Next Gen must challenge repeats of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer show

Tennis Features
Alexander-Zverev flexing his muscles

As Kyle Edmund completed one of the best wins of his career against Novak Djokovic at the Madrid Open, he remarked: “It’s time to try and beat these guys.” Well said, Kyle. Someone has to put it out there.

In other news, the latest repeat loop filtered through regarding Andy Murray’s injury crisis ahead of (insert latest major tournament here) Wimbledon. Moreover, Djokovic was indulging us with another confessional on coming back too soon. Never has there been a better moment for the young bucks to set their wheels in motion. Opportunity knocks for the major virgins.

It’s time for Baby Fed to come out of his cot and go full pelt for a rattle. Surely someone new and shiny can claim a big crown as the Kings lie wounded all over the physio battlefield. After all, Alexander Zverev has just won another tournament in Munich. Even Dominic Thiem continues to look the part up to a point. The Emperor’s new clothes are all laid out but nobody wants to put the garb on for fear of upsetting the last days of the ancient regime.

Impressive wins in minor tournaments do not a major champion make. Zverev beat Roger Federer in the Canadian Open in August to set himself up for a charge at the Fab Four (or two and a half as it is at this moment). In the US Open, the German stumbled to a loss against Borna Coric, the 61st seed, with the whiny words: “It’s upsetting. Today was upsetting. The way I played was upsetting.”

Oh, the snowflake generation are a strain on the ear.

He then followed this up by losing to unseeded Hyeon Chung at the Australian Open in January, including a bagel in the final set. Despite being ranked number three in the world, the 21-year-old is yet to reach a Grand Slam quarter-final.

Thiem, on the other hand, has reached two Slam semi-finals, both in Paris. The 24-year-old “warmed up” for another tilt at Roland Garros by being smashed to pieces by Rafael Nadal in Monte Carlo. The Austrian only claimed two games. Such was the brutality of the Spaniard’s win, Nadal expressed sorrow for his opponent: “He’s one of the best players of the world, especially on clay. I’m sorry for him, because he’s a good friend. It was a tough score, of course.” Very nice, Rafa, but we came to see a competitive match. Anyway, I thought you were injured after missing Miami and Indian Wells?

If Thiem is one of the better players on the clay, then we might as well hand Rafa an eleventh French Open trophy now. He’s won 11 Barcelona titles and 11 Monte Carlo tourneys, so the symmetry suggests nothing else but the inevitable. Roland Garros is a two-week processional.

After celebrating his eighth Wimbledon title last July, Federer uncharacteristically hit the bar and, the morning after, gave a very transparent hungover interview: “I do believe the depth in the men’s game is as great as it’s ever been but, because of the way they play, maybe not super-fast like they used to back in the 80s, the margins are bigger because of the surface speed, the ball speed and the racket technology. You have to hit a lot of good shots to come through a Murray or a Djokovic. Over five sets, it catches up with you and it’s favourable for the top guys.”

The Swiss is happy that he can still be called a favourite at Wimbledon just three months from his 37th birthday, but there clearly lies another wish for the good of the game. His plea is for more players (and coaches) to carry out an attacking game.

Sport is unpredictable and strange things happen. Federer turns up when he wants now and still wins, a bit like Ronnie O’Sullivan. Delightful as it is, it doesn’t feel right. There are more than enough players out there to take men’s tennis to a new age. We need to stop talking about Djokovic and Murray’s injury timelines.

Who’s going to cause worry lines for Rafa and Roger at their “home” majors? Someone needs to step up to the plate and show the cojones to compete with the old masters this summer.

Zverev claimed last week: “I know that it’s only a time matter before I go far in the Slams.” Go ahead, my son.

Follow Tim Ellis on Twitter

Latest