Abu Dhabi: Novak Djokovic says the mandate the ‘Big Three’ in the men’s game have given themselves is the postponement of the inevitable, which basically means keeping the next generation from disrupting the hierarchy that has dominated tennis for nearly a decade now.
In sport, nothing is cast in stone, but the domination of Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer has been legendary with the trio playing a game of pass the parcel with the top three spots among themselves. Currently ranked world No. 2, Djokovic sits between Nadal and Federer, but with a group of youngsters making a loud noise at their doorstep and age catching up, the Serb admits life is getting difficult at the top.
Speaking ahead of his semi-final against 21-year-old world No. 6 Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, who is one of the players in the mix to challenge the established order of the top trio, Djokovic said the plan now is merely to delay the inevitable.
“I think it’s a logical and a natural cycle, like you would expect things to happen that way,” 16-time Grand Slam winner Djokovic said.
“Roger, Rafa and I were saying that indeed it’s going to happen and that we eventually will be replaced in the top three spots. The new guys are going to start winning Slams but we are trying to prolong that kind of a change in men’s tennis.
“It is inevitable that it is going to happen and each year they [next generation] are coming closer and closer. You have Dominic Thiem, who has played two back-to-back finals at Roland Garros and Tsitsipas, who won the ATP Finals in London, so they are definitely out there challenging the best players in the world.
“They want to be the best players in the world and they will eventually become the best players in the world. Those names are already established in the Top 10 and our task is that it doesn’t happen very soon, but it seems like it’s coming closer and closer.”
Djokovic is the youngest in that group at 32, with Nadal 33, and Federer oldest at 38. And as he must pick and choose among tournaments to keep himself fresh for the top-tier competitions that have a massive impact on the world rankings.
“If you’re aiming for the top spots in the world, there are tournaments you wanna play,” he said. “They are the biggest tournaments: the Grand Slams; the 1000 events and the year-end Finals if you qualify for that. The priorities are 1000s and Grand Slams and then you try to fit into your schedule some other important events that will help you build your ranking and also prepare you for other events.”
The Australian Open is a must for Djokovic, who has won the first Slam of the year seven times and come January will prop up for another title defence at the Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne. Winner of a bronze at the 2008 Olympic Games, Djokovic is also eyeing a spot at the 2020 Tokyo Games.
“Slams are always up there and in an Olympic year the Olympics are always priority,” he said.
“I rate team competitions right up there and I really want to kick off the season in the best possible way in the inaugural ATP Cup, which is an exciting format. I want to be in top shape for Melbourne because that’s where historically I’ve played my best tennis and have had the most success in Grand Slams. I enjoy it a lot so I’m excited to, hopefully, have a great start to the year as I’ve had in previous seasons and see where it takes me from there.”
5pm: Semi-final 1: Novak Djokovic v Stefanos Tsitsipas
Not before 7pm: Semi-final 2: Rafael Nadal v Khachanov/Chung