Who Can Stop The Big Three? Djokovic Looks At Prime Candidates
At age 32, Novak Djokovic has begun to ponder his mortality.
The World No. 1 and defending champion at the Western & Southern Open is still adding to his legacy. Twelve months ago, he completed the Career Golden Masters after capturing his maiden Cincinnati crown. His Wimbledon and Australian Open victories this season, accompanied by a third Mutua Madrid Open title, prove the Serbian is still at the peak of his powers.
He now shifts his focus to a successful title defence in Cincinnati, beginning his week against Sam Querrey or Pierre-Hugues Herbert as a potential semi-final with Roger Federer lurks in the distance. With Rafael Nadal overtaking Djokovic this week for the top spot in the ATP Race to London after defending his title at the Coupe Rogers, the Serbian needs a big week to keep pace with Nadal in the battle for year-end No. 1.
It's hardly the first time that Djokovic and Nadal have traded blows in a quest to finish the year at the top of the ATP Rankings. But after well over a decade at the highest levels of the sport, Djokovic is aware that the dominance of the Big Three will one day come to an end.
”There has to be somebody,” said Djokovic. “That time will come, but hopefully not too soon. We still play our best in the biggest events that matter the most.”
Djokovic cited Dominic Thiem as a prime candidate to become a future World No. 1. Thiem defeated him this year in the Roland Garros semi-finals and the Austrian’s maiden ATP Masters 1000 crown at the BNP Paribas Open showed he can excel on multiple surfaces.
”He’s been around for many years. He’s probably the most mature out of everyone and has the most experience in Grand Slam finals,” said Djokovic. “I definitely see him as someone that could be the leader of this sport."
The World No. 1 is also impressed by what he sees in the #NextGenATP. Djokovic pointed out that many of the top rising stars possess a level of power that present challenges for even the most experienced players on Tour.
"A lot of the NextGen guys are really tall and have big serves, which is a definitely advantage. If you look at Reilly Opelka… I never thought I’d see a player taller than John Isner,” joked Djokovic. “If you have a big serve and and an aggressive game, you already have three-quarters of what you need. Even though the surfaces are a bit slower these days, the serves are still difficult to return and it puts pressure on your own serve."
There are also established players who could find a new gear. Djokovic cited Coupe Rogers finalist Daniil Medvedev as an example and praised him for his rapid rise up the ATP Rankings this season. Medvedev moves to a career-high standing of No. 8 on Monday, but the Serbian believes that he can climb even higher.
“He’s had a few big weapons in his serve and backhand for a few years now, but he’s also added to his serve and moves very well,” said Djokovic. “He’s improved in his mental strength and ability to cope with the pressure, which will only continue to get better as he plays more tough matches. He’s obviously put in the work and the results portray his quality and improvement.”