By Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Sunday May 16, 2021
The ATP NextGen as a formidable threat to Big 3 hegemony in men’s tennis? It’s not time for that, say Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal.
Earlier this week when Nadal was asked if he felt the ATP’s young guns were picking up ground on himself Djokovic, he was quick to dismiss their recent run of success which—let’s be honest—might have more to do with the absence of the Big 3 at Masters 1000 tournaments than the actual strides made by the Next Gen.
It’s debatable: Djokovic won the only Slam on offer, with ease. At Miami, where neither Djokovic or Nadal attended, Hubert Hurkacz took the title. Monte-Carlo featured both Nadal and Djokovic and it was Stefanos Tsitsipas who won the title. In Madrid Djokovic didn’t attend and Zverev knocked off Nadal in the quarters en route to his fourth Masters title.
So, is this a trend emerging, or too small a sample size to tell?
When Nadal was asked if it was time that the NextGen started to win some Grand Slam events his answer was smart and sharp.
“Maybe. Let’s see in three weeks or in four weeks,” he said.
Djokovic took the questions as well. And after he reached the final on Saturday by winning two matches, one of them over Tsitsipas, The World No.1 said that he and Nadal had a laugh in the locker room about the situation.
“Rafa and I had a little laugh today in the locker room after I won against Tsitsipas,” he said. “We kind of joked around that the old guys are still not giving up. I saw he said somewhere a few days ago that Roger, him and I are old, but I disagree with him. I think we’re showing some different, fresh energy. We had a laugh about it.”
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) May 16, 2021
On Sunday, after dropping a three-set final to Nadal, Djokovic still had the subject on his mind. When addressing the crowd in Italian he joked:
“Rafa, myself and Roger: we are the NextGen.”
That got a laugh out of Rafa.
After the final, tennis journalist Tumaini Carayol put the question to Djokovic:
“Regarding your joke in the speech, I was wondering, do you ever get bored of hearing next gen this, next gen that?” he asked.
To which, Djokovic replied: “I said it thousand times. I don’t know how many times people want me to repeat it. Of course the next gen is there, is coming, whatever. But here we are still winning the biggest tournaments and slams. I don’t know what to tell you other than that. I’m not focused on the next gen even though I know people, you know, it creates a story. People like to talk about it. Fine. The guys are there. They are already establishing themselves in the top 5, top 10 of the world. Nothing new. But we are still there.
Perhaps the top NextGen players—Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev, Andrey Rublev, Jannik Sinner and others that are NextGenATP Finals alumni, should be paying attention. If they read between the lines they will clearly see that there isn’t a whole lot of respect for the threat that they pose to the tennis hierarchy at the moment.
The only way for them to earn that respect is to step up and make the results.