Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, the two highest-ranked players on the ATP Tour, have warned Stefanos Tsitsipas that breaking into the top three will not be easy after the Greek player made that a key target for 2020.
Tsitsipas, the world No 6, publicly stated this week that his biggest goals for next season are to “win a Grand Slam title, finish inside the top three by the end of the year, qualify for the Nitto [ATP] Finals again and win a Masters 1000”.
The first two of those ambitions will arguably present the biggest challenges as it would mean breaking a stranglehold long established by three men: world No 1 Nadal, second-ranked Djokovic, and No 3 Roger Federer, who between them have won 55 major titles, including all 12 over the past three years.
Tsitsipas is a leading part of a new generation determined to disrupt the Big Three's dominance, and the 21-year-old Greek made a major statement by clinching the ATP Finals title at the end of last season.
He has carried his fine form from London over to Abu Dhabi, and on Friday became the first player to defeat Novak Djokovic on court at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship, fighting from a set down to win 3-6, 7-6, 6-4.
After the match, Djokovic was alerted to Tsitsipas’ top-three ambition and said the Greek has the ability to make it happen, but warned of its difficulty.
“He’s definitely got the game, got a very good approach to tennis, he’s very professional, very determined. He’s got all the elements he needs to reach that,” said Djokovic, 32, who will play Russia's Karen Khachanov in the MWTC third-place playoff on Saturday.
“Of course, it’s a big task for anybody to be top three during the year. It means you have to play consistently well throughout the entire season and not having too many fallbacks or, god forbid, injuries.
“It is very demanding physically and mentally, but he’s definitely matured a lot and the results are proving that. He won the ATP Finals and is definitely up there as one of the best players in the world.”
Nadal shared his long-time rival’s sentiments, believing Tsitsipas is right to set his sights high while warning of the fierce competition that exists on the ATP Tour.
"It's good that he has good ambition, it's important to have clear goals but it is something very difficult," said Nadal, who will play Tsitsipas in the MWTC final as he aims to win the title for a record fifth time. "Getting into the top three is not easy. A lot of players are trying to get into the top three places, but of course he had a great season."