Daniil Medvedev was busy creating history every time he stepped on court at last week’s ATP Finals, the last tennis event of the 2020 season.
Medvedev, a 24-year-old from Russia, won the biggest title of his career when he beat U.S. Open champion Dominic Thiem in the final. The two played the longest (best of three sets) final in tournament history at two hours, 43 minutes, Medvedev coming back to win 4-6, 7-6(2), 6-3.
By triumphing over the world No.3 in the final, Medvedev became just the fourth player in history to beat the world Nos. 1, 2 and 3 at the same event, having defeated top-ranked Novak Djokovic earlier in the week and No.2 Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals.
“It was the toughest victory in my life,” said Medvedev, who finished as runner-up to Nadal at the 2019 U.S. Open. “(Dominic) was really close to winning (the match) in the second set. I managed to stay there.”
It’s a storybook ending to the season for Medvedev, and also the end of the 2020 calendar for tennis, with the Davis Cup team competition set for this week cancelled and the WTA (the women’s tour) having wrapped up two weeks ago.
Here, five things we learned from the ATP Finals – and what’s to look forward to in 2021.
Medvedev: Tennis’ next big thing?
It was a ninth career title for Medvedev and his biggest, though 2019 marked his big breakthrough, with Masters 1000 titles in Cincinnati and Shanghai. He ended 2020 on a 10-match winning streak, having captured Paris before winning in London. The crafty, cerebral competitor is coached by Frenchman Gilles Cervara, and plays a brand of tennis that can be maddening to his foes, mixing up the pace, placement and spin of his ball.
Already the world No.4, he’ll next set his sights on winning a major – and perhaps an Olympic medal. The 6-foot-6 (198cm) player would factor into the podium discussion for Tokyo 2020: All nine of his titles have come on hard courts, the same surface used for the coming Summer Games.
“Hopefully I can have many more big titles in my career,” he told reporters. “(This win) gives me a lot of confidence. ... Honestly, I know I can play good, but I wouldn’t have believed this happening before this week. Hopefully it can continue.”
Medvedev joins 2009 champion Nikolay Davydenko of Russia as a champion in London, Davydenko having won this event in its first year at the O2 Arena. “He’s one of my idols,” Medvedev shared. “I got to speak with him after (my) match.”
Changing of the guard? Thiem, Medvedev score big wins
Does this mark the “changing of the guard” in men’s tennis? It’s been talked about for several years now, with Djokovic, Nadal and Roger Federer continuing a golden age in the sport, along with other Grand Slam winners like Andy Murray, the two-time Olympic gold medallist, and Stan Wawrinka.
But Thiem broke through for the U.S. Open in September, and now Medvedev not only wins in London, but beats Djokovic and Nadal en route. Coming into the semi-finals, many were discussing a Djokovic vs. Nadal showdown, only for the two more established stars to fall to Thiem and Medvedev, respectively.
It is not, however, a full transition of power: Djokovic and Nadal each won a major in 2020 and show few signs – should they keep their bodies healthy – of slowing down. Federer, meanwhile, who will turn 40 in August, will try to bounce back from a knee injury and surgery in the coming year.
Djokovic, Nadal still atop: Finish 1-2 in rankings
The rankings make clear that Djokovic and Nadal are still major factors, with Djokovic finishing as world No.1 for a record-tying sixth time and Nadal a mainstay in the top 10 since he made his debut in 2005: He’s been ranked 10 or better for 792 weeks in a row.
“My goal is always the same: To go to every tournament... and try to win it,” Nadal, 34, told reporters. “Next year is going to be an important year. I want to fight for the things I want to fight for.”
Federer, still ranked No.5, hasn’t competed since January, his knee injury and subsequent surgery putting him on the sidelines.
Thiem and Medvedev are ranked No.3 and 4, respectively, while a host of other up-and-comers, including Stefanos Tsitsipas, Andrey Rublev, Alexander Zverev and others, continue to make their marks on tour.
Tournament says farewell London... hello Turin
After 12 years in London the ATP Finals will move next year to Turin, Italy, the event now book-ended in the British capital with Russian winners, Davydenko back in 2009 and Medvedev in 2020. Djokovic won the most titles in London, capturing four consecutive titles from 2012 to 2015.
Italy is hopeful one of its players can be a factor as it moves to host the event, Matteo Berrettini having qualified last year, Fabio Fognini continuing to be a top 20 stalwart and youngsters like Jannik Sinner, Lorenzo Musetti and Lorenzo Sonego have many hoping the future is bright for Italian men’s tennis.
For the first time since the last 70s the tournament has had six consecutive different winners, starting with Djokovic in 2015. Murray won in 2016, Grigor Dimitrov in 2017, Zverev in 2018 and Tsitsipas last year before Medvedev’s triumph.
Uncertainties in 2021: Australian Open start date unknown
While what comes next in terms of player success is yet to be seen, the same can be said for the 2021 calendar itself. The season normally starts in Australia with lead-up events and then the Australian Open itself, but due to COVID-19 safety measures that routine is currently in flux.
Athletes cannot arrive until 1 January into Australia, and with a required two-week quarantine in effect by the government, a 18 January start date for the Open could be in doubt.
Local media has reported a later start to the tournament could be in the cards, but none of that has been confirmed. Officials said they are still aiming for a January AO.
It’s a clear sign that 2021 will be a new year, yes, but with some of the same challenges for players – and the tour – that 2020 offered.