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Djokovic on Potential Future Big 4

By Richard Pagliaro | Thursday, January 5, 2023

Novak Djokovic is not only a game-changing champion.

He's a sharp student of tennis history.

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Surveying the field of fantastic young talents, Djokovic cites four young phenoms—all age 22-and-under—capable of pushing the sport forward.

World No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz, 22-year-old Felix Auger-Aliassime, 19-year-old Holger Rune, who dethroned defending-champion Djokovic to capture his maiden Masters championship in Paris last November and 20-year-old Lorenzo Musetti are the four players Djokovic sees rising and certainly you could add 21-year-old Jannik Sinner to that list.

"What Alcaraz has done last season has been extremely impressive and historic for our sport, so he deserves praise, no doubt," Djokovic told the media in Adelaide. "He's No. 1 in the world. There's no higher peak to climb than that one, and already won a Slam, and he's still so young."

"I guess we're going to see lots of Alcaraz and Rune in the future," Djokovic said. "Then Felix, I think he's probably playing the tennis of his life in the last five, six months.

"Maybe because of Rune and Alcaraz, people don't talk maybe as much about Felix because he's been around a bit longer, but I think he deserves to be right there in the conversation right at the top with these guys, and Musetti, as well, you mentioned, someone that is putting his game together, I think is gaining more confidence and is improving."

Tennis Express

A common connection three of the phenom foursome share: a 2022 win over Djokovic.

The 19-year-old Rune rallied from a break down in the decisive set and fought off six break points in the fierce final game to stun Djokovic 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 and capture his maiden Masters championship in a pulsating Paris Masters final thriller last November.

Auger-Aliassime scalded 13 aces surprising Djokovic 6-3, 7-6(3) at Laver Cup in London last September.

Last May, Alcaraz out-dueled Djokovic 6-7(5), 7-5, 7-6(5) rising to his maiden Mutua Madrid Open final in a dizzying three hour, 35-minute classic match. The 19-year-old Alcaraz made history as the first man to conquer king of clay Rafael Nadal and fellow Big 3 icon Djokovic in succession at a clay-court tournament.

Though Djokovic is 3-0 over Musetti, dominating their hard-court meetings, the Italian shotmaker famously took a two-set lead over the Serbian at the 2021 Roland Garros round of 16 before the former world No. 1 deconstructed the youngster.

"I think it's nice for tennis because we need... other than great tennis players, we also need good personalities, good characters, guys that know the game, respect the game, carry also the weight of the top players in this sport in a proper manner because they are ambassadors of our sport," Djokovic said. "And I think that's something that over the time they will understand better.

"Probably not right now because they're still young, but the sport has given us so much, so I think it's important to be always conscious of the fact that as a top, top player you carry much more responsibility of representing the sport than just yourself."

Grand Slam king Nadal and 21-time Grand Slam champion Djokovic both hope to hold off a future four coronation for now.

"It seems like men's tennis is in good hands for the future," Djokovic said. "I'm sure that Nadal and myself will try to mess up their plans a little bit for I don't know how long, but we'll try."

Photo credit: Getty