It’s one thing to advance to your first Grand Slam final, or win the season-ending championships, or reach the winner’s circle at a tournament—at last. Following up on such successful endeavors is another matter entirely, something Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Denis Shapovalov, respectively, are finding out so far in 2020.
This week, Medvedev and Tsitsipas were the top two seeds at the first ATP 500-level event of the season in Rotterdam, while Shapovalov was seeded eighth. Medvedev ran into Vasek Pospisil—fresh off a runner-up finish in Montpellier, France—in the first round and lost to the Canadian in straight sets. Shapovalov also had a difficult opener, against former world No. 3 Grigor Dimitrov, and exited early. Tsitsipas went a round further, knocking off the rising Hubert Hurkacz in three, but fell somewhat surprisingly to Aljaz Bedene in the round of 16.
The field at a tournament of this magnitude is always going to be strong, but given the way those three performed in 2019, it was expected that this was just going to be another stepping stone in their rapid ascent up the rankings. However, things haven’t gone exactly to plan for any of them.
After winning four titles last year—two of them Masters 1000 events—and reaching the final of the US Open, where he fell in a five-set battle to Rafael Nadal, Medvedev slowed down somewhat over his last two events of the season. His run of finals reached ended at six after his opening-round loss at the Paris Masters, then, in his ATP Finals debut, he lost all three of his round-robin matches.
After 80 matches on the year, the Russian didn’t play in the Davis Cup Finals, but did rejoin the national team at the ATP Cup to kick off 2020. Medvedev went 4-1 at the inaugural event, dropping his semifinal match to Novak Djokovic. Considered one of the favorites outside of the Big 3 at the Australian Open, the world No. 5’s run was stopped in the round of 16 by former champion Stan Wawrinka.
Medvedev wasn’t the only young player many tapped to solve the Djokovic-Nadal-Federer puzzle in Melbourne. Tsitsipas, whose breakout 2019 campaign got its jump in Melbourne when he reached the semifinals—lost in the third round to the last seeded player, Milos Raonic. That result came on the heels of a less-than-stellar showing at the ATP Cup, where he won only one of three matches in group play.
Only 21, Greece’s best-ever player had a much-different experience at the end of 2019, when he won the ATP Finals in his debut appearance, one of three titles on the year and the biggest, by far, of his career.
Though he fell well outside of the race for the final eight spots in London, Shapovalov’s late-season run only added to the expectations that he would be making an appearance at the tournament soon. After multiple semifinal showings in his young career, Canada’s top player finally reached his first final in Stockholm, then made the most of that by capturing the title. Shapovalov then made his debut appearance in a Masters 1000 final in Paris, and later helped his nation advance to the Davis Cup championship for the first time.
That form carried over to the start of the new year, when he beat both Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev, and dropped a third-set tiebreak to Djokovic at the ATP Cup. Since then, though, he’s lost four of his past five matches, which included a first-round defeat at the Australian Open.
Over the course of the past nine months, Shapovalov, Medvedev and Tsitsipas have all played more tennis—and won—than they ever have before. Smart scheduling plays such a crucial role in maintaining a steady place, or rising, in the rankings.
With so much on-court time and barely having an offseason, has the pacing caught up to them so far this year, despite their youth? It’s still the early days of 2020, but the three players at the top of the rankings, plus Australian Open finalist Dominic Thiem, don’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon. A step back—and hitting the reset button already—might potentially serve the game’s next Big 3 well in the long run.