Russia boasts two former World Number One men’s players – Marat Safin and Yevgeny Kafelnikov. The nation also won the Davis Cup in 2002 and 2006.
Despite this, right now is arguably the most exciting time for Russian men's tennis. Russia is currently the only nation to have three players inside the top 20, as well as two players currently in the top 10. Furthermore, all three players are 24 years old or younger – scary.
Russia's dominance over tennis is only starting now.
World No. 4 Daniil Medvedev, World No. 8 Andrey Rublev, and World No. 20 Karen Khachanov make up the Russian big three. Let’s delve into why each of these three players will monopolise for years to come.
First up is the current Nitto ATP Finals champion, Daniil Medvedev.
Reflecting back on his year, Medvedev explained that “I for sure have some problems sometimes, especially when I’m not playing good…I can lose my temper sometimes.” Known for being his own worst critic, Medvedev has been working with a sports psychologist since he was a teenager.
The 24-year-old is a brick wall against opponents, known for frustrating the player on the opposite side of the net. The defensive approach no doubt works for the Russian, but he also acknowledges the need to "change up your tactics," explaining to the ATP website that "against the Top 10 players it will not work to only be defensive."
Medvedev is a ruthless competitor who shows no mercy. The Russian does, however, have elements of his game to work on, as he failed to win a clay court match in 2020. He admits that “we are trying to work every day to make me a better tennis player.”
Medvedev will be itching to claim his first Grand Slam in 2021.
After starting the year off as World No. 23, Andrey Rublev ascended into the top 10. The 23-year-old won five titles in 2020 and was named ATP Most Improved Player of the Year.
Rublev exploded onto the scene last year by winning back-to-back titles in Adelaide and Qatar. He also reached the quarterfinals at both the U.S. and French Open, claimed 3 other ATP 500 titles, and eventually finished the year with a 41-10 win-loss record.
The Moscow native has an offensive baseline focused game. His hyper-aggressive tennis takes no prisoners and will launch a big forehand when given the opportunity. He claims not to prefer a particular surface, but his 103 of 132 career match wins on hard court says otherwise.
People are expecting big things of the World No. 8 this year. He has plenty of ambitious goals in mind for 2021, as he announced on Twitter last year that “we’re going to try to improve and do better next year.”
Lastly, Karen Khachanov is seen by some as the ‘forgotten’ Russian. Despite currently being ranked World No. 20, Khachanov peaked at World No. 8 in 2019. 2020 wasn’t the Moscow native’s finest year, but he still remains a top 20 player and there's no doubt we will see him in the top 10 again.
Despite having an explosive meltdown in Antwerp last October, don’t let that deter you from his incredible talent. Yevgeny Kafelnikov predicted in 2013 that the then World No. 808 would be in the top 20 by 2015. Khachanov fell just shy of that prediction but made up for it with an incredible 2018.
The 24-year-old currently has four ATP tour titles under his belt. With a strong serve and baseline game, Khachanov generally sets up winners with thanks to his strong serve either down the tee or wide. Khachanov won 73% of his first serve points – an incredibly high figure. He is known on the tour for a strong one-two punch combination.
With a quarterfinal appearance at Roland Garros last year, the Russian will be ready to pounce on more second week Grand Slam opportunities this year.
With all players born within the same 18 months, they played each other all throughout their junior careers in Russia and subsequently formed a fierce group of competitors. All three players have a minimum of eight solid years of tennis left in them and there is no doubt that in here somewhere is a Grand Slam winner – potentially even three of them.
Russia will also be putting their best foot forward to win a Davis Cup in the next few years with this extraordinary array of talent amongst them.
With the Big Three (Federer, Nadal and Djokovic) starting to wrap up, is the Ruthless Russian Three the next big thing?
I think so.