Unexpected threat to Big Four of tennis
TENNIS: The next generation of men's tennis is not just knocking at the door at this year's Australian Open, they are pounding at it.
But it appears we have missed an entire generation because the players most fancied to take up from the likes of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are nowhere to be seen with five days to go in the first Grand Slam tournament of the year.
The anticipated next generation of superstars - world No.3 Grigor Dimitrov, ousted by Brit Kyle Edmund in Tuesday's quarter-final, and No.5 Dominic Thiem, who lost to American journeyman Tennys Sandgren on Monday - have yet been able to string together seven best-of-five set matches.
Players born in the five-year period from 1990-94, like Dimitrov, Thiem, Diego Schwartzman, David Goffin, Bernard Tomic, Milos Raonic and Jack Sock do not have a single major title to their name.
They may infamously go down as the forgotten generation, or worse, the bagel (zero) generation if they are not able to get a wriggle on.
Their window of opportunity is closing as the new next generation, led by Korean Chung Hyeon, 21, and Brit Kyle Edmund, 22, look to slam it shut.
Not to mention the Big Four era continues to cling on to supremacy for the time being.
Remarkably Federer, 36, and Nadal, 31, each won two of the majors last year and the greatest off all time is favourite to win his sixth Australian Open on Sunday, 14 years after he won his first.
Dimitrov, who turns 27 in May, is already beyond the normal age of a first-time Grand Slam champion. The average age to win a first major title is 24 and only six players, Thomas Muster (27), Stan Wawrinka (28), Goran Ivanisevic (29), Petr Korda (30), Andres Gomez (30) and Andres Gimeno (34) have done so after they have blown out 27 candles.
The golden generation (born 1985-89) of Nadal (14), Novak Djokovic (12), Andy Murray (3), Stan Wawrinka (3), Juan Martin Del Potro (1) and Marin Cilic (1) have a combined 36 major titles.
That's not including the men's record of 19 majors won by Federer who leads the 1980-84 group with a combined total of 25 titles.
Dimitrov's generation is not the first to be overshadowed by the previous group of tennis legends. Players born between 1975-79 only managed to win seven major titles as the Sampras-Agassi-Courier generation (1970-74) proved a hard act to follow as they compiled 35 titles.
Meanwhile, the new blood, born between 1995-1999, are on the rise.
Chung, who plays Sandgren in the quarter-final on Wednesday, and Edmund, who awaits Cilic in Thursday's semi-final, have demanded attention.
The Big Four era changed the game with a brutal physicality required and a high level, both mentally and technically, maintained for four-plus hours on the 14th day of a major.
The bar too high for one generation, at least for now, will be raised by the next generation with all guns blazing as they look to bring down their idols.
Much like Chung's mirror-image upset of six-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic on Monday night and Edmund's uncompromising display against Dimitrov on Tuesday.
The next generation see their idol's intensity, have held their nerve, and have raised them with big cuts on the ball and high-risk play more the norm.
"In my opinion, there is less work inside the point," Nadal said earlier in the week.
"Since a couple of years ago, I feel that the tour became little bit more crazy in that aspect, no?
"People are going for the point quicker than before. The players are returning faster than before, going for the winners since the return. From the baseline, at the minimum opportunity, people go for the shot, no? We used to wait for the right ball to go for the winner. Now you go for the winner even in not very good positions."
You can't count out anyone but the 18 to 22-year-olds, including Chung, Edmund, Alexander Zverev and Nick Kyrgios will smash through that door soon enough.
Kyrgios took great steps this event before his fourth-round loss to Dimitrov but there is something missing and many experts have said it is a coach.
Murray, who at 25 won his first major with Ivan Lendl in his corner in 2012, holds the key to the Australian's future success.
It was only a Big Three until Murray developed the ability to stay focused and within himself, going on to claim three major titles.
Time will tell. But imagine, four years from now, the 2022 Australian Open top 10 seeds, along with the super coaches of the future.
2022 Australian Open top 10 seeds (all born between 1995-99, in no particular order): Kyrgios (Murray), Chung (Djokovic), Zverev (Federer), Denis Shapovalov (Nadal), Edmund (Tim Henman), Borna Coric (Goran Ivanisevic), Andrey Rublev (Marat Safin), Jared Donaldson (Andy Roddick), Daniil Medvedev (Andrei Medvedev), Wu Yibing (Li Na). Aussie hopefuls Alex De Minaur (Lleyton Hewitt) and Alexei Popyrin (Darren Cahill) will be in the mix too.
10 tennis generations (major titles breakdown by birth years):
1950-54 (17 titles): Jimmy Connors (8), Guilermo Vilas (4), Adriano Panatta (1), Roscoe Tanner (1), Mark Edmondson (1), Vitas Gerulaitis (1), Brian Teacher (1).
1955-1959 (20 titles): Bjorn Borg (11), John McEnroe (7), Johan Kriek (2).
1960-64 (17 titles): Ivan Lendl (8), Mats Wilander (7), Yannick Noah (1), Andres Gomez (1).
1965-1969 (16 titles): Stefan Edberg (6), Boris Becker (6), Pat Cash (1), Thomas Muster (1), Michael Stich (1), Petr Korda 1.
1970-1974 (35 titles): Pete Sampras (14), Andre Agassi (8), Jim Courier (4), Pat Rafter (2), Yevgeny Kafelnikov (2), Richard Krajicek (1), Goran Ivanisevic (1), Sergi Bruguera (1), Michael Chang (1).
1975-79 (7 titles): Gustavo Kuerten (3), Thomas Johansson (1), Albert Costa (1), Carlos Moya (1), Gaston Gaudio (1).
1980-1984 (25 titles): Roger Federer (19), Lleyton Hewitt (2), Marat Safin (2), Andy Roddick (1), Juan Carlos Ferrero.
1985-1989 (36 titles): Rafael Nadal (16), Novak Djokovic (12), Andy Murray (3), Stan Wawrinka (3), Juan Martin Del Potro (1), Marin Cilic (1).
1990-1994 (0 titles): Grigor Dimitrov, David Goffin, Milos Raonic, Dominic Thiem, Pablo Carreno Busta, Diego Schwartzman, Jack Sock, Bernard Tomic.
1995-1999 (0 titles): Nick Kyrgios, Kyle Edmund, Chung Hyeon, Alexander Zverev, Audrey Rublev, Denis Shapovalov, Alex De Minaur and Alexei Popyrin.