MWTC 2019: Novak Djokovic admits next generation stars getting 'closer and closer'

But Serbian in no mood to end his share of the “Big Three” dominance anytime soon

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Novak Djokovic has admitted that the ATP Tour’s next generation are getting “closer and closer” to disrupting the top order, although the Serbian warned he has no plans on ending his share of the “Big Three” dominance.

Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, and Roger Federer have collectively been the pre-eminent force of men’s tennis for the past 15 years, winning a combined 55 grand slams and a total 264 ATP Tour titles between them.

While their grip on the four grand slams remained tight in 2019, there were clear signs that the younger, chasing pack are closing a gap that for a long time was simply too wide – aside from the efforts of Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka.

Dominic Thiem, the world No 4, reached his second successive French Open final, fifth-ranked Daniil Medvedev contested the US Open final, Stefanos Tsitsipas won the season-ending ATP Finals, while four of the nine Masters 1000 titles went to players not names Djokovic, Nadal, or Federer.

“I think it’s a natural and logical cycle,” Djokovic, 32, said at the media day for the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi. “You expect things to happen that way. Roger, Rafa and I were saying that it’s going to happen, we are going to be replaced in the top three spots and the new guys are going to start winning slams.

“We are trying to prolong their wait! It is inevitable though and each year they are getting closer and closer. You had Dominic Thiem playing in the final of Roland Garros back-to-back, Stefanos Tsitsitpas won the year-end in London, [Alexander] Zverev the year before.

“They are out there challenging the best players in the world and they want to be the best players in the world – and they will be eventually. These guys are already established top-five, top-10 players and our task is to make sure that it doesn’t happen very soon, but it seems like it’s coming closer.”

Djokovic, who won his 15th and 16th grand slam titles last season at the Australian Open and Wimbledon, is understandably targeting success in the four majors in 2020. Melbourne has been the Serbian’s own playground, winning a record seven titles since he clinched his first major title there in 2008, and getting a busy, Olympic season underway with an eighth title at Melbourne Park is a clear priority.

“The slams are always up there and the Olympic Games. But I rate team competitions right up there because I really enjoy them – Davis Cup and next year the ATP Cup,” Djokovic, the defending champion in Abu Dhabi, said.

“I really want to kick off the season in a positive way at the ATP Cup … and hopefully to be in top shape for Melbourne. That is where, historically, I have played my best tennis and my most successful grand slam. I enjoy playing there a lot, so I’m excited to hopefully have a great start to the year as I had in the previous season and see where it takes me.”

Djokovic has experienced a quick turnaround since competing in the Davis Cup last month – where he won all three matches for Serbia. However, for a player famed for his immense fitness levels and powers of recovery, not to mention his wealth of experience, he is sure to be in top condition for the new season.

“I rested well and had some really good family time,” said Djokovic, who will play Stefanos Tsitsipas in the MWTC semi-finals on Friday. “Not that long of an off-season for me … but it’s been a successful season and I’ve been reflecting positively on it. At the same time, I’m looking forward to new challenges in 2020.”