London: World No. 1 Novak Djokovic has hailed the resolve and extra effort of the older lot of players while hailing the new generation as they play catch-up with the 30-something breed of tennis stars on the ATP Tour.
The season-ending Nitto ATP Finals sees eight of the best singles and doubles pairs play for a total prize fund of $8 million at The O2 Arena in London. The singles winner takes $1.9 million plus accrued amounts from the round-robin matches and 900 Rankings points. An undefeated champion on Sunday night could earn the maximum 1,500 points, and $2.7 million.
Five of the eight players in singles are above 30 with Kei Nishikori (28), Dominic Thiem (25) and Alexander Zverev (21) the other three in the fray for the top prize this year.
With two rounds of round-robin matches, Djokovic is one of two — Kevin Anderson is the other — unbeaten players going into Saturday’s semi-finals. On Thursday, the 31-year-old Serbian handed out a 6-4, 6-1 lesson to 21-year-old Alexander Zverev.
“Maybe it seems like it’s harder nowadays to kind of make that breakthrough, win your first slam, as a teenager than what it used to be maybe 20, 30 or 40 years ago. The level of competition has just risen a bit higher. The level of professionalism, the level of dedication of players that are also ranked between 20 and 50 in the world is quite impressive,” Djokovic noted.
“At least it has improved ever since I started playing on the professional tour. And now, I can actually see that many more players are travelling with one or two people in their team at least, taking everything very seriously, very professionally. That reflects on the quality of their game and results as well. Probably for the younger generation it takes a little bit more effort to make that breakthrough.”
Despite taking a little more than an hour for his lopsided win against his Austrian opponent on Wednesday, Djokovic was considerate. “I know you guys might be a little bit rough on them [younger players]. I think there is a lot of quality in the new generation. Zverev is obviously the leader of that next generation. He has proven himself, established himself as a top player. He has won three Masters 1000 events already, which is quite impressive,” he said.
“Then you have players like [Karen] Khachanov, of course, [Stefanos] Tsitsipas, [Borna] Coric. I think tennis is in good hands. At the same time I think us older guys, we’re still obviously working hard and working smart and trying to get the most out of what we have in ourselves left. How long that’s going to go for, we don’t know. Obviously experience plays an important role in these kind of matches, knowing how to kind of approach, play, behave in certain moments, how to deal and cope with pressure. So obviously that’s on our side.”