US Open 2019: Medvedev can bring 'Next Gen' into the present with Flushing Meadows breakthrough

By Sports Desk September 08, 2019

For even the most casual tennis observer, the term 'Next Gen' has been an impossible one to avoid in recent years.

The ATP has been relentless in promoting its Next Generation, the best singles players on the tour aged 21 and under. It created a Next Generation ATP Finals in 2017, but the argument that there actually is a new group of stars ready to assume the mantle from three of the greatest of all time will not gain credence until the trio's run of grand slam dominance is brought to a halt.

Not since Stan Wawrinka's triumph at the 2016 US Open has anyone other than Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer lifted a grand slam trophy, with Dominic Thiem's two defeats to the Spaniard the closest any of the supposed heir apparents have come to ending that run.

However, the idea there is life after the 'Big Three' could gain significant steam when the US Open comes to an end on Sunday, when one former Next Gen ATP finals participant contests the final with Nadal having been the story of the men's draw at Flushing Meadows.

As Djokovic and Federer suffered, by their incredible standards, early exits and Nadal motored his way through the draw, Daniil Medvedev has stolen the limelight.

Much of the attention he has received has come off the back of his controversial third-round match with Feliciano Lopez, in which he was seen to show a middle-finger to the crowd amid a disagreement with the umpire, making him public enemy number one, a role he accepted with relish.

Yet all the hype around the boos and the joy he has taken in receiving them has helped bring the quality of his game into focus.

A third-place finisher in the inaugural Next Gen Finals, Medvedev has demonstrated extraordinary defence, excellent movement, a strong serve and enough power to live with any player on tour.

Unbeaten in 11 matches, the world number five also displayed an ability to adapt his game to the situation, his performance on one good leg against Wawrinka, in which he worked the Swiss around the court with the drop shot and lob, among the finest of any seen in the men's draw in 2019.

That showing, and his subsequent straight-sets defeat of Grigor Dimitrov, will have raised hope that Medvedev is good enough to beat Nadal, even with the 18-time major champion appearing invincible in New York.

Should that prove to be the case, the continual disappointments of the likes of Alexander Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas will be forgotten.

Yet the only history Nadal and Medvedev have together is not on the Russian's side.

Medvedev's last defeat came on a hard court against Nadal, who crushed him 6-3 6-0 in the final of the Rogers Cup. Nadal, for his part, does not read too much into that going into a contest with a player whose 50 match wins is the most on the ATP Tour this year.

"Of course, [it] helps a little bit. But honestly, I think he's making the steps forward every single day," Nadal said at a media conference. "I will face the player who has won more matches this year, and the player who is playing at the highest level for a while."

It is a final defined by a fascinating narrative, the world's in-form player against an all-time great, bidding to keep the 'big three' streak alive at a tournament where the defeats and injuries suffered by Djokovic and Federer has made the era seem closer to its end than ever before.

Nadal, though, is not motivated by thoughts of keeping their superiority intact.

"We don't need to hold this era anymore," said Nadal. "We have been here for 15 years almost. [It's] going to happen sooner than later that this era is going to end. It's arriving.

"I am 33. Novak is 32. Roger is 38. Andy [Murray] is 32, too. The clock is not stopping. That's part of the cycle of life.

"I'm not worried about this because in tennis there is always going to be great champions."

There will always be great champions but, if Medvedev becomes one in New York, it will be the clearest sign yet that the ATP's 'Next Generation' is finally becoming its present.

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