Tennis: Djokovic thanks fans after breaking record
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Rafael Nadal’s withdrawal from the Miami Open was the latest hammer blow for the ATP Tour after Roger Federer opted to pull out of the Dubai Tennis Championships. For well over a decade now, men’s tennis has been dominated by the ‘Big Three’.
Andy Murray threatened to break up their dominance – and did so when he clinched the world No 1 ranking in 2016.
The British tennis star won three Grand Slam titles between 2012 and 2016, but injury troubles have seen him drop outside of the top 100.
Novak Djokovic has been by far and away the most successful on the ATP Tour over the past decade, winning an incredible 17 Grand Slam titles in that timeframe.
But he has consistently been challenged by both Nadal and Federer with little competition from elsewhere.
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Despite Djokovic’s unprecedented success, he still trails Nadal and Federer when it comes to popularity among tennis fans across the globe.
In match against his biggest rivals, Djokovic is often booed by fans in the arena to try and get under his skin.
He holds a legendary status in his home country with a dedicated fanbase, but he doesn’t match Nadal or Federer in terms of pulling power.
But that presents an issue for the ATP Tour going forward with the three most successful players currently playing entering their twilight years.
Federer will turn 40 later this summer while Nadal and Djokovic will be 35 and 34 years old respectively by the time Wimbledon starts.
In their prime, all three players would compete at every tournament possible and amass huge support from across the globe.
But now, with injuries taking their toll, they’re handpicking which tournaments to take part in with a clear objective to stay fit for the Grand Slams.
Even still, Federer has opted to skip the French Open altogether in all but one since 2016 as it is a tournament he has often struggled in throughout his career.
He was set to compete in his second tournament after returning from injury this week in Dubai, but opted to withdraw to concentrate on getting fit.
Dominic Thiem was the top seed before a surprise defeat to Lloyd Harris with Andrey Rublev and Denis Shapovalov the second and third seeds respectively.
Nadal has now withdrawn from the Mexico Open as he continues to recover from the Australian Open last month with Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev and Diego Schwartzman the top seeds.
All talented players in their own right and bound to have excellent futures in the sport, but still not anywhere near the heights of the greats of the game.
But the ATP Tour is entering a period now where the likes of Nadal and Federer may well skip more tournaments than they actually compete in during a calendar year to help try and elongate their careers.
Overall, seeing Nadal and Federer play for longer can only be a good thing as fans of the sport will undoubtedly miss them when they eventually retire.
However, having the absolute best players regularly missing tournaments could start to have an adverse affect on the smaller events which rely on their pulling power.
For that to change, players such as Thiem, Daniil Medvedev and Tsitsipas will have start regularly challenging for Grand Slams to build up their global profile.
There’s already proof that is happening now, but there’s still plenty of work to be done.
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