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World No 1 Novak Djokovic insists the next generation still have “a lot of work to do” to overthrow himself, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer at the very top of men’s tennis.
Djokovic is looking to win his 18th career Grand Slam at the Australian Open this weekend and has surged into a third straight final in Melbourne.
Despite carrying an injury – which the 33-year-old says however is now much better – the Serbian came through clashes with Taylor Fritz, Milos Raonic, Alexander Zverev and Aslan Karatsev to get to the final.
Once he gets past the quarter-finals, Djokovic has an 100 per cent record at the Australian Open as he bids for what would be his ninth crown Down Under.
His 18th success would move him two behind Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, who are both on an all-time record of 20 majors apiece after the former won the French Open for a 13th time in October.
Since Federer won Wimbledon in 2003, the Swiss and long-time rivals Nadal and Djokovic have claimed 57 of an available 69 Slams to date.
That is despite the fact it was not until 2005 when ‘King of Clay’ Nadal won his first Slam at Roland Garros while 2008 saw Djokovic claim his first ever major in Australia.
Bit Federer, who returns to the ATP Tour in March after over a year out due to injury, is now 39 and will be 40 in August while Djokovic will be 34 in May, Nadal then turning 35 the following month.
The trio are steadily coming to the end of their careers, although Nadal remains dominant in Paris and Djokovic is still going strong at the top of the men’s rankings, and that has led to talk of a changing of the guard.
In truth, such discussions have been ongoing for several years and yet still the three reign supreme.
Dominic Thiem, Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev are seen as the four biggest rivals to Djokovic, Nadal and Federer – the four currently ranked at world No 3, No 4, No 6 and No 7 respectively.
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But Djokovic insists he and his two fellow ‘Big Three’ players will not allow their younger opponents to topple them as the sport’s biggest threats at Slams to overtake them without a mighty effort.
“Pressure is always there, it’s part of what we do, but pressure is also a privilege,” Djokovic told Eurosport of the threat of the next generation.
“It means that you are in the mix, that you’re still doing something that is important and valuable for you and the rest of the tennis world.
“There’s been a lot of talk about, the new generation’s coming and taking over the three of us but realistically that isn’t happening still.
“We can talk about it all day if you want but with all my respect about the other guys, they still have a lot of work to do.
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“Of course Dominic Thiem winning a Grand Slam title is fantastic. These guys are very strong, have played high quality tennis without a doubt.
“Certainly they will be the leaders of the future of tennis, without a doubt.
“But I’m not just going to hand it over to them. I’m going to make them work their a** off for that.”
Djokovic will take on either 25-year-old Russian Medvedev or 22-year-old Greek Tsitsipas in the final of the Australian Open.
The duo go head-to-head at 8.30am UK time on Friday morning in the second semi-final of the 2021 Australian Open.
And Djokovic is wary of both of the duo, although they have only ever contested one Grand Slam final combined, when Nadal beat Medvedev in the final of the 2019 US Open.
The top seed said: “Regardless of who I face on Sunday, you know, it’s gonna be – I’m ready for the battle for the toughest match of the tournament, without a doubt.
“I mean, both of these guys are in great form. Medvedev is playing on an extremely high quality. He’s on a winning match streak, over 20 matches won. He’s just the man to beat, you know.
“On the other hand, Tsitsipas produced some phenomenal tennis last night against Rafa. Coming back from two sets down against Rafa on a Grand Slam, any Grand Slam, is a huge effort.
“Yeah, I know these two guys have a history between them on and off the court a little bit, so I’m sure there’s gonna be a lot of intensity.
“It’s a great rivalry, I think, that these guys have. I’m gonna watch that match and enjoy it.
“Obviously then train on Saturday for the opponent that I have, you know, work on specifics. The way I felt today I liked my chances and I’m definitely going to go for a title.”
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