2020 was a wild year for sports, and the ATP Tour was no exception. The Australian Open was played as scheduled in January, even though it is hard to believe it was played only 11 months ago. Novak Djokovic took home the title, defeating Dominic Thiem in 5 sets.
The next Major was supposed to be the French Open, which usually starts at the end of May. However, due to the pandemic, the US Open was the first Major back when the season finally resumed in August. With Federer out with injury and Nadal opting out, it looked like Djokovic was going to get one step closer to the record of 20 Major titles. That all changed when he got disqualified for hitting a line judge with a tennis ball. Instead, it was Dominic Thiem capturing his first Major, with a 5 set win over Alexander Zverev.
Tennis fans finally got the 2020 French Open, which was instead held in September. Although the weather was cooler and the court surface was different, we still had the same Rafael Nadal. Nadal captured his record extending 13th French Open title in dominant fashion, defeating Djokovic in the final in straight sets. As for the biggest Major of the year and the most well known in the sport, it was unfortunately canceled this year. Wimbledon decided that they would not hold the Championships in 2020, largely due to having pandemic insurance. It was a $2 million investment made every year for the past 17 years, and it certainly paid off this year, as they will receive a pay-out of over $140 million.
2021 looks a lot more promising than what 2020 handed the tennis world. The International Tennis Federation (ITF) is scheduled to hold all four Majors, with the Australian Open set to kick things off. Although there are still travel restrictions in Australia, it looks like the tournament should begin on the 8th of February, three weeks later than usual. Players will have to arrive in mid January and complete a mandatory 14 day quarantine. Wimbledon has already announced that they will host their tournament in 2021 regardless of whether fans will be allowed in or not. So although fans may not be in attendance for some of the tournaments, especially in early 2021, tennis fans will be glad to get the entire tennis season back.
Looking back on 2020, there were many exciting moments on the ATP Tour. We had expected Major titles from both Djokovic and Nadal, but we also got a new Major champion joining them in Dominic Thiem. We also got to see a glimpse of who can dethrone the Big 3 and eventually become the face of men’s tennis in the future. 2020 ended with a new ATP Tour Finals champion in Dominic Thiem, who may have the best shot at taking down the Big 3. 2021 may become the turning point in men’s tennis, and could be the last year to see the Big 3 all battle it out together. With the new season starting next month, here is what to look forward to in 2021.
Roger Federer’s Return
Roger Federer has not played a match since January, when he lost in straight sets to Novak Djokovic in the semifinals of the Australian Open. It has been over 11 months now, and will be a little over a year by the time he competes again at a Grand Slam. He has battled many injuries the last few years, as he approaches what looks like the final couple years of his career.
He announced back in February that he was going to have surgery on his right knee and was going to miss around 4 months. His goal was to try to get healthy by the time the Olympics and Wimbledon were set to begin. Unfortunately, he suffered a set back in his recovery, and instead of a timeline of 4 months, he decided to shut it down for the rest of the 2020 season. It was probably an easier and less painful decision knowing that both the Olympics and Wimbledon were not going to be played this year.
Federer has his eyes set on a return at the Australian Open, where he looks to accomplish the impossible again. Back in 2017, Federer had just come off of a knee injury where he missed the last half of the 2016 season. In his first tournament back, the Australian Open, Federer made it all the way to the finals, and defeated Rafael Nadal in a 5 set thriller in that final to capture his 18th Major. Now, four years later, he will try to do it again.
Federer has not won a Major since the 2018 Australian Open, where he beat Marin Cilic in the final. He turned 39 years old in August and will be 40 by the time the US Open tournament is played in 2021. I believe Roger has two years left in his tennis career, and has a chance to win one final Major before he retires. I do not give him much of a chance in Australia, as Djokovic has been on fire lately and Dominic Thiem looks hungry for revenge from last years final. The best chance I give Federer is at Wimbledon. Federer has dominated at Wimbledon his entire career, and came so close to capturing his 9th in 2019. I believe that if he is back and healthy, that Wimbledon will be his best chance to win Major number 21, and regain the lead at the top.
Nadal vs Djokovic
As the Big 3 slowly start reaching the final years of their careers, each of these last few years prove to be massive for who finishes with the most Major titles. Federer is currently in a tie for first with 20, although I do not see him getting more than 21, and finishing behind both Nadal and Djokovic in the end. As of right now, I would give Nadal the slight edge over who finishes with the most Majors, but I would not be at all surprised if Djokovic did surpass him in the end. 2021 plays an important role on the final Major tally, as Nadal comes in with 20, while Djokovic comes in with 17.
The way Djokovic is playing right now, I would expect him to be the favorite at three of the four Grand Slam tournaments. Nadal would be the obvious favorite at the French Open, considering he has won 13 of them. I do not believe the Big 3 will win all four Majors, but I do expect Djokovic to win two, with the Australian Open and Wimbledon the likely two. Djokovic is a year younger than Nadal, which most likely means that Djokovic will play at least a year or two longer than Nadal. With each Major so important coming down the final stretch, if Djokovic can cut Nadal’s lead to two at the end of 2021, I would put Djokovic as the favorite to end his career with the most Majors.
The Future Generation
There are many new young players that broke onto the scene this year hoping to become the next big thing. Although these players are only 19 or 20 years old, they have already proved that they belong on the ATP Tour. I will talk about the players who already have what it takes to beat the Big 3 later, as I will only mention players here who are 21 years old or younger. The players that I am watching to take over the sport once the Big 3 retire are not in the top 10 yet, but I do expect some of them to be future number 1 players in the world.
The first of three names I will mention is Jannik Sinner. Jannik Sinner is a 19 year old from Italy, and is the youngest player inside the top 100 in the world. His current ranking sits at number 37 in the world. If you have never heard of his name, that would make sense, because his ranking was outside the top 500 at the beginning of last year.
Sinner has shown that he already has what it takes to beat the top players in the world. This year, he has made the quarterfinals of the French Open, beating world number 7, Alexander Zverev in the round of 16. He also has wins against Stefanos Tsitsipas and David Goffin, both of which are currently in the top 15 of the ATP rankings. To end off his first year on the ATP Tour, Sinner won his first ATP title, winning the Sofia Open in Bulgaria.
Felix Auger-Aliassime has been on the Tour for a little over two years now, making his Grand Slam debut at the US Open in 2018. His career high ranking is 17, while his current ranking sits at 21. He has not had the 2020 season he would have liked, as he sits at the same spot as he did at the end of 2019. Felix came onto the scene in 2019 and surprised everyone with his talent at just 19 years old. He has made it deep into many of the ATP tournaments, reaching six finals, although he is yet to win his first title, going 0-6 in ATP finals.
Nobody is worrying about this current lack of success in the finals of tournaments though, because at just 20 years of age, he will win his share of tournaments. In the three finals he reached this year, he played someone that was ranked inside the top 10 each time. I expect him to win his first ATP tournament in 2021, and crack the top 15 for the first time in his early career.
Last up on the list of the ATP’s future generation is Denis Shapovalov. Denis first made his impact on the tour when he beat Nadal at the Rogers Cup back in 2017, when he was just 18 years old. He has been slowly climbing up the rankings since then. He finished 2017 just outside the top 50, finished inside the top 30 in 2018, in 2019 reached the top 15, and this past year ended the season at number 12. Shapovalov also reached the top 10 in the world earlier this year for the first time in his career.
Denis Shapovalov is a high energy player, which makes every match he plays exciting for the fans. He has shown flashes of a top 5 player at times, beating top 10 players Alexander Zverev and Daniil Medvedev twice, and Stefanos Tsitsipas three times. I expect Denis to be the best of the three for the next couple years, and play in the ATP Tour Finals for the first time in his career in 2021.
Taking Down The Big 3
Although the three players I mentioned have the ability to become number 1 in the world in the future, I do not see them beating the Big 3 in a Major in 2021. Instead, there are a few players inside the top 10 already, who I believe pose the biggest challenge to the Big 3 in the Grand Slams.
The first that comes to mind is Dominic Thiem. He has already won a Grand Slam, winning the US Open this year. Thiem has also been successful many times against the Big 3, holding a winning record against Federer, while also beating Nadal and Djokovic each five times. Thiem has come close to beating Nadal and Djokovic in the Major finals, losing to Djokovic in five sets at the Australian Open this year, and taking a set off Nadal in the final of the French Open in 2019. He is the biggest obstacle for the Big 3 in 2021.
Three other players I want to quickly mention here are also top 10 players who have beaten at least one member of the Big 3. Daniil Medvedev, Alexander Zverev, and Stefanos Tsitsipas are 24 years old or younger and continue to improve each year. Both Medvedev and Zverev have made it to a Grand Slam final, while Tsitsipas has made it to a couple Grand Slam semis. Only Tsitsipas has been able to beat one of the Big 3 in a Grand Slam tournament, beating Federer in Australia in 2019. With an extra year of experience, and confidence of beating the Big 3 before, I expect one of these three to beat Nadal or Djokovic next year in a Grand Slam. I give Medvedev the best chance of the three to do it.
Predictions For 2021
To wrap up the 2021 ATP Tour preview, I will make some predictions for the biggest tournaments of the year. I will predict the champion of each Grand Slam, a potential finalist in each Grand Slam, along with a dark horse who is currently outside the top 10 who will make the semifinals. I also might throw in a couple bold predictions on who may lose early and if to expect a big upset. Along with the Grand Slam results, I will predict who will play in the ATP Tour Finals and be in the top 8 in the world rankings by the end of the 2021 season.
I believe that the 2021 Australian Open champion will be Novak Djokovic. He has dominated this tournament his entire career. With it being Federer’s first Grand Slam in over a year, I do not expect him to contend in this tournament, as I believe he will lose before the quarterfinals. I think Djokovic will play one of two players in the finals of Australia, Dominic Thiem or Daniil Medvedev. I believe both have the ability to beat Djokovic in a final, but the way Djokovic has been playing recently, I believe he will win comfortably against one of those two in four sets. My one dark horse outside the top 10 who I believe can make the semis is Milos Raonic, who made the quarters here in 2020.
Not much of a surprise here, as I will pick Rafael Nadal as my champion for the 2021 French Open. All that needs to be said here is that he has won this tournament 13 times with a record of 100-2. I believe that Dominic Thiem will be in the finals against Nadal, and although Thiem can beat Nadal on hardcourt, I do not give him much of a chance on clay. I believe Nadal will be hungry to get to 21 and become the Major leader by himself, and also keep the lead over Djokovic at three. Therefore, I predict that Nadal has a couple close matches early in the tournament, but wins the final in straight sets. My dark horse here would be Pablo Carreno Busta, who made the semis of the US Open this year.
This is the most difficult one to pick of the four Grand Slams. I want to go with Roger Federer, but we have not seen him play in almost a year. My mind is telling me to go with Djokovic, but my heart is telling me that Federer winning Wimbledon would be an amazing moment in tennis history. I will go with my heart here and say that Roger Federer will win the Wimbledon title. What might be my boldest prediction is that I believe Federer will play someone in the final who is not currently ranked in the top 10. My dark horse at Wimbledon would be Felix Auger-Aliassime, who made it to the round of 32 in his only appearance at Wimbledon in 2019.
The Big 3 will not win the US Open. I believe that the winner of this tournament will be a new Grand Slam champion. The winner of the US Open in 2021 will be Daniil Medvedev. He came very close to winning it last year, losing in the final to Nadal. I think that he will redeem himself and win the championship over Novak Djokovic. My bold prediction here is that Nadal will fall before the round of 16. My dark horse in this tournament is Karen Khachanov, whose best Grand Slam result was a quarterfinals appearance at the French Open in 2019.
ATP Tour Finals
The ATP Tour Finals is the year end tournament where the top 8 players in the world compete. This years champion was Dominic Thiem. I will not predict a champion, but I will predict which 8 I believe will be part of the tournament. In no particular order, I believe Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Dominic Thiem, Daniil Medvedev, Alexander Zverev, Denis Shapovalov, and Stefanos Tsitsipas will be in the top 8 at the end of 2021.