Novak Djokovic Sunday said tennis’s young guns were “very, very close” to winning a Grand Slam with emotional maturity the only missing ingredient if they want to stay on top.
The 16-time Major winner, who is gunning for an eighth Australian Open title, knows that the dominance of himself, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, who have 55 Slam crowns between them, has to ultimately end.
But for that to happen, the likes of Stefanos Tsitsipas, Daniil Medvedev and Dominic Thiem still have so work to do.
“Well, they’re coming closer and closer. It’s obvious,” said the Serbian world number two who has been at the top of the game for well over a decade.
He pointed to Russia’s Medvedev pushing Nadal hard in last year’s US Open final, Greek Tsitsipas making the semis at Melbourne Park a year ago and Austria’s Thiem playing the finals at Roland Garros in 2018 and 2019.
“They’re literally one set away. On a given day, in the very near future, I think that can happen. It’s going to happen. It’s inevitable,” he said of one of them taking the final step.
“I don’t think they are missing too much, to be honest. I think they possess very powerful games that require a lot of skills, and they have those skills.
“They have put in the hours and dedicated themselves on and off the court. I think a lot of those next generation players are working very hard, being very professional.
“That’s a good sign because that’s one of the precursors, I guess, for the success.”
– ‘Bit of an edge’ –
But they still needed to develop another essential characteristic, and that generally comes with experience, he added.
“To win a Slam and also to be consistently on the top level for many years, it takes a player to gain that mental and emotional maturity and experience to understand his own strengths, to kind of fight his own fears,” he said.
“Rafa, Roger, and I, obviously because of the past 10, 15 years, we know what we need to do mentally in this particular situation. That gives us probably a little bit of an edge.”
Djokovic, 32, credited the pre-eminence of the Big Three over so many years to each player motivating the others, turning their rivalries into the stuff of legend.
He said the fact that top-ranked Nadal, 33, and world number three Federer, 38, were still playing at such a high level was inspirational.
“I mentioned many times before that the three of us have inspired each other throughout our rivalries and careers to be better, to understand how we can overcome obstacles in the matchups that we have against each other,” he said.
“I am more grateful today to be in the same era with these two guys than I was probably 10, 15 years ago. I think that definitely rivalries with them made me very, very strong, very resilient, and also very motivated that I am still today.”