Between Zverev and Thiem, a debutant in big titles will emerge after six years. And since the champion will be less than 30 years old, another series will be broken.
Six years have passed since, in August 2014, Marin Cilic defeated Kei Nishikori on the cement of Flushing Meadows and conquered his first – and so far only – Grand Slam. Since then, those who distributed the titles of the four most important tournaments of the men’s circuit were always players who already knew what it was like to lift a trophy in that category. Until this Sunday. Because the 2020 US Open will crown a debuting champion – it will be Dominic Thiem or Alexander Zverev, who will contest the final – and will cut that six-season streak without new winners in a “big one.” Something that, oddly enough, it had never happened in the history of tennis.
After that surprise consecration of Cilic, who had dropped Roger Federer, second seed, in the semis, the next 21 Grand Slams played were for five “repeated figures”, including the three legends of the Big Three, great dominators of those years.
Novak Djokovic conquered ten: four at the Australia Open -including this 2020, the last appointment of this level before the stoppage due to the pandemic-, one at Roland Garros, three at Wimbledon and two in New York. Rafael Nadal added five: three in Paris, where he reached twelve, and two at the US Open. And Federer, three: two in Melbourne and one in London.
Those who broke the hegemony of that trio were Stan Wawrinka and Andy Murray. The Swiss, after winning his first major in Australia in 2014, was crowned at Roland Garros 2015 and Flushing Meadows 2016. And the Scotsman, who had won the first at the US Open 2012 and the second at Wimbledon 2013, repeated at the All England in 2016.
Thus six years passed without new champions. There were four names that had a chance to break that streak, but they all fell short. Milos Raonic he was the one who lost that final in London four seasons ago to Murray. Kevin Anderson reached the decisive stage at the US Open 2017 and Wimbledon 2018, but fell without much resistance to Nadal and Djokovic, respectively.
Dominic Thiem tried it twice at Roland Garros against the Mallorcan in 2018 and 2019. And this year again in Melbourne, when he fought Nole for five sets. Daniil Medvedev also came close to achieving the feat just over twelve months ago in New York, but ended up losing in a five-set match against Rafa.
Ever since Wimbledon, the oldest of the four “bigs,” began to be played in 1877, never has so long passed without a new name being added to the list of champions. And you have to look back more than 130 years to find the second longest span of time in which there were no first-time winners.
It was between the US Open 1881 and Wimbledon 1887, at a time when neither the Australian nor the French event had yet been created. In those little more than five years, the British William Renshaw, who had celebrated his first Grand Slam in London in 1881, he kept all editions of the British Open. And the American Richard Sears, who had celebrated his first conquest in New York also in 1881, repeated in the next five editions of the American appointment.
In 1887, the All England held the local Herbert Lawford and put an end to that series of repeated celebrations, the most extensive until this 2020.
Then many, many years passed until there was another run of more than two seasons without debutants on the roster of champions. Between Nadal’s first title, at Roland Garros 2005, and Djokovic’s first, in Australia 2008, there were two and a half years in which only Federer and the Mallorcan won.
And after the consecration of Juan Martín Del Potro at the 2009 US Open, it took three full seasons for men’s tennis to crown a new champion in a “big one”, with Murray’s celebration in New York in 2012.
In this 2020, several factors ended up setting up a scenario that left the US Open with two possible debutant champions. Three of the players who had been repeating celebrations at this level in recent seasons were absent from the competition for different reasons.
Nadal, champion last year, and Wawrinka chose not to travel to New York due to the risks involved in moving and staying in that city amid the coronavirus pandemic. Federer, on the other hand, closed his season in the middle of the stoppage due to the health crisis, after undergoing a second arthroscopy in his right knee.
Djokovic and Murray did say present at Flushing Meadows, but they were dismissed prematurely. The Scotsman – ranked 115th in the ranking due to inactivity after his hip replacement operation – fell in the second round against the young Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime. And the Serbian was disqualified after accidentally hitting a ball in the throat to a linesman during his round of 16 clash against the Spanish. Pablo Carreño Busta.
Outside of that group, there are only two other active Grand Slam champions who, under different circumstances, could have achieved a new consecration. Cilic, who couldn’t make it through the third round in New York after losing to Thiem; and Del Potro, who is in full recovery from a new operation, the third for him on his right knee, after the patella fracture he suffered in Shanghai in 2018.
The 2020 US Open will also be the first Grand Slam in more than four seasons to be held by a player under the age of 30. The last had been Murray, who conquered Wimbledon in 2016 two months after blowing out all 29 candles.