Can ANYONE topple Novak? Next generation look flimsy behind Djokovic
Can ANYONE topple Novak? Next generation look underpowered as they queue up to take-on defending champion Djokovic at Wimbledon… the likes of Daniil Medevdev and Alexander Zverev need to strike now
- Novak Djokovic came into Wimbledon as the stand-out favourite to triumph
- The Serb made an ominous start, dropping only one set en-route to the last-16
- The challenge is for Daniil Medvedev and Alexander Zverev, who aren’t kids now
- Djokovic faces Chilean Cristian Garin in the last-16 on Centre Court on Monday
For all the young dogs waiting for a go at Novak Djokovic, it is increasingly hard to imagine any scenario other than them rolling over for a tickled belly when their moment comes.
There has long been a perceived flimsiness around the next generation of men’s tennis, who have spent so much time waiting in line that there is a danger of them missing their turn altogether.
As we begin the second week of Wimbledon, it is necessary to again wonder whether the stasis at the top of the game is down to the astonishing endurance and gifts of a few old boys, or the deficiencies of those in pursuit.
Novak Djokovic is well ahead of the chasing pack as the favourite to win Wimbledon 2021
The Serbian was victorious at the French Open and looks unlikely to face a true challenge
Plainly the answer covers bits of both, but with each passing Slam it is getting harder to mount a defence for younger guys who are suddenly not so young any more.
It is an awkward fact that since Stan Wawrinka won the 2016 US Open, there have been 17 Slams and only one has not been claimed by Djokovic, Rafael Nadal or Federer.
That was Dominic Thiem at last year’s US Open, to go with three other finals, but he will turn 28 later this year and is missing these championships with an injury.
Those present and remaining in the draw have a chance across the next week, but it is difficult to make a serious case for anyone beyond Djokovic, irrespective of the Serb not yet looking the full ticket.
Other than his second-round win over Kevin Anderson, in which he was excellent, Djokovic had iffy moments against Jack Draper and Denis Kudla, and his difficult relationship with the Wimbledon crowd is a developing situation.
Dominic Thiem is the only Slam winner outside the Big Three since 2016, but he is absent
But for those minor considerations, he remains an overwhelming favourite to take his record-equalling 20th Slam on Sunday.
Even at 34, he is a head, shoulders and most of a torso above the chasing pack, with the next modest barrier to a third straight Wimbledon crown being the 17th seed, Cristian Garin of Chile.
They will play on Centre Court on Monday, where part of the intrigue will concern any further blowouts at those in attendance. ‘You know that I play 90 per cent of matches against the audience, the field, the opponents and everyone alive,’ said Djokovic.
‘It’s something I’m used to, but I’m a man of flesh and blood. I can’t always stay calm.
‘When someone provokes me, when it crosses the line of taste, sportsmanship and respect, then I show him where he belongs.’
Garin, a clay-court specialist with no huge weapon, is part of a curious trend at this tournament, whereby no fewer than 13 of the last 16 are on their best Wimbledon run. Only Djokovic, Federer and Roberto Bautista Agut have gone further, and none of that trio is younger than 33.
Cristian Garin from Chile will be Djokovic’s next opponent; expected to be an easy victory
All of which means the best of the rest, led by second seed Daniil Medvedev and fourth seed Alexander Zverev, aged 25 and 24 respectively, need to navigate unfamiliar territory on this surface to stand a chance.
Medvedev, a finalist at both the Australian and US Opens, needed to fight back from two sets down to beat Marin Cilic on Friday, and he next faces Hubert Hurkacz of Poland. He has struck a philosophical tone about the wait for his breakthrough.
‘I need to be honest,’ he said. ‘Starting from the US Open in 2019, I started to be maybe be a top player. I was in my first Grand Slam final. That’s when I started to really believe I can win any tournament.
‘So it can be my year. I believe in it, but it’s tough. I was two times in the final but it’s tough to win a Slam. It can be my year, it can be next one. Maybe it’s never.’
The Russian is on a fascinating bearing for a quarter-final meeting with Federer, assuming the eight-time champion, who turns 40 next month, beats the 23rd seed from Italy, Lorenzo Sonego.
Medvedev is among the ‘next generation’ who can challenge but he’s not a youngster now
Zverev is perhaps the most talented of those pushing for a break to Djokovic’s stronghold on the Slams, which has seen him win in both Australia and France this season.
He has only dropped one set ahead of Monday’s match with the 16th seed Felix Auger-Aliassime, a 20-year-old Canadian who is strong on grass.
The most compelling figure in the remaining cast is Sebastian Korda, the son of 1998 Australian Open champion Petr, and brother to world No 1 golfer Nelly. He turns 21 on Monday and has been exceptional on his debut here, which extends to a clash with 25th seed Karen Khachanov.
Unseeded Korda’s performances and all-round skill-base give him a better-than-decent chance, which could set up a fine quarter-final with Denis Shapovalov, 22.
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