Before the 2019 Australian Open, the seven-time Grand Slam-winning John McEnroe said he believed there would be a changing of the guard this year. Following the victory of 20-year-old Björn Borg-esque Stefanos Tsitsipas over Roger Federer in the quarterfinals, McEnroe was pumped up and said it again. On paper, these statements look exciting; we have been waiting for some competitive newcomers for a long time. Looking back to the first major of the year, the reality is that the juggernauts are still way ahead of the others.
In the semis, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal showed what I’m talking about: Nadal lost only six games to Tsisipas, and then the next day Lucas Pouille got demolished by Djokovic – he only won four games. Djokovic and Nadal proved once again that to claim that next generation is here and ready to command would surely be a bridge too far.
Furthermore, in the final, just to deepen this crisis, Djokovic gave a taste of what the next couple of years may look like under his reign. That 17-time Grand Slam winning guy on the other side of the net didn’t have a clue where on earth he was. He seemed lost and devastated from the first rally, while Djokovic was living his best life; he was in his zone, as The Ringer’s journalist wrote in this magnificent article. Djokovic was simply faultless. This kind of tennis is something we may have never seen before.
The thing is when Novak Djokovic is playing his best, perhaps only one human being could beat him, and that is Stan Wawrinka – but the problem is, Wawrinka reached his peak quite late, and now after recovering from various injuries he is trying to find his rhythm (a couple of weeks prior to his 34th birthday). It’s safe to say that we will never have the chance to have another legendary Wawrinka-Djokovic thriller in a Grand Slam final.
While Djokovic had been closing on his 15th Grand Slam trophy, the Eurosport commentators were making enthusiastic conversation on the differences of the winners hit by both players. The main point was when Nadal hit a winner, it was the result of effort, but when Djokovic did the same, it looked more like routine.
It seems that winning three consecutive Grand Slams is now a routine for Djokovic, too. This was his third triple; the last time he went to Paris and won the fourth, so keep that in your mind until May. Everybody knows that Nadal is nearly untouchable at the Chatrier, but maybe it would be a bold move to underestimate the desire of the number one player in the world.
Djokovic wants to be the best who has ever played this game, and he is definitely getting there. A win over Nadal in the Roland Garros would answer some open question for good. In the meantime, these NextGen stars have to wait a little bit longer; the room is still full of some old sports who don’t intend to go anywhere until the other two are standing straight.
Cover photo by REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon