“Margin is Shrinking”: Former Top-10 Player Says Rafael Nadal Nadal and Novak Djokovic Remain Strong Despite Next-Gen’s Push

Published 05/18/2021, 5:02 AM EDT
Tennis – ATP Masters 1000 – Italian Open – Foro Italico, Rome, Italy – May 16, 2021 Spain’s Rafael Nadal shakes hands with Serbia’s Novak Djokovic after winning the final REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane


Veteran French tennis star Gilles Simon has said that the levels of Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have dropped at recent events but they still have enough in their arsenal to reach finals and lift titles.

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In an interview with French sports daily L’Equipe, Simon, who suffered an opening-round exit at the ongoing clay court event in Lyon, said the gap between the Big 3 (moniker for Nadal, Djokovic, and Roger Federer) and the Next-Gen is “shrinking” as they get older.

Gilles Simon says Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have inner strength to take them to wins

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As was in evidence at the Italian Open, the Frenchman said that despite physical constraints and age, Nadal and Djokovic could count on their inner strength and self-belief to take them to wins.

Novak Djokovic of Serbia shakes hands with Rafael Nadal of Spain after winning the match point during their final singles match daring day 10 of the ATP Cup at Ken Rosewall Arena in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Andy Cheung/Getty Images)

While the current World No. 1 came out on the winning side of close to five hours of a grueling court battle with Stefanos Tsitsipas and Lorenzo Sonego to reach the Rome final, the nine-time champion recorded hard-earned wins against Jannik Sinner and Denis Shapovalov in the opening rounds to lift his 10th title.

“The margin is shrinking, their level of play has dropped a little with the constraints of age but they still reach the final. I found Nadal and Djokovic less efficient than a few years ago,” Simon said.

(Quotes have been translated)

He added that the emergence of Net-Gen stars, who bring different playing styles to the court, has made it increasingly difficult for the Big 3 to hold their own, as the matches are getting longer and the level competition a lot closer.

“They have less margin, they are more and more hooked by increasingly different players, they have fewer and fewer quiet matches, but…it holds! This is where you see they are strong,” the current World No. 68 said.

Gilles Simon says winning on clay doesn’t figure in Roger Federer’s plans

On whether Federer will get enough match time in Geneva to make a strong case for a title run at Roland-Garros this year, Simon said that winning a title on clay doesn’t figure in his goals anymore.

The 36-year-old Frenchman added that the motivation for playing Geneva is for the Swiss champion to put some miles in his legs, build a winning momentum and bring the gains to the lawns of Wimbledon.

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“He plays on clay to hope to win matches, polish his physique and bring it all to the grass…The Grand Slam he has in mind is Wimbledon. Roland is part of the plan,” Simon said.

Federer will open his maiden Geneva campaign with a second-round clash against veteran Spaniard Pablo Andujar.

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Priyabrata Chowdhury

971 articles

Priyabrata Chowdhury is a tennis author for EssentiallySports. He has been a print journalist for a decade, producing news pages for leading national dailies such as the Hindustan Times and The New Indian Express. His passion for sports eventually drove him to tennis writing.

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