Tsitsipas’s triumph overshadows the “Big Three” at Nitto ATP Finals

Pavan Pandurangi, Sports Editor

Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic, the “Big Three” of the tennis world, have dominated tournaments year-round for over a decade. Roger Federer claimed title after title in the 2000s, and Nadal swept the clay-court season effortlessly. After Djokovic rose to the scene in the 2010s, he became unstoppable, amassing seven Australian Open titles in the span of 11 years. Surprising to many fans, the coined “Big Three” was unsuccessful in claiming the title, as only one of them managed to squeeze into the semifinals. The dominance of the next-gen players began to show, as the likes of Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev stunned the packed crowds with upsets over Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, respectively. The grueling week of tennis ended in a picturesque manner, with 21-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas subduing Dominic Thiem in a nail-biting three-set match.

The tournament began in thrilling fashion as it repeatedly had in the past with Thiem’s upset over third seed Federer 7-5, 7-5. Second seed Novak Djokovic cruised past his first match swiftly, dismantling his young opponent Matteo Berrettini in two comfortable sets, only allowing Berrettini to win three games. The following day, seventh seed Zverev picked apart U.S. Open champion Rafael Nadal’s defense in a quick two sets: 6-2, 6-4. An intense match-up between fourth seed Daniil Medvedev and Tsitsipas followed the Nadal thriller, bringing the tournament its first glance of a tiebreaker. After converting numerous points under pressure during the second set, Tsitsipas managed to take down a threatening Medvedev. 

Tuesday’s matches stunned the London crowd again, bringing Thiem in the spotlight after he beat Djokovic in a grueling three-set match: 6-7, 6-3, 7-6. Tsitsipas once again proved to tennis fans that he had what it takes to crack through to the semifinals by dismantling Zverev in convincing fashion, not allowing Zverev to break his serve once throughout the match. Nadal made his return in breathtaking fashion in a U.S. Open rematch against Medvedev. After facing a match point in the third set, Nadal overcame the pressure to secure a needed win: 6-7, 6-3, 7-6. 

The fifth day of the group stages brought one of the most surprising matches of the year: Djokovic succumbed to Federer’s aggressive court play, granting Federer his first official victory over him since 2015. Federer’s victory was seen as a possible turning point for his career: having lost the Wimbledon final to Djokovic after failing to convert on two match points, this win elated brought Federer into the semifinals.

The latter days of the group stages exposed Tsitsipas’s weaknesses to defensive counterplay. Nadal took down Tsitsipas in a back-and-forth three-set match that highlighted Nadal’s dominance from the baseline: 6-7, 6-4, 7-5. The loss did not eliminate Tsitsipas from the tournament, as his performances during previous group stage matches helped secure him a spot in the semifinals. With Zverev’s win over Medvedev on the same day, Zverev surpassed Nadal in the tournament standings. Nadal was eliminated from the tournament, bringing Thiem, Zverev, Tsitsipas, and Federer into the Nitto ATP semifinals.

After noting Thiem’s wins over Djokovic and Federer in the group stages, fans were not surprised to see Thiem outplaying Zverev in their semifinal match-up. Zverev fought hard in the first set to hold serve numerous times, but Thiem cracked through the Zverev serve at 5-5, granting him the first set. The second set ended swiftly, with Thiem breaking Zverev early, allowing him to clinch the second set 6-3. Federer fell to a dominant Tsitsipas in two clean sets; Federer was unable to mimic Nadal’s defensive prowess to capitalize on Tsitsipas’s weakness. As a result, Federer crumbled, losing 6-3, 6-4.

The final on Sunday split fans around the world, with Tsitsipas facing Thiem treating the audience to one of the most thrilling matches of the year. Thiem clinched the first set in a tiebreak, pushing the momentum towards his camp. Immediately after the start of the second set, Tsitsipas jumped on every opportunity Thiem granted him, allowing Tsitsipas to dismantle Thiem in a brisk 6-2 set. The third set proceeded in an orderly fashion, but as it drew longer, fans were pushed to the edges of their seats. It reached a climactic tiebreak where Tsitsipas outperformed Thiem by the slightest of margins to grant him his first Nitto ATP Final title, a feat that will change his career trajectory.

The end of the Nitto ATP Finals marked the culmination of the 2019 season. The results of the tournament left the Big Three on top of the tour, but with questions being thrown by Tsitsipas and Thiem, the 2020 ATP season is beginning to look murky for the veterans. The upcoming grand slam in Melbourne will truly highlight the state of the Big Three in tournaments to come. Until then, tennis fans will have to wait and see which players come out of their Australian Open preparation feeling the most fit.