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Saturday, October 16, 2021

This Indian Wells tournament is looking like a genuine pivot point for men’s tennis

The transition away from the Big Three era has been a glacial process. The pandemic has also slowed that process further. But with the game in recovery, this Indian Wells tournament is looking like a genuine pivot point for men’s tennis.

“It’s like going from 100 miles per hour to zero with those three out,” says Craig Boynton, who is coaching Miami Masters champ Hubert Hurkacz, one of the eight quarterfinalists. “In the next step forward, we’re going to see a lot of fresh faces.”

We have been seeing some of those faces, or at least glimpses of them, for some time now. The ATP’s rolling Next Gen campaign has produced, among others, Medvedev, Olympic gold medalist Alexander Zverev (still in the field), flamboyant Stefanos Tsitsipas (still in the field), and Italian powerhouse Matteo Berrettini. But that group, with just one Grand Slam singles title and one Olympic gold medal among them, is already hearing the footsteps of an even younger cohort, led by Carlos Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner.

Looking down the road, the game’s landscape is shrouded in a considerable amount of mist. There is uncertainty about what the future holds. Will the ATP go the way of the WTA in recent years, with a dazzling variety of fresh faces winning big titles, or will a select few emerge to dominate the tour? The question has some practical, market-share implications as well.

Jimmy Arias, the Tennis Channel analyst and head of the IMG Academy’s tennis program, is concerned that the game has failed to produce new stars, or at least none with whom the general public has the same cozy familiarity as it enjoys with the Big Three.

“The Big Three have taken it to a level where there isn’t anyone else who’s a star,” Arias says. “We can weather it for a while, but at some point you need stars. The only way you get stars is by people seeing them do it, over and over. And you have to have some emotional attachment to the people you are watching.”

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