Big four in tennis still the ones to beat, says Djokovic

No stopping Novak: The world’s highest-ranked tennis player made history by rising from number 22 to number one last season. He is now the oldest year-end world number one. (Ibraheem Al Omari/Reuters)

No stopping Novak: The world’s highest-ranked tennis player made history by rising from number 22 to number one last season. He is now the oldest year-end world number one. (Ibraheem Al Omari/Reuters)

World number one Novak Djokovic said this week that tennis’s “big four” — Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and himself — were still the favourites to win Grand Slam titles in 2019.

Despite a combination of age, injury and the long-held prediction of a new generation of stars about to burst through, Djokovic insisted the four veterans remained the players to beat.

“I think if we are healthy and playing well, the four guys still have probably the best chance to always win slams,” said Djokovic in Doha before playing in his season opener, the Qatar Open.

Djokovic is the favourite to dominate in 2019, having finished last season so strongly, overcoming an injury-hit start to the year to claim the Wimbledon and US Open titles.

The 31-year-old also rose from world number 22 to number one, becoming the oldest player ever to finish the year as the highest-ranked player in the world.

His rivals, especially Nadal and Murray, are still battling to get back to full fitness, increasing the chances that the Serbian could add to his 14 Grand Slam titles.

One more major win and he will overtake Pete Sampras to become third on the all-time list of Grand Slam winners. Only Federer (20) and Nadal (17) have more.

Since and including 2010, the big four have won 32 Grand Slams between them. Djokovic tops that list: 13 of his titles were attained in the current decade.

Djokovic insisted, though, that “the next generation is already there” and singled out Germany’s world number four Alexander Zverev, Croatia’s Borna Coric, the world number 12, and Greece’s number 15 Stefano Tsitsipas as the main threats, saying: “It’s a matter of time when we will see some of them competing in the last stages of Grand Slams.”

Another of those who might challenge the usual suspects is Austria’s Dominic Thiem.
The world number eight admitted it was time for the next generation to step up.

“All the guys who won slams in previous years are on tour, so it will be very tough,” Thiem said.

“Yes, there are four chances for us ... and we are very pumped to take one Grand Slam and maybe it is going to happen this year.” — AFP

David Harding

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