Who replaces Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal as the next ‘Big Three’?
This is a question that many have been asking for the better part of two decades.
From 2003 all the way to 2022, the trifecta of tennis stars have dominated the men’s singles circuit, putting together 63 majors titles to date.
However, leading into the 2023 Australian Open, that number can still grow given Nadal’s desire to retain the trophy after last year’s victory against Daniil Medvedev.
Whereas Djokovic returns to the tournament where he’s won nine Grand Slams, after being denied entry in 2022’s edition following COVID-19 protocols.
Unfortunately, the great Roger Federer has officially retired with his last match taking place at the Laver Cup last year.
Men’s Grand Slam winners since 2003
|Year||Australian Open||French Open||Wimbledon||US Open|
|2003||Andre Agassi||Juan Carlos Ferrero||Roger Federer||Andy Roddick|
|2004||Roger Federer||Gaston Gaudio||Roger Federer||Roger Federer|
|2005||Marat Safin||Rafael Nadal||Roger Federer||Roger Federer|
|2006||Roger Federer||Rafael Nadal||Roger Federer||Roger Federer|
|2007||Roger Federer||Rafael Nadal||Roger Federer||Roger Federer|
|2008||Novak Djokovic||Rafael Nadal||Roger Federer||Roger Federer|
|2009||Rafael Nadal||Roger Federer||Roger Federer||Juan Martin del Potro|
|2010||Roger Federer||Rafael Nadal||Rafael Nadal||Rafael Nadal|
|2011||Novak Djokovic||Rafael Nadal||Novak Djokovic||Novak Djokovic|
|2012||Novak Djokovic||Rafael Nadal||Roger Federer||Andy Murray|
|2013||Novak Djokovic||Rafael Nadal||Andy Murray||Rafael Nadal|
|2014||Stan Wawrinka||Rafael Nadal||Novak Djokovic||Marin Cilic|
|2015||Novak Djokovic||Stan Wawrinka||Novak Djokovic||Novak Djokovic|
|2016||Novak Djokovic||Novak Djokovic||Andy Murray||Stan Wawrinka|
|2017||Roger Federer||Rafael Nadal||Roger Federer||Rafael Nadal|
|2018||Roger Federer||Rafael Nadal||Novak Djokovic||Novak Djokovic|
|2019||Novak Djokovic||Rafael Nadal||Novak Djokovic||Rafael Nadal|
|2020||Novak Djokovic||Rafael Nadal||CANCELLED||Dominic Thiem|
|2021||Novak Djokovic||Novak Djokovic||Novak Djokovic||Daniil Medvedev|
|2022||Rafael Nadal||Rafael Nadal||Novak Djokovic||Carlos Alcaraz|
*63 from a total of 77 Grand Slams won by the ‘Big Three’.
On eight occasions, the trio have shared each of the majors titles in a calendar year, leaving little hope for anyone that isn’t named Federer, Nadal or Djokovic.
However, all have prevented one another – along with other players – a golden slam, where one player wins all four Grand Slams in one calendar year.
In another testament to their greatness, Djokovic recently equalled Nadal’s fourth-place record for most men’s singles titles in the Open Era with a win at the Adelaide International, closing in on Ivan Lendl, Jim Connors and Federer.
Most men’s singles titles in the Open Era 👀
92 Nadal pic.twitter.com/5ZNhmUkDps
— ATP Tour (@atptour) January 8, 2023
All good things come to an end and despite the longevity of these three great players, their careers must come to a conclusion.
Federer’s retirement in 2022 (at age 41) and the likelihood of Nadal (36) and Djokovic’s (35) departure in the next few years opens the door to the next wave of stars.
Unfortunately, given the presence of the ‘Big Three’, no one has been able to emerge as the most dominant mens player in the circuit. But someone’s time will come.
So, who will it be?
The Sporting News has factored in talent, age and potential to decide who the next ‘Big Three’ could possibly be.
Carlos Alcaraz (Spain)
|Plays||Right-handed (two-handed backhand)|
|Achievements||2022 US Open winner and World No.1 ranking|
Alcaraz turned pro when he was 15 (2018) and has been super impressive in the years since.
The 19-year-old made the quarter-finals at the French Open, the fourth round at Wimbledon and the third round at the Australian Open in 2022.
Alcaraz has won six career titles and boasts a 74.4 winning percentage (90-31).
However, fresh off his 2022 US Open championship win, the Spaniard has battled with injuries and was unfortunately ruled out for the back end of the year.
The injuries persisted over the New Year break and forced Alcaraz to pull out of the 2023 Australian Open.
Nevertheless, the youngster draws many comparisons to some of the greats that have graced a tennis court in the game’s history.
His foot-speed and hustle has earned him comparisons to a young Nadal and Frenchman Gael Monfils.
Alcaraz’s lateral movement and court coverage is similar to that of Djokovic, who is known for his excellence in defending.
The teenager has got many of the assets that can keep him on top for quite some time.
However, the troubling reality is that he’s been bombarded by injuries over the past few seasons, which has prevented some great tennis players from turning immortal.
Felix Auger-Aliassime (Canadian)
|Plays||Right-handed (two-handed backhand)|
|Achievements||World No.7 ranking, four ATP singles titles|
Auger-Aliassime started his professional career at a young age, entering the tour at 17.
Since then, the Canadian has featured in eight tournament finals – where he was the runners-up between 2019 to 2021 – as well as the semi finals at the 2021 US Open.
Auger-Aliassime is also one of three players to force champion clay player Rafael Nadal to five sets at the French Open.
The 22-year-old then made a big jump in 2022 and won four singles titles, where he defeated Stefanos Tsitsipas in the Rotterdam Open, J.J. Wolf at the Firenze Open and was pivotal in the Davis Cup Finals win against Australia.
He also made the quarter-finals at the Australian Open that year and was valiant at the French Open.
Holger Rune (Denmark)
|Plays||Right-handed (two-handed backhand)|
|Achievements||World No.10 ranking, three ATP singles titles|
Rune is quickly becoming a must-watch tennis player, making big jumps up the ATP rankings in 2022, rising from No.103 at the end of 2021 to No.10.
The Danish player has added three ATP titles to his name, including the 2022 Paris Masters, on top of making the quarterfinals at the French Open.
During his run, the 19-year-old managed to beat five top-10 opponents in the 2022 Paris Masters – the first player on record to do so before being crowned the champion.
Rune has always shown potential during his junior days, where he ranked No.1 in the world and won 10 titles on the ITF Junior Circuit.
Turning professional in 2020, the youngster has shown plenty of promise on clay and hard courts and has an attitude that stands out from the rest.
Tennis reporters through 2022 quickly realised how confident Rune is and how determined he is to reach the next level of stardom.
French reporter Carole Bouchard was fast to notice the potential of Rune and is one to keep an eye on in 2023.
“But it’s not only his game, his attitude, he’s in their faces, he’s like, you know what, you’re going down. He’s going to turn their life into hell, I love that,” Bouchard said.
Marion Bartoli agreed with Bouchard’s assessment of the youngster.
“He is the one. I don’t think anyone can think of another name, the way he won Paris Bercy, beating Novak (Djokovic) in the final, he had to save match point against Stan (Wawrinka). I think a lot of players will dislike him on the court, this attitude, but I don’t think he cares,” Bartoli said.
Fellow reporter Simon Cambers particularly enjoys the level of confidence the Danish tennis player expresses.
“I interviewed Rune at Roland-Garros last year and his confidence was off the charts,” he said. “He believes he’s going to be No 1. As far as he’s concerned, nothing’s going to stop him. Maybe I’m wrong here, but he feels un-Danish, he’s got a very American attitude, it’s like, here I am, get out of the way. He’s so confident,” Cambers said.
So why Alcaraz, Rune and Auger-Aliassime?
This trio are eerily similar to that of Nadal, Djokovic and Federer.
The modern group of three have shown undeniable talent and persistence on the court, which will only transform into bigger and better results.
Alcaraz already has a one up on his counter-parts after taking home the 2022 US Open title.
However, both Rune and Auger-Aliassime aren’t too far away and will need to capitalise on their opportunities when they arise.
Another reason for these three is their expected longevity in the game.
Looking at Daniil Medvedev (26 years old), Stefanos Tsitsipas (24), Casper Ruud (24) and Andrey Rublev (25), this quartet have the attributes to hold aloft a Grand Slam trophy.
However, their misfortune in having to deal with the ‘Big Three’ throughout the first five to eight years of their professional tennis career has put them on the back foot in achieving similar heights.
Alcaraz (19), Rune (19) and Auger-Aliassime (22) have the ability to see out Djokovic and Nadal and excel in their absence at a young age.
Will anyone else get in their way?
Italian up-and-comer Jannik Sinner – who is currently ranked No.16 in the world – has all the characteristics of a future champion.
Slightly off the eight-ball in comparison to those around his age of 21, Sinner has made the quarter-finals in all four Grand Slams and will be hoping to take a few more steps forward in 2023.
Australian Alex de Minaur is another prospect that continues to build on his game and contend with some of the top-tier players.
De Minaur (23) has reached the quarters of the US Open (2020) and will be looking to go further on home soil next week.