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Aussie Open may herald new era

“The young guns are missing a bit of guts. A bit of balls. A bit of ‘Okay, I’m here and I want to win and I’m going to do whatever it takes’.”

John McEnroe

It’s been 19 years since Roger Federer eliminated Pete Sampras in a Wimbledon round of 16 match to usher in a new era in tennis. And it was just more than a decade ago that Federer claimed the throne in tennis by surpassing Sampras’s grand slam record. But since then, there has been no changing of the guard.

Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic share a combined total of 55 slams, with that number likely to increase, despite all three of them passing the 30-year-old mark. However, this Australian Open has opened the door for a different conversation after world number five, 26-year-old Dominic Thiem, outclassed the number one, Nadal, in four sets in the quarterfinals. Thiem will now play world number seven Alexander Zverev (22) on Friday in the semifinals.

Before the match, tennis legends John McEnroe and Boris Becker questioned the mentality of the youngsters trying to break into the top three. “The young guns are missing a bit of guts. A bit of balls. A bit of ‘Okay, I’m here and I want to win and I’m going to do whatever it takes.’ They all fit into the system a little bit and the question is, who is advising them? Who is coaching them?” Becker said.

“You don’t want to see Federer at 45 years old still winning against someone half his age. I think we should, in context, be a little more critical of them to wake them up. Everyone is catering to them and sugar-coating them — they are not winning any majors. That’s not good,” Becker added.

Although McEnroe is aware of the same issues, he also credits the exceptional ability and longevity of the old guard. “The other problem is that these three players — Federer, Nadal, Djokovic — are the three best players that have ever lived; they are better than these other guys. That is the part you cannot escape,” McEnroe told Eurosport.

Federer’s Melbourne miracle in the quarterfinals against Tennys Sandgren on Tuesday provided the action to back up McEnroe’s words. He saved seven match points while nursing an injury, and had the Rod Laver arena rocking, not to mention that he is doing this at 38 years old, an age when most sportsmen are already past their expiry date.

However, with Thiem and Zverev now threatening the top three, this is a  shake-up tennis perhaps needs. For 16 years, it has mostly been the same names engraved on trophies. But if a winning mentality can be shown by either Thiem or Zverev come Sunday, when one of them will play in the final, tennis could enter a too-long-delayed new era.

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Eyaaz Matwadia
Eyaaz Matwadia
Eyaaz Matwadia is a member of the Mail & Guardian's online team.

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