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US Open: Russia’s Medvedev can be the man to break Big Three’s Grand Slam stranglehold

US Open: Russia’s Medvedev can be the man to break Big Three’s Grand Slam stranglehold
Their Grand Slam dominance in the past decade has been near-total, but the Big Three of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer could face their toughest test at the US Open from in-form Russian youngster Daniil Medvedev.

Medvedev opened his campaign at Flushing Meadows on Monday with a straight sets victory against Indian world number 88 Prajnesh Gunneswaran.

And while Djokovic, Nadal and Federer are the top three seeds at Flushing Meadows, 23-year-old Medvedev headed into the tournament on the back of a superb August which has seen him rise to a career-high ranking of world number five.

He reached those giddy heights after three successive appearances in finals at tournaments this month, capped by his victory at the Cincinnati Masters, where he beat Belgium’s David Goffin in the final.

READ MORE: ‘Huge achievement’: Daniil Medvedev enters top 5 after Masters 1000 title win

But it was Medvedev’s victory against defending champion Djokovic in the semi-final in Cincinnati which captured the eye most of all, as the Russian recovered from the loss of the first set to beat the 16-time Grand Slam winner 3-6, 6-3, 6-3.

One of the keys to that win was the 6ft 6in Medvedev going all-out on his second serve, negating Djokovic’s fabled return power; it was a risky strategy, but one which paid dividends.

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The Russian, however, will know that winning a Masters title is one thing, while sustaining a run over best-of-five encounters during the two weeks of a Grand Slam is a far tougher challenge.

That is the rarefied domain occupied largely by Djokovic, Nadal and Federer for the past decade and a half.

Indeed, since Federer won Wimbledon in 2003, only seven men outside of the Big Three have picked up a Major title. In that time, Federer has racked up 20 Grand Slams, with Nadal amassing 18 and Djokovic 16.

If anything, that stranglehold has got stronger in recent years, with the trio winning each of the last 11 Grand Slam titles between them.

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The world’s top three will again be heavily tipped to win in New York, where Federer has claimed five titles (the last of which was in 2008), while reigning champion Djokovic and Nadal both have three to their name.

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So far, they have had little trouble in fending off the challenge from outsiders, with the ‘Next Gen’ of players in particular disappointing when the major tournaments come round.

In addition to Medvedev, other young pretenders this year include 21-year-old Greek star Stefanos Tsitsipas – who opens his Flushing Meadows campaign against Russian youngster Andrey Rublev – and Alexander Zverev, the 22-year-old German, who is seeded sixth and faces Moldovan outsider Radu Albot in the first round.

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There is also the mercurial, volatile genius of Australian 24-year-old Nick Kyrgios, who on his day has the talent to humble anyone in the draw, but who appears unable to hold himself together over the sustained course of a Grand Slam.

Washington Open: Nick Kyrgios asks fan for advice on where to play match-point serve (VIDEO)

None of those, though, is in the same vein of form as Medvedev after his superb August, which earned him the 2019 US Open Series Breakout Performer award on the eve of the tournament at Flushing Meadows.   

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The man himself says his past record at Majors – where his best run is to the fourth round of the Australian Open earlier this year – means he cannot be considered as among the favorites in New York.

“I say that if I get to the quarterfinal, it's going to be already a step forward and I'm going to be really happy about it,” he said at a media day on Friday.

But ahead of his opening match against Gunneswaran, Medvedev did acknowledge that his breakthrough into the top five was a significant moment.

"Reaching the top five, which not many people in the world reach in their careers, is a big moment and a big breakthrough," the giant Russian said.

Medvedev looked confident as he opened his campaign on Monday – despite needing some attention from the trainer for an apparent lower back issue – and is a man with momentum behind him.

If he can carry on as he has been playing, the young Russian is as well-equipped as any of the other challengers to finally end the Big Three’s Grand Slam dominance.

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