Tennis: Emerging players are gifted, but there's no Djoker in the pack

(Left) Borna Coric and (right) Dominic Thiem were earmarked by Novak Djokovic as having top-10 potential, but they continue to fall short.
(above) Borna Coric and Dominic Thiem were earmarked by Novak Djokovic as having top-10 potential, but they continue to fall short.PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
(Left) Borna Coric and (right) Dominic Thiem were earmarked by Novak Djokovic as having top-10 potential, but they continue to fall short.
Borna Coric and (above) Dominic Thiem were earmarked by Novak Djokovic as having top-10 potential, but they continue to fall short.PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LONDON • The common belief dictates that this is a golden age of men's tennis and few would argue with Novak Djokovic's brilliance.

His sixth Australian Open led to his third consecutive Grand Slam title and the 11th of his career on Sunday and there is little sign that his grip will slip as he approaches the age of 29.

But domination comes at a cost and predictability is the price paid. Not only did Djokovic win as expected, but Andy Murray and Roger Federer also progressed to the closing stages.

Women's tennis has been forced to take second place since the emergence of the "Big Four", which some may say should be amended to include Stan Wawrinka rather than Rafael Nadal.

Yet, did not the sight of Angelique Kerber raising the Australian Open trophy on Saturday, and Flavia Pennetta the US Open silverware last September, add some much-needed variety?

But is that going to happen in men's tennis? And will a player born in the 1990s win a Grand Slam?

Right now the answer has to be that it is extremely unlikely.

There is a need for new blood at the top and Djokovic, in his hour of victory at Melbourne Park, sounded like Eric Cantona as he tried to use a metaphor to describe the situation.

"The wolf that is going uphill and running up the mountain, he was hungrier than the wolf standing on the hill," the Serb said, in words that resembled Cantona's famed seagull quote.

Djokovic believes there is the requisite desire in emerging players to challenge and has cited the likes of Borna Coric, the 19-year-old Croatian, and Dominic Thiem, a talented Austrian, as potential top-10 players.

But will they become Grand Slam champions?

Coric has never got beyond the third round at a Grand Slam and lost in the first round of the Australian Open for the second year running.

Thiem did at least reach the third round but has never reached the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam and he will be 23 this year.

"All the guys that are out there fighting each week to get to No. 1 are very hungry to get to No. 1, and I know that," Djokovic, who is nicknamed Djoker, said. "I can't allow myself to relax and enjoy.

"There is a mindset one needs to have if you want to stay up there. I think you need to work doubly hard when you're actually up there."

Is Djokovic deluding himself? Are the youngsters really working as hard as they might or does the better conditioning and preparation of the elders ensure that they can stay at the top for longer?

The average age of the ATP World Tour's top 10 is only a fraction short of 30, as high as it has been since the official rankings began in 1973.

Grigor Dimitrov was widely acclaimed as the next superstar a couple of years ago.

The Bulgarian, fast approaching his 25th birthday, is similar to Federer in many aspects of his game and seemed set to start collecting Grand Slam titles.

Yet, after reaching the semi-finals at Wimbledon in 2014, it just has not happened.

"The thing with Grigor is he has most of the attributes in his game but right now he doesn't possess the most important tool and that's the strength of mind to actually win a Major," his former coach Roger Rasheed said.

"He's too easily distracted by things and people off the court."

Rasheed previously coached the Frenchmen Gael Monfils and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and their talent is not in question, yet their respective waits for top honours go on.

"In order to win a Major you need to be obsessed with both the game and the process of becoming the very best," Rasheed said. "There is a big group of younger, very talented players. But they are not going to the lengths required to become the best they can be.

"They are making lots of money and they're thinking that as they get older their time will come.

"There could be more legitimate contenders if some of this group lived each day to become the best player they can.

"Who trains like how Novak, Andy, (David) Ferrer, Rafa did on their way up? Not many, I will tell you."

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 03, 2016, with the headline 'Emerging players are gifted, but no Djoker in the pack'. Print Edition | Subscribe