LONDON • When Novak Djokovic celebrates his 30th birthday today, the seemingly cement-rigid face of the summit of men's tennis will see something never experienced before.
For the first time since the computerised ATP World Tour rankings began in August 1973, all the top five will be in their fourth decade.
Such is the dominance exercised by the quintet of Andy Murray, Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer that they have monopolised every Grand Slam title for 12 years, with the exceptions of those two against-the-odds US Open titles of Juan Martin del Potro in 2009 and Marin Cilic three years ago.
Due to injury, suspension and simply not being in the same league of consistency as the leading five, the two interlopers have not aspired to following up their victories.
Get The Straits Times
newsletters in your inbox
However, none of those players at the top of the game have been devoid of problems, with Murray presently the most troubled as he tries to rediscover his form in time for the French Open.
Milos Raonic is the only player born in the 1990s who has managed to contest a Grand Slam final and he will turn 27 at the end of the year.
So, what has been the problem with emergent players?
One long-standing coach, who wishes to remain nameless because his player is one of that chasing group, insists: "It's not the fact the younger guys are not good enough because they are. The problem is the likes of Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray are very special players who have probably suffered the misfortune of all playing at the same time.
"Look back over the years and there have been a couple or maybe three outstanding players who were contemporaries; (Jimmy) Connors and (Bjorn) Borg, (John) McEnroe and (Ivan) Lendl, (Pete) Sampras and (Andre) Agassi, (Boris) Becker and (Stefan) Edberg.
"Sure, a few overlapped but they didn't have the staying power of these guys.
"They work harder in terms of conditioning and strength. They have injuries and drops in form like everyone else but they find solutions and come back stronger. Plus racket and string technology allows them to stay powerful for longer.
"Look at this year, with Nadal using a heavier racket, and the difference it has made. Or Federer using a slightly bigger racket. But, whatever it is, it makes life so frustrating for those of us who are trying to coach others into changing the order of things."
A week away from the start of his French Open title defence, Djokovic on Saturday struck a blow for the older generation at the Italian Open with a stunning 6-1, 6-0 win against Dominic Thiem, who a day earlier had ended Nadal's 17-match winning run on clay.
Djokovic overwhelmed the 23-year-old Austrian, who many believe to be a contender for the Roland Garros title.
The Serb later insisted: "My confidence and my best game are now back."
THE TIMES, LONDON