOAT" - Greatest Of All Time - based largely on his accumulation of majors and a subjective assessment of supposed aesthetics.

Others pointed out that Nadal's edge in their head-to-head series, which currently stands at 24-16, should give him the nod.

Djokovic, meanwhile, elbowed his way into the "best ever" discussion, too, because he's the only one to have won four majors in a row, leads both his rivals in head-to-head competition (26-22 over Federer, 28-26 over Nadal) and broke up their hold on the No 1 ranking.

What's most impressive, really, is how this trio has ruled the sport for about 15 years.

"The three of us are doing things that never were done in the history of tennis," Nadal said. "I take pride in being part of this fight."

They have won 51 of the past 59 Grand Slam titles, including the last 12, and there hasn't been a first-time male champ at a major since 2014.

Here's how different things are in the women's game: Bianca Andreescu's 6-3, 7-5 win against Serena Williams on Saturday made the 19-year-old Canadian the seventh first-time major champion in the past 11 events.

Or put another way: Andreescu gave the women a Grand Slam champion born in the 2000s before the men have had one who was born in the 1990s.

Some took it as a sign that change was afoot when Nadal was the only member of the Big Three to get to the semifinals at the US Open.

Djokovic, the defending champion and No 1 seed, stopped while way behind in his fourth-round match, citing pain in his left shoulder. Federer, dealing with a bad back, bowed out in five sets in the quarterfinals.

Are they getting too old for this?

Two 23-year-olds reached the semifinals, Medvedev and Matteo Berrettini, so maybe this was the time for a younger man to hold a trophy?

Not yet.

Instead, Nadal became the first man in the professional era to win five majors after turning 30.

"I'm sure all of us are fighting our best to try to make this transition. It's really tough, because those three guys, they are playing good tennis. I don't know what else to say. They are just playing amazing tennis," Medvedev said.

"It's really tough to beat them, even to take a set from them. Even every game, to win, is tough. We're just doing our best job to try to make it happen sometimes."

In the meantime, Federer versus Nadal versus Djokovic provides plenty to talk about.

Associated Press

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