The big three of men’s tennis—Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, and Roger Federer—have had more than a decade-long reign over the sport. Since 2003, the US Open, Wimbledon, Australian Open, and French Open have been ruled by the three.
The three Grand Slam champions are on their thirties and all born in the eighties. Federer is 38 years old; Nadal, 33; Djokovic, 32. For the longest time, they seem to have the answer to every tennis problem posed by up-and-coming challengers they’ve played with on court. They don’t seem to be affected by time finally catching up to them.
Each one of them appears to be stronger than ever to play for many more years. The question is, how long can they hold off younger players in this sport that thrives on rivalries? To have a glimpse of what tennis future holds, here’s a quick look at each of these three players’ careers: how they have triumphed over adversities and continue to fight for greatness.
Then 19-year-old Swiss Roger Federer caught fire in the tennis world when he won over his tennis idol, Pete Sampras, back in the 2001 Wimbledon tournament. Sampras, who was considered Grand Slam leader at that time, played to defend his men’s singles title in the match.
But his bid was cut short by Federer. Eight years after, Sampras’s record of 14 Grand Slam titles was surpassed by Federer. The year 2009 established Federer’s dominance in the sport with 15 Grand Slam titles under his belt and taking over the world number one spot on the same year.
Federer started his career with a solid serve-and-volley playing style. After winning a couple of Grand Slams, he added more to the mix, focusing on the broader frame and playing aggressively from the baseline. His serve is as formidable as ever despite the years that have passed.
Federer’s style of tennis has been proven to work to his advantage on the grass and hard courts. His combination of quick footwork and deadly forehand give him the needed versatility on clay as well.
The mild-mannered Swiss is known for concealing emotions on and off the court. There have been a few rare times in his career when he let loose winning tears, but he is generally perceived as the calm and sophisticated operator. With his poker-face demeanor, it’s hard to read him even when he’s playing in pain.
He has been reported to play with injuries on court multiple times. In 2005, he played against David Nalbandian in five sets with a torn ligament in his foot. He lost the match and went on to miss a Masters Cup scheduled two months after. He was also seen playing with a muscle tape in the game against Federico Delbonis in the German Tennis Championship in Hamburg back in 2013. Back injuries had mired him during that clay-court season, but he still managed to pull ahead ending the year with a top-three ranking.
It’s no wonder why Federer leads the pack with his 20 Grand Slam titles. He puts in the work even when the odds are against him. But as he draws nearer to the end of his thirties, only time will tell how long he can outlast his younger competitors and how far his experience can take him.
The Spanish megastar, who won the 2019 US Open earlier this month, inches ever closer to Federer’s Grand Slam record. Rafael Nadal has proven his dominance on the hard court with his powerful baseline strides and consistency.
He jump-started his career a few years later after Federer. At 33, he has earned twelve Grand Slam titles from the French Open, one from the Australian Open, two from Wimbledon, and now four from the US Open. He is one more win shy of squaring off with Federer’s 20 Grand Slam titles.
The clay-court specialist plays hard with his lassoed forehand. Not a lot of players can go head-to-head with his fast and kick-up highball, enough to keep his opponents running the offense and defensive plays at the baseline.
But what keeps him going is his unwavering desire to win. His mental fortitude to earn every point is something a lot of players aspire to have. It’s hard to find a chink in Nadal’s tennis armor, which makes him deadly on any playing surface.
Out of the three champions, it’s Federer who has suffered significant losses while playing with currently ranked world number one, Novak Djokovic. The equally slender and lethal Serbian is known for using the same game plan almost on every surface. His formula for success is his solid back-court style playing. He returns his opponent’s hard serve well and plays every point like it’s the last.
Djokovic’s style of playing has overturned Federer’s many times. He leads the head-to-head winning tally against Federer, with 26 wins over the latter’s 22. Djokovic’s most recent win over Federer was at Wimbledon last August 2019, crushing the grass-court specialist’s dream to take back his favorite title. With 16 Grand Slam titles and the way he’s playing this season, Djokovic is poised to raise his historical stock for many more years to come.