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19 Jan, 2020 16:19

‘They’re coming closer and closer’: Novak Djokovic wary of threat from young guns at Australian Open

‘They’re coming closer and closer’: Novak Djokovic wary of threat from young guns at Australian Open

Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic says the threat from young ‘Next Gen’ tennis stars is getting more and more dangerous to the established top three, as the Serb prepares to defend his title in Melbourne.

Djokovic, seeded second this year, kicks off his campaign for a record-extending eighth Australian Open title against Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff at Rod Laver Arena on Monday.

The 'Big Three' of Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer have won each of the last 12 Grand Slams between them, and have shared 14 of the past 16 titles in Melbourne.

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But Djokovic has said it is “inevitable” that younger stars will taste Grand Slam success soon, naming Russia’s Daniil Medvedev, 23, Greek star Stefanos Tsitsipas, 21, and 26-year-old Austrian Dominic Thiem as among the likely contenders to break the Federer-Nadal-Djokovic stranglehold.  

“They're coming closer and closer. It's obvious. Medvedev had a great fight with Rafa in the last Grand Slam in US Open of last season,” Djokovic said, the ATP website reported.   

“Tsitsipas played semis here last year. Dominic Thiem twice finals in French Open. They're very, very close. 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.”

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Medvedev, who is seeded fourth in Melbourne, pushed Nadal all the way in their epic five-set US Open final in September, before succumbing to the 33-year-old Spanish legend.

Tsitsipas, seeded sixth Down Under, made a run to the last four in Australia a year ago, beating Federer along the way, while he also won the prestigious ATP Finals in London at the end of 2019.

However, tennis finds itself in familiar territory heading into Melbourne, with Nadal the top seed, followed by Djokovic and then Federer.

When asked about the key to the trio’s longevity at the top, the 32-year-old Serb said: “Roger has talked about this as well, Rafa as well, that age is just a number.

“It's not just a cliché, but it's really something that I feel like the three of us have in common. It's really the way we approach career and our everyday life.

“I think we found a way, a formula, to balance private-professional life so we are able to kind of excel in tennis and still be able to compete at the highest level after many years, still be motivated, still be mentally fresh and, of course, physically prepared and fit to compete in best-of-five sets with young players that are coming up.

“They're obviously very hungry to reach the great heights and fight for the biggest trophies in sport.”

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The draw in Melbourne has placed Djokovic in the same half as Federer, meaning the pair could meet in the semi-finals.

The Serb said the Big Three rivalry continued to be a source of motivation for him as he chases a 17th Grand Slam overall, which would edge him closer to Nadal’s 19 and Federer’s record haul of 20.

“[My rivalry] with Roger and Rafa… is one of the motivations for me to still keep going at this age,” Djokovic said.

“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.

“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.”