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It was apt that an Austrian won the 2020 US Open, the first Grand Slam tournament in 15 that didn’t crown either Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic as its men’s singles champion. I say this not as a follower of Austrian tennis, or as an admirer of Dominic Thiem, the breakthrough titlist. I say it as a diehard fan of luge, the niche Winter Olympic sport—and perhaps the only sport whose hegemony can rival what men’s tennis’ Big Three has accomplished.

Two years earlier, at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, Austrian luger David Gleirscher took gold in men’s singles, a shocking result that led to more talk about who didn’t win than who did. The runaway/slideaway favorite, Germany’s Felix Loch, had won Olympic gold in 2014 and 2010, and overall gold in six of the previous seven luge World Cup seasons. Since his slip-up in South Korea (Loch finished off the podium, but compatriot Johannes Ludwig took bronze) the 32-year-old from Sonneberg put together one of his most dominant World Cup seasons. In the 2020-21 World Cup—the pivotal third year of the Olympic “quad”—12 races were contested across Europe. Loch struck gold in nine of them, and won bronze in two others.

All this is to say that, despite the mammoth upset at the last Olympics, Germany still reigns supreme in luge—and not only because of Loch’s remarkable ability to consistently prevail in a sport whose athletes travel at speeds around 90 m.p.h., and that measures races to the thousandth of a second. In PyeongChang, German women took gold and silver in singles, and the sliding superpower also won gold medals in the doubles and team-relay events. If you include East Germany, West Germany and the United Team of Germany as part of “Germany” in Olympic history, the nation has won 34 of the 47 gold medals awarded in singles, doubles and relay luge events, as well as another 48 combined silver and bronze medals.

At the upcoming Winter Olympics in Beijing, Loch will again be a heavy favorite to win gold. Natalie Geisenberger, Germany’s top women’s slider, could be an even larger favorite. The 33-year-old won Olympic bronze in 2010, gold in 2014 and gold again in 2018. After the PyeongChang Games, Geisenberger won the 2019 World Cup in a rout, took off the 2020 season to start a family—and swiftly returned to her first-place perch in 2021. (Second place, that season, by just 19 ranking points, was compatriot Julia Taubitz.) A German woman has finished first overall in each of the past 23 World Cups, and in only seven of those seasons did German women not finish first, second and third.

Felix Loch (first photo), Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken (second photo) have dominated their disciplines in luge in ways that might make Djokovic, Nadal and Federer blush. When previewing big luge races, the question is simple: Germany or the field? For the better part of 15 years, a similar question has been asked during men’s Grand Slam tournament previews. “We’re talking about some cyborgs of tennis in a good way,” Daniil Medvedev has said of the ATP’s Big Three. “They’re just unbelievable.”

Felix Loch (first photo), Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken (second photo) have dominated their disciplines in luge in ways that might make Djokovic, Nadal and Federer blush. When previewing big luge races, the question is simple: Germany or the field? For the better part of 15 years, a similar question has been asked during men’s Grand Slam tournament previews. “We’re talking about some cyborgs of tennis in a good way,” Daniil Medvedev has said of the ATP’s Big Three. “They’re just unbelievable.”

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Then there’s Germany’s doubles dominance, which may, somehow, be even more impressive. Heading into the 2018 Olympics, German doubles teams had won 52 of the previous 54 two-run races, and the last 36 overall. In a Harlem Globetrotters-over-Washington Generals contest, German racers slid to gold (and bronze) in PyeongChang.

Do I even need to tell you which country’s team-relay squad—where one man, one woman and one doubles team compete in an aggregate-timed race—is the best on earth? For the sake of your reading comprehension, I hope not.

At the end of the day, you can’t simply assume sports fans will know what you’re referring to when you say “Big Three.” For in men’s singles, women’s singles and doubles, German luge clearly has a Großen Drei of its own.

I say that as a diehard fan of luge, of course.

Djokovic and Federer hail from nations with winter-sport traditions; the Serb spent years on the slopes growing up, and the Swiss has referenced skiing in press. It’s doubtful they’ve laid supine on a sled and maneuvered the curves of an icy track at 90 m.p.h., but any tennis champion can appreciate the mental and physical tolls the world’s top lugers must endure.

Djokovic and Federer hail from nations with winter-sport traditions; the Serb spent years on the slopes growing up, and the Swiss has referenced skiing in press. It’s doubtful they’ve laid supine on a sled and maneuvered the curves of an icy track at 90 m.p.h., but any tennis champion can appreciate the mental and physical tolls the world’s top lugers must endure.

So, how do you slow down a Big Three? The tennis world is still searching for the answer. Following Thiem’s win in Flushing Meadows, the next four men’s Grand Slam singles titles went to the Big Three—one to Nadal, and three to Djokovic. Daniil Medvedev tripped up the superb Serb and his bid for a calendar-year Slam at the US Open, and perhaps a “Do you believe in miracles?” call from the broadcast booth was in order. But despite the Russian’s resistance, and a season in which Alexander Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Andrey Rublev and Matteo Berrettini all made unmistakable gains on tour, we still haven’t seen the Big Three unseated on a consistent basis. The last year that Federer, Nadal and Djokovic failed to win at least two of the four majors was in 2003.

It’s a stunning stat, one of many that astounds when it comes to this trio. But like Germany’s luge program, Federer, Nadal and Djokovic are forces throughout the year, not just in the biggest competitions. Consider this history lesson, courtesy of the Twitter account @Big3Tennis:

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ATP Rankings

December 4, 2009:

  • 1. Roger Federer
  • 2. Rafael Nadal
  • 3. Novak Djokovic

December 4, 2014:

  • 1. Novak Djokovic
  • 2. Roger Federer
  • 3. Rafael Nadal

December 4, 2019:

  • 1. Rafael Nadal
  • 2. Novak Djokovic
  • 3. Roger Federer

Will statistics like these become even more absurd at this time next year, or will we be talking about Medvedev and company more than we are now? Age and injury could “help” the Big Three’s competition make up ground on these living legends, but we’ve been saying that for nearly a decade now. Still, with Federer expressing doubts about being fit to return by Wimbledon, and Nadal ending his 2021 season in August—not to mention the ongoing Djokovic saga in Australia—there could be something to it this time.

That said, Nadal ended his 2021 season with a 24–5 record, and only lost once before the quarterfinals. And despite the Swiss’ forgettable 6–0 set loss to Hubert Hurkacz at Wimbledon, the fact remains that a 39-year-old Federer reached the fourth round of Roland Garros—before withdrawing on his own volition—and the quarters of SW19.

Reports of the Big Three’s demise have been greatly exaggerated for years. Other players have improved considerably, but we’ll believe the demise when we see it.

“When they’re in the zone, and I’m not shy to say it, I feel like they’re just better tennis players, which shows [in] facts and numbers, than the rest of us,” Medvedev said after last year’s Australian Open final. “We’re talking about some cyborgs of tennis in a good way. They’re just unbelievable.”

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At the end of the day, you can’t simply assume sports fans will know what you’re referring to when you say “Big Three.” For in men’s singles, women’s singles and doubles, German luge clearly has a Großen Drei of its own.

Medvedev found his version of the zone in Flushing Meadows, just as Austrians Gleirscher did in 2018 and Thiem two years later. No one is expecting Medvedev, Zverev and Tsitsipas to replicate what tennis’ Big Three has accomplished—“I don’t think the four of us are going to win 20 Grand Slams in the next 15 years each,” Zverev said last summer—but finding that zone on a more consistent basis is what’s required for additional breakthroughs.

The best thing that can be said for the field after one of the greatest seasons by a tennis player in history is that 2022 seems more hopeful than previous years.

Chris Mazdzer, who took home a historic luge silver medal for the United States at the 2018 Olympic Games, understands this challenge. Heading into the fourth and final run of PyeongChang’s men’s singles event, Loch held a .192-second lead over second-place Mazdzer. Just before putting his face shield into place, the American veteran smiled and let out a long and visible exhale into the cold, snowy night.

“I had to go through those runs to be comfortable with who I am without results,” a philosophic Mazdzer told NBC’s Lewis Johnson after the race.

Letting go of the pressure and flying down the frozen track, Mazdzer’s fourth run was quick enough to claim a spot on the podium. In doing so, he exemplified a key to success in both tennis and luge: not thinking about what you’re doing, or what you’re up against. You’ll have plenty of time to think about everything afterward.

Much like the now-retired American luger Erin Hamlin, who in 2009 ended a 99-race winning streak by German women in top-level luge competitions: “You always have that in the back of your head, wanting to beat the Germans,” she said. “And I did it.”