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Will the next generation ever dethrone Federer, Nadal and Djokovic in grand slams?

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Expert
30th August, 2019
4

How long do we have to wait until Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic are no longer the dominant force in tennis?

This slam? A year? Two years? Until they all retire?

You can understand why many would look at the NextGen (let’s say those who are 25 and under) in the men’s game in a reproaching and anti-climactic way. I certainly do.

There have been too many false dawns, near misses and, quite frankly, too many chokes from the youngsters.

Undoubtedly, strides have been made in the best of three format. Since 2017, genuine youngsters have won Masters titles.

Alexander Zverev won his first title at that level at the age of 20. He has won two more Masters since then. Karen Khachanov won the 2018 Paris Masters at the age of 22. Daniil Medvedev won the Cincinnati Masters earlier this month, aged 23. Dominic Thiem, 25, won in Indian Wells this year.

This has made the ATP Tour much more interesting and less predictable, as the big three monopoly has been broken up after years of dominance.

However, in the slams, it does not take much prescience to know who won’t be the last man standing.

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The younger generation lacks many things that the ‘Fedalovic’ have in spades.

They don’t have the consistency, the mental strength, some lack the fitness or the discipline. Most are, simply put, just not good enough.

Zverev has gone backwards since last year and has made just two grand slam quarter-finals despite being ranked as high as three. He plays far too many five-setters, partly because he stands so far back and is too passive, in the early rounds and is then spent later on.

Thiem has made two French Open finals but is too clay-dependant. He lost in round one at the US Open.

Nick Kyrgios, 24, is a world-beater but his insouciance is often his downfall. Two grand slam quarter-finals in more than five years on tour is nothing to write home about.

Stefanos Tsitsipas, 21, was brilliant at the Australian Open but has not reached the same heights since then. He lost in round one and admitted that he was ‘uninspired’.

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He has such a bright future but we may have to wait a while for that.

Medvedev could be the one to break the mold, but his slam performances to date have resulted in one fourth-round appearance.

The number of youngsters who are in the top 100, top 50 and even top 30 is encouraging but I just wish they would hurry up already.

There is a more sedulous nature about this younger crop but only really in the best of three format.

Perhaps I am being too harsh. The Big Three are arguably the three greatest players to ever play the game.

Because there have been no changes in racket technology for decades, the balls are bigger (which slows down the game) and the court speeds are largely homogeneous, consistency tends to win out.

With the death of serve and volley, players becoming more and more professional and the dominance of baseline tennis, it is harder than ever before to break through at the top. Variety is a rare thing these days.

Boris Becker, Mats Wilander, and Mike Chang all won slams at the age of 17. Partly because they were the next stage of the tennis evolution.

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Power games usurped finesse and touch, faster courts led to serving dominance, string technology improvements led to the rise of the returners and so on.

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But because no significant changes have occurred since the early 2000s, youngsters take longer to develop and make inroads against their more experienced and consistent elders.

But Federer is 38, Nadal is 33 and Djokovic is 32. Surely they should not be able to still be at the top at their ages?

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All-time greats they are, but this unprecedented and unrelenting dominance from these veterans is not good for the future of the sport.

What makes it all the more frustrating, is the fact that the NextGen lose to players they really should be beating.

The following younger players all lost in round one.

Taylor Fritz (26th seed) lost to 37-year-old Feliciano Lopez (ranked 61), Lucas Pouille (25th seed) lost to Dan Evans (ranked 58) and Khachanov lost to Vasek Pospisil (ranked 216), Kyle Edmund (seeded 30) lost to Pablo Andujar (ranked 70).

This keeps happening.

Men’s tennis is stagnating. It needs new faces to beat the big guys. If they don’t, interest levels in the sport will plummet even more when the Big Three eventually hang up their rackets.

It is difficult to be too sanguine when the business end of slams is made up of 30-year-olds.

So, who will make the breakthrough or will it be until Fedalovic are senile?

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Men’s tennis needs the NextGen to win and win big, now. But, alas, nobody should hold their breath.