The 2009 documentary Facing Ali is for me one of the best documentaries about Muhammad Ali. In the documentary, Ron Lyle, one of his former rivals, describes Ali’s return to boxing after a 3-year hiatus after the Vietnam War. ‘Even after all these years, when Ali returned, he was still one step ahead of us all. But we were also starting to catch up with him. Now we could hit him and force him. In the past, we couldn’t even put our gloves on him. ‘ He summarized Ali’s situation before and after the break very well. This is the case in tennis before the 2021 season. The big trio, who have ruled the Atp Tour for years like no one else, returned many times in the process. Federer is back after 2013 and 2016 when it was over. Nadal returned again and again as it was said that the series would no longer improve. When Djokovic first fell out of him and was told he could not rise to the top again, he returned. They always turned around and always managed to stay one step ahead, but now their rivals are catching up with them. These three great tennis players for years were like immortal gods on the summit of Mount Olympus. Other names did their best as mortals who wanted to get them out of there, but they did not. However, even if not in mythology, in real life, even the greatest ones have to get old and leave the summit. This trio resisted this for a long time, but how far will they escape the absolute end?
While it was unimaginable to be successful over the age of 30 before in tennis, today the sum of the top trio’s age is almost 110. It is such a trio that tied the audience around 30 years old like me, but they kept the same age group players from tennis. Thiem was born in the 1990s and became the first name to win a grand slam, at age 27. The names such as Raonic, Nishikori and Dmitrov, which were called the new generation 10 years ago, are now considered aging players. This trio, born in the 80s, almost erased a generation from the history of tennis. Now they stand up to the next generation. Although the picture in masters and end-of-season tournaments has changed for several years, there is still no change in the biggest stage. Even last year, Thiem won the championship in America, while Nadal and Federer were absent. Djokovic was also eliminated by disqualification. In a sense, we can say thathe won a tournament without them.
Djokovic was especially ambitious when he came to the end of the season tournament this year. He wanted to win this tournament once again and catch Federer, who has 6 championships. Nadal had come for his first championship, as he has been in years. However, in Group A, Medvedev beat Djokovic and finished the group as leader. In group B, he defeated Thiem Nadal and finished the group as the leader. Thiem and Medvedev, who also won the semifinals, made it to the finals. Thus, the two names that made it to the finals beat both Nadal and Djokovic and reached the finals. This situation was perceived as the slow closing of an era and these matches became the reason for me to write this article. Were these matches a flag change, the beginning of a new era? It may seem like an exaggeration right now, but the importance of such moments is understood much later, not in the usual period. For example Sampras 6 in a row. While chasing the Wimbledon championship, no one realized what was happening in 2001, when he lost to a young Swiss tennis player. But years later, it seems that there was a flag change between Sampras and Federer that no one noticed, including them.
Here we are starting 2021 to find the answer to this biggest question in men’s tennis. While most names, including me, watch the big tournaments, we will watch this year by saying whether this year. Maybe these big names will once again surprise everyone and complete another year before they come down from the top. Perhaps late tennis players will now announce the end of the age of the gods.