In the wake of Roger Federer’s retirement, and with Rafael Nadal (36), Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic (both 35) all in the latter stages of their careers, tennis is entering a new era.
But Nadal – who leads that so-called Big Four with a men’s record of 22 Grand Slam singles titles – has issued a brutal reality check to the new generation of superstars, saying he is “almost sure” that there won’t be a pair of players who reach 20-plus majors – the stunning milestone that Nadal (22), Djokovic (21) and Federer (20) all reached.
In 2022, teen sensation and world number one Carlos Alcaraz won the US Open, beating Casper Ruud in the final – the loser of the 2022 French Open to Rafael Nadal. Nick Kyrgios and Daniil Medvedev were the defeated parties in the other two Grand Slam finals.
With Roger Federer’s retirement and other rising stars claiming big tournaments (and big upsets) throughout the season, it felt like a turning point.
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As Australia’s Alex de Minaur said Saturday: “I think there’s a very interesting kind of era of tennis coming up with a lot of chances and opportunities.”
He added: “Well, I think it’s already started. If you look back at last year, the results will show that. I think it’s already started.
“I think this year’s going to be another chance and another opportunity for many more new players to stamp their authority, put their mark on tennis, and reach the top of the game.”
Asked on Saturday about the next generation, Nadal was full of praise – but was blunt on the prospect of them ever matching his incredible triumvirate with Djoker and Fed.
“I can’t predict the future,” he said. “Some of the names that you named, they are super good. Carlos (Alcaraz) has one Grand Slam, the others have zero yet. If we start talking about achieving 22 Grand Slams, 21, 20, I mean, it’s a big deal.
“That can happen, yes. Why not? But at the same time never happened in the past. (It) will not be easy that happens two generations in a row.
“That’s just putting the logical perspective on the room, no? They are super good. They’re going to have amazing career. They’re going to win slams. They’re going to win a lot of tournaments, yes.
“Some of them, I can’t be sure, but I’m almost sure not two players of this generation (are) going to achieve 20, 21, and 22 Grand Slams.
“If someone can reach that number – maybe – it’s going to be difficult, they have a lot of things to do in front. But you never know what can happen.
“I mean, probably because (there) have been three players that achieved that much, we lose a little bit of perspective how difficult is all of this, no?
“We are here playing tennis at the age of 36, and you need to have a very, very long career. Injuries are there. Circumstances in life. Don’t talk about the level of tennis because that’s probably a thing you can have, but then there is a lot of different facts in life that can happen that makes this situation or these results difficult.
“(There’s) no doubt about the potential they have, but the circumstances in life, to put the pressure on their shoulders to achieve these kind of numbers, I don’t think it’s fair.”
Originally published as ‘Don’t think it’s fair’: Rafa’s harsh reality check to next generation of tennis stars