No looking back for Djokovic, Nadal as they pursue history

Serbia's Novak Djokovic celebrates after defeating Switzerland's Roger Federer in their semifinal match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020. [AP Photo/Lee Jin-man]

Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal lead the way as the Top 2 players in the FedEx ATP Rankings and both men will be chasing history in 2021, as they look to add to their extraordinary resumés.

The pair was given an early warning for next season at the 2020 Nitto ATP Finals by Dominic Thiem and Daniil Medvedev, who both earned victories against the Top 2 stars en route to the championship match.

World number three Thiem and London champion Medvedev lead a growing list of challengers to the dominance of Djokovic and Nadal.

That group includes former Nitto ATP Finals champion Stefanos Tsitsipas and 2020 Most Improved Player of the Year Andrey Rublev.

Before the new season, we look at five of the top storylines to watch:

1) Novak’s Push For History

After becoming only the second man to hold the top spot in the FedEx ATP Rankings for 300 weeks on December 21, Djokovic will have his sights set on one of the most prestigious records in tennis in the first quarter of the 2021 ATP Tour season. The Serbian is currently nine weeks behind Roger Federer’s record of 310 weeks at the top of the sport.

Djokovic, who leads longtime rival and World No. 2 Nadal by 2,180 points, will pass Federer’s mark if he can maintain his position at the top of the sport until March 8, 2021. It is not the only FedEx ATP Rankings record the Serbian is chasing next year.

In 2020, Djokovic tied his idol Pete Sampras’ record of six year-end World No. 1 finishes.

2) Does Rafa Have Another Surge In Him?

Rafael Nadal equalled Federer’s record haul of 20 Grand Slam trophies at Roland Garros in 2020 and finished the year with a record 12th Top 2 finish in the FedEx ATP Rankings. The question is, will the Spaniard be able to bounce back to the top spot in 2021? History suggests he is more than capable.

Nadal and Djokovic are the only two men to have immediately recovered the year-end World No. 1 position twice. Nadal finished 2008 and 2010 as World No. 1 and repeated the feat by finishing in the top spot in 2017 and 2019. The 34-year-old, who also finished as No. 1 in 2013, will be aiming to match Djokovic and Sampras’ tally of six year-end No. 1 finishes in 2021.

The 20-time major champion’s hopes of returning to the top position will rest on his ability to continue adding to his impressive Grand Slam and ATP Masters 1000 trophy collections.

In this Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020 image provided by the French Tennis Federation FFT, Spain's Rafael Nadal poses with the trophy in the locker room after winning the final match of the French Open tennis tournament against Serbia's Novak Djokovic at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, France. [FFT/Julien Crosnier via AP]

3) Can Domi Take the Next Step?

After becoming the first player in six years to win his maiden Grand Slam title at the 2020 US Open, Thiem defeated his main rivals Djokovic and Nadal en route to his second consecutive runner-up finish at the Nitto ATP Finals in London. The Austrian is now within touching distance of a major milestone in 2021.

Thiem currently sits just 725 FedEx ATP Ranking points behind World No. 2 Nadal. The last player outside the Big Four of Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Andy Murray to occupy a Top 2 position was Lleyton Hewitt in July 2005.

4) Can Medvedev Maintain His Momentum?

Daniil Medvedev ended 2020 as the in-form player on the ATP Tour. The Russian claimed back-to-back titles at the Rolex Paris Masters and the Nitto ATP Finals to finish the year on a 10-match winning streak, which included seven Top 10 victories.

If Medvedev can translate his indoor form to outdoor success, he could join Thiem as a challenger to Djokovic and Nadal’s stranglehold on the Top 2 positions in the sport.

5) Moving To Turin

After 12 editions at The O2 in London, the Nitto ATP Finals moves to Turin from 2021-2025. The biggest singles and doubles stars on the ATP Tour will all be aiming to finish the year by competing at Italy’s largest indoor sporting arena: the Pala Alpitour.

In this Aug. 31, 2019, file photo, tennis fans crowd the edge of the court hoping for an autograph from Rafael Nadal, of Spain, during round three of the U.S. Open tennis championships in New York. The U.S. [AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez, File]
Premium How taxpayers lost Sh12.6bn in court cases against State agencies
William Ruto's headache in bid to woo foreign investors amid protests
Premium How Kamlesh Pattni's charm held Kenya's rich and mighty captive in his Goldenberg scandal
Premium 'We are losing Sh3 billion on protest days, investors lament
The Standard
Make this Easter memorable with our KES999 annual offer!