The “Big Three” as a phenomenon have ceased to exist in tennis. The oldest member of this group, Swiss Roger Federer, who recently turned 42, officially retired last fall, but actually played the last match of the qualifying tournament in the summer of 2021, reaching the quarterfinals. Wimbledon and losing there to Hubert Hurkach. Rafael Nadal, 37, is out of this year’s Australian Open due to injury and has already hinted that he will return next season as part of a farewell tour rather than for a long time. Only Novak Djokovic, 36, remains healthy overall for someone who has spent 20 years in professional sports and continues to compete at the highest level. However, the influence of the Big-3 in tennis was so great that talk about them will not subside for many years. And what was this influence, rather good or bad? Let’s take a look at this problem.
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The Big Three screwed up the idea of what the norm is
Thus, recently, the Canadian Milos Raonic, the former third number in the world ranking, spoke about this trio. The Big Three screwed up the idea of what the norm is. Three legendary players in the same sport at the same time is devastating for him. If you look at the previous seasons, you can see that they always fought each other. Yes, they were serious about the Masters, but really they were focused only on the Grand Slam tournaments. There was no diversity among the winners. When I first came on tour, the main fight was between them and Andy Murray. I would say all four of them played somewhere in 70% of the semis,” Sportkeeda quotes Raonic.
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Milos, like almost all tennis players of his generation (the Canadian is now 32) and older, even Federer’s teammates, was very unlucky in many ways. He and many other players were talented and skilled enough to regularly win the Masters and hit two or three Slams in good hands, but the dominance of the Big-3 just didn’t give them a chance to truly fulfill themselves in professional tennis. The sport, as you know, is cruel and reminds only of champions, and very, very few managed to win at least something serious in the decade and a half during which these tennis legends were in their prime.
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The pride of Murray and Wawrinka and the crumbs of the rest
Andy Murray was the most successful, so the “Big Three” at one point even expanded into the “Big Four”; however, the achievements of the British compared to them still seem modest, but he was the only one who could fight the big 3 on equal terms for many years. Stan Wawrinka “shot” several times, managing to win three of the four “Slams” once (all except Wimbledon) and at the same time take only one “Masters” – in Monte Carlo 2014. This, by the way, is one of the differences pivotal between his career and Murray’s. Both have three slams, but Andy won 14 Masters, and was also the first racket in the world and two-time Olympic champion in singles. In any case, both of you can be proud of his achievements.
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The rest received only miserable crumbs from the master’s table. In 2009, Juan Martín del Potro won his major at the US Open, five years later Marin Cilic became champion there, and in 2021 Daniil Medvedev won the title in New York. Dominic Thiem’s victory on the same courts in 2020 is somewhat less highlighted by the fact that only Novak Djokovic flew from the Big 3 to New York, and even he was disqualified for accidentally hitting the linesman with the ball. Carlos Alcaraz won the US Open last year without Djokovic, who was not allowed to enter the US due to his unwillingness to get vaccinated, but defeated the Serb in the epic 2023 Wimbledon final. , That is all for now. The rest of the majors since Roland Garros in 2005 have been won by the Big-3, Murray and Wawrinka so far. During this time, 73 “Slams” were played, and 67 (!) Of them remained for these five tennis players.
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The picture at the Masters is similar, although there was still a little more variety, because sometimes the top players allowed themselves to relax at these tournaments or retired due to injuries (the latter happened especially often with Nadal at the end of the season). Among the champions of the “Masters” in this era, we mention Nikolai Davydenko, Andy Roddick, David Nalbandian, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Ivan Lyubichich. Of the younger generations, they were won by Grigor Dimitrov, Alexander Zverev, Karen Khachanov, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Andrey Rublev. The Slams champions also won there, including Medvedev and Alcaraz. Daniil, by the way, now has more Masters than any other player under the age of 30: six, and they are all different. At the same time, a huge variety of champions in this category of tournaments have appeared only since 2017, and before that, of the nine Masters of the season, the Big Three and Murray regularly won seven or eight, or even all nine.
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“The Lost Generation” as a symbol of the Big-3 era
In a word, from the point of view of a professional tennis player, Raonic can be understood. Imagine that you are a young specialist, you come to a company full of ambitions, you want to prove yourself and become, if not the best, then one of the best in your field, but your company employs several more experienced colleagues who are obsessed with work in a good way. They do everything perfectly, they almost never make mistakes and do not even seem to get tired, they are fanatically devoted to their work and are ready to sweat. You put in your best effort for a while, trying to catch up to their level or improve, but in the end you realize that this is simply impossible. All diplomas, as well as bonuses, the highest salary, etc., invariably remain with them, and there is no option to change jobs in this field of activity; there are simply no other organizations.
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Sounds pretty demotivating, right? It seems that many tennis players who are now over 30 experienced similar feelings. Not only so, they even came up with a special term – Lost Generation, that is, the lost generation. Raonic himself, as well as Grigor Dimitrov, Kei Nishikori and others, perfectly fit this term. Older tennis players can also be included here, whose heyday also fell into the domain of the Troika: Nikolai Davydenko, David Ferrer and his namesake Nalbandian, Robin Söderling, Tomasz Berdych, Tommy Robredo, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and many others. And now I have listed only those who have been at least in the top 5, but have never made it to the first line and have not won majors.
Increased interest from fans and growth of young talent
However, in terms of tennis itself, raising the level of play in the sport and growing spectator interest, the Big-3 is perhaps the best thing that has ever happened. Their names became known far beyond not just tennis, but the entire sport, just like before in women’s tennis, first with Serena Williams and then with Maria Sharapova. Hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people around the world have become fans of some of the most aesthetically played Federer, some of the most athletic Nadal with incredible ball spin, some of the most versatile Djokovic, who challenged both and had success in this challenge. There were no exceptions for young tennis players who grew up in their battles with each other – many of those now in their 20s and 25s, in their childhood and adolescence, also supported someone from the Big Three and brought some sort of element from their game.
Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
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Of course, there were fans who did not like any of the Big-3, and some of them lost interest in tennis in the era of dominance of these players, but the influx of spectators was definitely much more outgoing. The numbers of television broadcasts and attendance at tournaments grew, where the arrival of at least one of these tennis legends was practically a guarantee of full stands. Also, they really raised the bar for tennis to a level unimaginable before them. And although the representatives of the generation of Milos Raonic could not meet this bar, thanks to the presence of such examples before our eyes, the players of the current young generation have become stronger. Carlos Alcaraz, Yannick Sinner, Holger Rune: They all grew up wanting to knock the Big-3 off the pedestal, and at least Alcaraz succeeded. And of course, let’s not forget about the older generation, which boasts three great players from Russia: Medvedev, Rublev and Khachanov. Empowered by tennis legends, they all make this tour more spectacular, and will continue to do so after the entire Troika has retired.
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