World No 1 Novak Djokovic has claimed that he and fellow ‘Big Three’ members Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal need to adapt quickly in order to retain their dominance over the Grand Slam circuit for the foreseeable future. The trio have enjoyed a stronghold on the vast majority of the sport’s major titles for more than a decade, but appear to be facing a new threat from the next generation.
All three have been defeated by younger opponents since the turn of the year, suggesting that they are likely to be pushed all the way at the French Open next month and Wimbledon later this summer.
Federer was beaten by eventual Qatar Open winner Nikoloz Basilashvili on his return from injury in March, while Djokovic lost in straight sets to British hopeful Dan Evans at the Monte-Carlo Masters last week.
At the same tournament, Nadal was undone by Andrey Rublev at the quarter-final stage.
It remains to be seen whether the ‘Big Three’ will be knocked off their perches in the coming months, with the Spaniard hoping to seal yet another Roland-Garros triumph and his two rivals eyeing glory at Wimbledon and this summer’s delayed Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Djokovic has admitted that he is wary of the new talent working its way up the world rankings, stressing that the sport’s three dominant figures cannot afford to ease up in any way, shape or form.
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However, the Serb added that he is not sweating over the possibility of an imminent power shift, suggesting that the experienced trio, who have won 58 of the last 68 Grand Slam titles, could be set to stick around for a while yet.
“We probably made a lot of people think that we can play perfect tennis every single week for the rest of our lives, but that’s not possible,” Djokovic told reporters at this week’s Serbia Open.
“I don’t think there is anything strange, it’s just a bad week, [if] our opponents have a very good day, they win a tennis match. It’s as simple as that.
“I think Rafa, myself [and] Roger have been very successful and dominant in the past 15 years or more and you have a new generation of tennis players coming up and we have to adapt ourselves.
“We have to understand how to improve, how to get better, how to adjust our game to this new group of players that are challenging us for the top spots of the world and for the biggest trophies in the world.
“I’m not too concerned, especially when it comes to Rafa on clay. I don’t think one or two matches or two weeks is going to change the way he plays on clay or for the upcoming tournaments.
“But obviously it’s interesting for our sport to see us maybe losing to some new players, making things a little more interesting for tennis fans.
“Obviously we don’t want to lose, I think we both want to keep that level of performance and quality of tennis really high for as long as we possibly can.”
One-time Wimbledon champion Andy Murray recently claimed that Djokovic, Federer and Nadal are still clear of the sport’s best young contenders by a considerable margin.
The Scot highlighted Dominic Thiem’s US Open triumph last year, suggesting that the result would have played out differently had Djokovic not been disqualified for hitting a line judge with the ball in a bizarre moment of madness.
“The younger guys, for me, they’ve not shown that they’re particularly close,” Murray told reporters in February.
“Obviously what happened at the US Open, Thiem did what he had to do to win the event. But if Novak hadn’t put a ball through the line judge’s throat, it would be the same outcome I think.”