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Big 3 vs Young Guns: nine matchups we want to see and why

The rise of young guns like Jannik Sinner, Carlos Alcaraz and Lorenzo Musetti has made us wonder: Which members of the Big 3 do we want them to face? Ahead of Wednesday’s first-time clash between Sinner and Novak Djokovic, we name eight more matchups we are excited about…

Carlos Alcaraz, Rafael Nadal, 2021 © Panoramic

Nobody knows how long the card-carrying members of the ATP’s Big Three will play on, and we all hope this incredible era of tennis continues to blow our minds for many years to come. That said, with Roger Federer pushing 40, Rafael Nadal turning 35 at Roland-Garros and Novak Djokovic soon to be 34, we know we are closer to the sunset than the sunrise. As we look forward to Wednesday’s highly anticipated first-time meeting of world No 1 Djokovic and rising Italian Jannik Sinner, we’re targeting that and eight other matchups between members of the Big Three and fresh faces on the ATP Tour that we’re dying to see.

Best of The Big 3: Djokovic, Nadal & Federer 2-Hour Marathon!

Jannik Sinner v Novak Djokovic

Update: Djokovic defeated Sinner at Monte-Carlo in the third-round, 6-4, 6-2, and now leads the head-to-head 1-0.

Italy’s Jannik Sinner is already on the cusp of the top 20, thanks to a brilliant 52 weeks of tennis in which he made the Roland-Garros quarter-finals on his debut and reached his first Masters 1000 final at Miami. The Italian has already taken a crack at Nadal in Paris, and played well in defeat (he got to a tiebreaker, something that nobody else could manage in Paris last year).

Rafael Nadal vs Jannik Sinner - Quarterfinals Highlights | Roland-Garros 2020

Now we’d like to see what Sinner can do against reigning world No 1 Djokovic on the red clay of Monte-Carlo. While we do think this matchup would be most interesting on a fast hard court, where Sinner’s game is most lethal, we’re still dying to know how the Italian can measure up to the steady, penetrating game of Djokovic on the clay. The Serb is 34-11 lifetime at Monte-Carlo with two titles, and when he’s at his best he keeps his opponents guessing, switching from defense to offense on a dime. It could be a very difficult learning experience for Sinner, but one that he’ll no doubt cherish.

The dream match : Monte-Carlo round 2 (there’s no time like the present, but we’d like this as a US Open quarter-final as well)

Roger Federer v Lorenzo Musetti

The Swiss maestro Roger Federer vs the Italian “artiste” Lorenzo Musetti? A few sets of this enticing matchup would be glorious fun. Musetti, like Alcaraz, has a limited body of work at the ATP level. The Italian has played just 19 matches, but already the former Australian Open Boys’ Singles champion (2019) has delivered his fair share of jaw-dropping tennis. Musetti, like Federer, plays a stylish, diverse and imaginative game. The 19-year-old wields his racquet like a magic wand, can deliver tantalizing drop shots and lobs under extreme pressure, and never seems to hit the same shot twice. He’s the antithesis of the baseline grinder, and that’s why we’d like to see him match wits with Federer, who happens to be his longtime idol.

The dream match : a Madrid Masters 1000 second round

Novak Djokovic v Felix Auger-Aliassime

Wait a moment – these two have never played? How can that be? Now that Auger-Aliassime is being coached by Toni Nadal, Rafael Nadal’s uncle and longtime coach, the dynamics of a Nole v FAA matchup would be all the more interesting. Uncle Toni has coached his nephew to many great victories and heartbreaking losses against Djokovic, and surely he’d offer all kinds of information to Auger-Aliassime in preparation for a long awaited meeting. At this point it’s hard to imagine Auger-Aliassime, who has lost his last ten matches against the top 10, doing damage against the great Serb, but we’d nevertheless love to see the pair take part in some grinding rallies on a slower surface, maybe even clay. It would be a great experience for the Canadian, and if he can play well, maybe a huge boost to his confidence, which is badly needed.

A Roland-Garros Round of 16 match

Jannik Sinner v Roger Federer

Two of the most feared forehands in the sport, generations apart, but similar in their ability to dictate the terms of rallies and finish points in style. A battle between Roger Federer and Jannik Sinner would surely be a first-strike affair, with both players seeking to step inside the court and dominate with aggressive killshots. Federer would test Sinner’s ability to defend by attacking the net, and Sinner would hope to get into physical rallies by keeping the Swiss pinned behind his baseline whenever possible. The Italian might also try to keep the ball in Federer’s backhand corner, which means he’d probably have to deal with Federer’s slice often. The possibilities seem endless, this would be a fantastic matchup for grass – even though Sinner is relatively inexperienced on the surface, he’d surely make it interesting.

The dream match : Wimbledon quarter final

Andrey Rublev v Novak Djokovic

Andrey Rublev has faced Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, but never Novak Djokovic. It’s a bit strange that he has managed to avoid the Serb all this time, given that he is 23 and has nearly 250 ATP matches under his belt.  Let’s hope that these two talents can lock horns soon. If Rublev catches Djokovic in a passive mood he may be able to actually dictate and keep Djokovic on the back foot. But Djokovic is so intelligent and so intuitive when it comes to defusing big hitters. He’ll try to make Rublev uncomfortable by moving him around and playing unpredictably. The Russian might have his best chances on a faster hard court, but we’d like to see them battle on clay, where we’d be guaranteed to see plenty of lengthy rallies. How about a Rome night session?

The dream match : Any Masters 1000 final on hard court, let’s say Cincinnati

Sebastian Korda Miami

Sebastian Korda v Roger Federer

Sebastian Korda – or Sebi, as he likes to be called – has such a healthy respect for the legends of the game, he even has a cat named Rafa. Since the young American has already squared off with Nadal, at Roland-Garros last year, we are hoping that he gets to face Roger Federer next. He could learn a lot about the way the Swiss spots his serve and dictates the run of play off both his first and second serve. And, of course, we’d like to see these two pure ball strikers go head-to-head in a few explosive rallies. How about this year’s US Open, round three, in front of a packed house?

The dream match : A Roland-Garros third round

Lorenzo Musetti v Rafael Nadal

Lorenzo Musetti loves the red clay, and we love the idea of the crafty Italian facing Rafael Nadal on his favorite surface, because every young clay-courter with big aspirations should have a chance to learn first-hand what makes the King of Clay the… King of Clay. For Musetti, facing Nadal would be doubly difficult because of the problem that Nadal’s wicked topspin forehand would present for Musetti’s artful one-handed backhand. It is the Rubik’s Cube that is impossible to solve, but it makes you stronger for trying. Musetti is already proving to be a big-match player and it’s likely that he would bring his very best tennis to play Nadal, which could create some drama, though probably not a victory. But one never knows – that’s why they play the matches, and why we want to see them!

The dream match : A Roland-Garros third round

Roger Federer v Felix Auger-Aliassime 

Remember back in 2019 when we very nearly had a Federer v Auger-Aliassime final in Miami? John Isner rained on that parade by taking out the Canadian in a two-tiebreak semi-final, which has only made us want to see this matchup more. Federer’s swift, regal presence in the forecourt, trading blows with the thumping baseline game of Auger-Aliassime? It could make for some high octane tennis, and now with Toni Nadal in Auger-Aliassime’s coaching box, we’d likely get a a crystal clear game plan from the Canadian: attack the backhand with the forehand and the serve. Rinse, later, repeat.

The dream match : Miami Open final, 2022

Rafael Nadal v Carlos Alcaraz (note we got our wish at Madrid in 2021)

Tabbing Carlos Alcaraz as the second coming of Rafael Nadal is probably the silliest thing we’ve ever heard. And that’s not meant to criticize the 17-year-old Alcaraz one bit, it’s simply to point out that there can never EVER be another Rafael Nadal. But it doesn’t mean that Alcaraz isn’t a very special talent, and one with a bright future in the sport. He’s only 13 matches into his ATP career and already it’s easy to see that he can be a future star.

Alcaraz already has a few matches against top 20 players under his belt (a win against Goffin, a loss against Zverev), but we’re dying to see the Spaniard take a crack at Nadal on red clay. How about next month at Madrid, where Alcaraz will be a wild card? Of course the kid will likely get schooled by the King of Clay, but it would be magnificent to watch and surely he’d learn a thing or two that could make him a better player.

The dream match : a Madrid Masters 1000 second round

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