Alarming Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic claim made about tennis’ Next Gen stars

That’s according to Amazon Prime pundit Sam Smith.

Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic played out an entertaining Italian Open final on Sunday in what may turn out to be a preview of the championship match of the upcoming French Open.

The pair – who boast a combined 32 Grand Slam titles – are the two stand-out favourites for the second major of the season at Roland Garros.

Nadal edged Djokovic, the winner of the last three slams, on this occasion with a 6-0, 4-6, 6-1 win at Foro Italico although the Serbian was noticeably tired after a taxing week.

But former British ladies’ No 1 Smith thinks the level shown by Nadal and Djokovic, even though the Spaniard turns 33 in less than two weeks’ time and Djokovic is 32 tomorrow, is putting an even bigger gap between them and the ATP Tour’s up-and-coming talents such as Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime.

She sees just one exception from the Next Gen crop – 20-year-old Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Smith said: “Apart from Tsitsipas, I don’t see any of those Next Gen guys anywhere near the level that we’re seeing. 

“All those guys watching in Lyon and Geneva, Shapovalov, Auger-Aliassime, must be thinking, ‘Oh my goodness.’ 

“There is still an enormous gulf for them to get to the level that we see out there today. 

“Those champions they’re mean, really mean. 

“It’s going to be great for those youngsters but the gap is getting bigger.”

World No 6 Tsitsipas, meanwhile, is one of Smith’s fellow tennis expert Greg Rusedski’s outside favourites to win the French Open.

He said: “For me joint-favourite is Djokovic and Nadal. Nadal announced himself.  Before this match I was putting Djokovic as a slight favourite ahead of Rafa. 

“I look at the outside guys, Tsitsipas has said, ‘I’m coming to the party!’ 

“He’s a guy we didn’t think was going to step up this quickly. 

“If you took someone as the third favourite I’d have to say Dominic Thiem, after Djokovic and Nadal. 

“The wildcards are Tsitsipas and [Fabio] Fognini. Fognini is probably fifth or sixth, because he can be brilliant or crash out early.”