COMMENT: Coronavirus break no excuse to anyone worthy of breaking Nadal, Djokovic, Federer dominance

Dominic Thiem consoled by Novak Djokovic

Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, and Novak Djokovic are gaining a further advantage over the ATP Tour’s young players due to the coronavirus break, Dominic Thiem’s father has bizarrely claimed.

Let’s be clear from the get-go: There is nothing to suggest Wolfgang Thiem’s claim is accurate, but it is very much indicative of the kind of attitude that has allowed Djokovic, Nadal, and Federer to see off every challenge, barring Andy Murray, that has ever been thrown at them.

“It can be an advantage for players like Djokovic, Nadal, Federer, who have often had long periods of injury because they also know how to deal with it,” Thiem senior told Krone.

“Now you don’t know when it will start again – in July, August or January.”

Well, it’s a lovely excuse isn’t it, but young players have been making excuses on the ATP Tour for far too long now. Excuses are easy, certainly easier than beating one of the three best players in history.

It’s not that I don’t have respect, and indeed belief, in the current pretenders to the top. Dominic Thiem in particular has three Grand Slam finals under his belt, and Daniil Medvedev also looks to have matured into a next-level player over the last 12 months.

I think you can also look at Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev who clearly have the talent, and you’d not be surprised to see either in a Grand Slam final within the next two years, coronavirus-permitting.

But something sits uncomfortably with Thiem senior’s comments. Federer will be approaching 40 this time next year and was already on the shelf with a knee injury anyway. It is staggering to suggest that months of inactivity are more beneficial to a player his age than Thiem’s.

Likewise, Rafael Nadal’s body has been creaking for some time, and he has managed it by NOT having to take long breaks.

Historically, Nadal has been a momentum player throughout his career. When he is fit and playing regularly or semi-regularly and able to maintain the right rhythm and routine, he has tended to excel.

It has been the more serious injuries and lengthier layoffs that Nadal has struggled to fight back from, though. He is like a rolling boulder: Slow to get going but a force of nature once he does.

A lengthy break will, again, be the last thing that can be beneficial to Nadal right now, especially at 33.

Djokovic is the one that you could MAYBE make a point for as he is the fittest. In fact, he is probably the fittest player on the whole Tour, not just of the big three.

Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic

Even then, though, Djokoivic was in stunning form when tennis ground to a halt. You can’t help but feel that the break has cost him at least one more Grand Slam title, and probably a couple of Masters too.

He was playing THAT well, he was looking almost unbeatable. The best case scenario for him would be to come back looking as good, but there is nowhere for him to really go, so if anyone is going to benefit from the enforced break, it will be Djokovic’s rivals, not him. I am not sure anyone else would have stopped him this season had coronavirus not.

People simply have to stop making excuses for the young players on the Tour. As long as it is easier to tell themselves they couldn’t succeed anyway because other were always going to be too good – until they are prepared to ruthlessly defeat their heroes and take their spots without the safety net of excuses – it’s hard to ever see them writing legends of their own.

You are reminded of the scene from The Man In The Iron Mask, when the ageing three Musketeers and D’Artagnan are cornered and hopelessly outnumbered by a group of gun-carrying young pretenders in a castle dungeon.

“They’re young Musketeers,” says D’Artagnan. “They’ve been weaned on our legends. They revere us. It is an advantage.” They charge, and the youngsters’ collective nerve disintegrates.

Note: No one wrote any memorable tales about the youngsters’ subsequent Musketeering careers.

Michael Graham

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