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Sinner-Alcaraz, the duel that came to succeed the three phenomenons

More than the ratification of the Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz as a phenomenon definitely installed at the highest level of professional tennis, the last weekend of Roland Garros made it clear that, along with the change of command in the ranking, the men’s circuit has definitely found the replacement of the legendary three. Even with some circumstantial events involving great tennis players such as Zverev, Medvedev, Tsitsipas, Ruud or Rublev, the future that has arrived seems to replace the Federer-Nadal-Djokovic axis with that of Sinner-Alcaraz.

It’s not a minor issue if that were the case: in terms of game, audience attendance, audiences and sponsorship, great duels are often the key to the success of a hyper professional show like this.

Of course, even if at the end of the road, the Italian and the Spaniard give us a hand in hand like the legendary one of Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert (the most notable rivalry in this discipline with 80 official matches, of which 60 were finals, including 14 Grand Slam finals), they will hardly achieve the hegemony and excellence of the trio that, with the retirement of Federer, the limitations of Nadal and the somewhat uncertain validity of Djokovic, has marked a milestone difficult to identify in the history of sport.

There are circumstances in which, in order to measure the success of a discipline, it is very useful to compare it with a similar activity.

Even with a certain arbitrariness, to understand why what was done by the Swiss, Spanish and Serbian trilogy is so remarkable, I propose a game of equivalences between tennis and golf.

Just to begin with, since Federer won Wimbledon in 2003 —the first major title of the three chosen—, 66 of the following 83 Grand Slams were distributed among them. Only 17 were left in the possession of 11 other players, which means that in 21 years only 14 athletes won any of the highest trophies in this game. Olympic or Davis Cup titles are discarded from the roster, something that, in singles or doubles, they also won.

During the same period, the formidable professional golf circuit enshrined a total of 50 different players. While the list of great tennis titles of that period was led by Djokovic with 24 crowns, Nadal with 22 and Federer with 20, the distribution of titles between the PGA, the Open, the US Open and the Augusta Masters places Phil Mickelson with 6, Brooks Koepka with 5 and Rory McIlroy with 4 in the same period.

Another important fact. While the three phenomenons won at least one title in each of the Grand Slams, no one surpassed the number of three Majors in that same time frame. And something else. Although the difference in characteristics of the court, for example, between any venue of the Open and the traditional layout of Augusta, is notable, the great crowns of tennis require versatility to stand out on at least three different surfaces; any tennis fan knows the difference between playing on brick dust and on grass.

Of course, none of the above detracts from the formidable success of the professional golf circuit. Quite the contrary, it could be said that the atomization of figures enhances the spectacle and, therefore, the business.

However, in line with how complex it is sometimes to value the women’s tennis circuit, with a large number of high-level players who are sometimes difficult to differentiate in technical, physical and tactical characteristics, men’s competition seemed to be exposed to the great challenge of the empty nest left by the three icons.

I insist. Regardless of the isolated events of any of those that follow, Sinner and Alcaraz seem to have definitely made a qualitative leap compared to the herd. For now, as the player’s lifespan is getting longer and longer, the progress of both at just 22 and 21 years respectively seems like something from the past.

After the retirement of Novak Djokovic from Roland Garros, the Italian climbed to the top of the ATP ranking, becoming the first Italian in history to do so.
After the retirement of Novak Djokovic from Roland Garros, the Italian climbed to the top of the ATP ranking, becoming the first Italian in history to do so. (Yves Herman/)

In addition, each one comes with its own thing. The Spaniard has just given an extraordinary display of character, given that his technical capacity was never under suspicion. He did it in the final, when far from being discouraged by the strange third who forcefully let out liquid in the decisive episodes against Zverev. He did it especially in the semifinal when an intractable Sinner started playing a set and a couple of games that seemed to expose the Spaniard to humiliation. In any case, the contribution to Alcaraz’s cause is the unparalleled number of three Grand Slam finals, three won and on three different surfaces.

The Italian has just rounded off an exceptional semester with a Davis Cup title, his first Grand Slam (Australia) and the brand new succession of Djokovic as number one in the world.

Choose each one your favorite. But know that we are facing the threat that men’s tennis has found on the horizon a head-to-head that has already been 9 episodes in just three seasons and that promises to become an all-time classic.

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