Speaking after Alexander Zverev beat both Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic to win the ATP Final last month, Toni Nadal predicted that Federer would not be adding to his current total of 20 Grand Slam titles.
The uncle and former coach of Rafael Nadal believes that the young generation of tennis players represented by the likes of Zverev, Borna Coric and Karen Khachanov have made a “quality leap”, and are now ready to win the sport’s biggest trophies.
Nadal said: “For some time I had my doubts about whether the youngsters would be able to overcome the game of Federer on grass, the one of Djokovic on fast courts, and the one of Rafael on clay.”
“And I had the impression that the change would be caused rather by the decline of some than by the attack of others. The final in London has made me think about it.”
However, before the obituaries are written on Federer’s Grand Slam career, perhaps it is time to consider a few counter arguments.
First of all, for all the talk of “new generation breakthrough” there is no evidence that any of them are ready to win a slam yet.
Zverev has never got beyond the third round in either Melbourne or New York, and boasts of just one quarter final appearance in Paris last year to his name.
Coric’s record is even poorer, with his best coming when he reached the fourth round in Flushing Meadows three month ago.
Federer, by contrast, in addition to his 20 wins, has appeared at the quarter-final stage or better on 32 other occasions in Grand Slams. In other words, he is a serial achiever in Slams.
Secondly, Grand Slams are played over five sets, which is a test of both mental and physical stamina. Federer may be ceding more than 15 years to some of his younger opponents, but he has consistently demonstrated his ability to compete with them in longer tournaments.
Furthermore, he has chosen to restrict the number of tournaments that he plays now, so he can focus on the Grand Slams and prestigious Masters Events.
By contrast, some of his younger rivals have a heavier workload than the Swiss, meaning they incur a greater risk of fatigue and injury. Winning a tournament like the ATP Finals with its round-robin and best of three set format is one thing, claiming a Grand Slam title is something else altogether.
And the third reason? Simply put it is because Federer has got an incredible desire to win which has kept him at the top of the sport when many of his peers have long since retired and hung up their racquets. As Nadal himself says:
“I have to confess that I said that on other occasions and The Swiss, repeatedly, surprised me.”