Paul Newman: Rising stars are forcing the Fab Four to raise their game
This is the year when the next generation have finally made their breakthrough
It has been a long time coming, but the world order at the top of men’s tennis is changing at last. Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray have had a grip on the sport’s biggest prizes for nearly 10 years, but 2014 is beginning to look like the year when the next generation finally made their breakthrough.
Until very recently the domination of the Fab Four had been remarkable. Thirty-four Grand Slam tournaments were played between the Australian Opens of 2005 and 2014 and 33 of them were won by Federer, Nadal, Djokovic or Murray, with Juan Martin del Potro’s 2009 US Open triumph the only exception.
Stan Wawrinka, who is now the world No 3, muscled into the top group with his victory at the Australian Open earlier this year. Although Nadal completed his customary fortnight of glory at the French Open last month, there have been plenty of signs since the start of the year that we are witnessing a changing of the guard — which should be no surprise given that Federer is 32, Nadal 28 and Djokovic and Murray both 27.
Since January Milos Raonic, Kei Nishikori and Ernests Gulbis, aged 23, 24 and 25 respectively, have all broken into the world’s top 10 for the first time. Grigor Dimitrov, aged 23, will be in the top 10 next week and has already won four titles in the last 12 months. Gulbis had his best run at a Grand Slam tournament when he reached the semi-finals of the recent French Open, while Raonic and Dimitrov have enjoyed their best runs at this Wimbledon.
It has taken time for the generation just behind Nadal, Djokovic and Murray to make their mark, but Australia’s Nick Kyrgios, representing the latest wave of new talent, is threatening to reach the top by a much quicker route. Kyrgios is only 19, while his fellow countryman, 18-year-old Thanasi Kokkinakis, is said by some to be an even greater talent.
If 21-year-old Bernard Tomic could finally realise the promise that he showed with his run to the quarter-finals here three years ago, there could be talk of a new generation of great Australian players.
While the Fab Four have no intention of going anywhere in the immediate future – and Nadal, Djokovic and Murray should still be in their prime for a good year or two yet – the likelihood is that they will be pushed harder and harder by the next generation.
When Nadal was asked why he had struggled to win a match at the Rome Masters two months ago he replied: “Get used to it. With the years that’s the normal thing. Everyone suffers. It’s part of sport. It’s part of everyone’s career.”
Murray believes that the only way he will stay at the top is to keep improving. “I need to have a think about things, what are the things I need to improve, and get myself in better shape and work even harder, because everyone’s starting to get better,” he said after his quarter-final defeat to Dimitrov.
“The younger guys are now obviously becoming more mature and improving all the time. I need to make some improvements to my game.”
He added: “If you play against a player like a Kyrgios or Dimitrov or Raonic and you don’t play very well, it’s tough to win those matches now, whereas before maybe when they were younger and a bit inexperienced you could still find ways to come through them. But now that they’re getting more experience and improving, it’s tough to do that.”
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