Is this a changing of the guard?

Are the Big Three in trouble, with World No 1 Novak Djokovic suffering a rare meltdown at Tokyo 2020 and leaving with a shoulder injury that is putting his participation at the US Open in some doubt, Rafael Nadal’s shock defeat in Washington at the hands of 50th-ranked Lloyd Harris on Wednesday, and Roger Federer pulling out of Toronto and Cincinnati because his knee continues to trouble him?

For me [the important thing] is just [to] keep going. Accept the challenge that I need to keep working, and I’ll probably have another chance next week in Toronto. I’m going to keep trying my best. Rafael Nadal

Add to the mix, Andy Murray’s stuttering return to competition and we are, perhaps, now reaching the changing of the guard.

Alexander Zverev took the Olympic spoils after hammering Djokovic in the semi-finals and, suddenly, the Next Generation can detect some vulnerability in the Serbian.

Nadal overcame a lingering foot injury on Wednesday evening to beat home favourite Jack Sock in a final-set tiebreak in front of an energised crowd, before Harris, who hails from South Africa, stopped the top seed from working his magic again on Thursday, winning 6-4 1-6 6-4.

The Spaniard had not competed since Roland Garros due to the foot injury that kept him off the court for 20 days, making him miss Wimbledon, and he only returned to practice for 30 minutes a day in his build up to his return in Washington.

“Playing in Washington allows me to be on the tour one week before than what I do usually for this part of the season,” Nadal said at the start of the week. “But missing Wimbledon, I think that’s the right thing to do. The decision I think was the right one.”

The North American hard-court swing is important for Nadal, who is tied with both Federer and Djokovic for the most Grand Slam singles titles with 20 each, and level with the Serbian for the record of ATP Masters 1000 crowns with 36.

Nadal is impressed by Djokovic’s performance in 2021, particularly winning his 3rd major title of the season at Wimbledon, putting the Serbian a US Open trophy away from becoming the first man to complete the calendar-year Grand Slam since Rod Laver in 1969.

“He’s already won three, so when you win three, you can win four, without a doubt,” Nadal said of his chances. “He’s going to be playing on hard courts, probably his best surface, so why not?

“Of course it’s something difficult. [There are] going to be other guys that want to achieve the last Slam of the season. But of course he’s one of the clear favourites.”

There was an element of uncertainty surrounding Nadal, who had not played a tournament for nearly 2 months, but he got himself past Sock before falling to Harris in a tough three-setter against the fearless South African in front of a raucous Washington crowd that was fully behind the Spaniard.

“The most positive thing is my foot was better today than yesterday, so that’s the best news possible,” Nadal said. “I played against a player that played well.

“For the moment, I think I played better than yesterday but, in the third, when I had opportunities, the truth is his serve was huge, and I played this last game really badly.”

Lloyd Harris scored the result of his life defeating Rafael Nadal to reach the quarter-finals in Washington, DC.

© Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Nadal was very much in the match as he served at 4-5 in the decider, having earned the only break point in the third set, but Harris seized the moment and upset the World No 3, finishing the job with a perfect lob.

“You can’t have mistakes in the key moments, and in the key moments, I think, in the last game, I was a little bit more nervous,” Nadal said. “My serve was not working the proper way. That’s it. Yes, well done for him.

“It’s a great victory for him. I wish him all the very best.”

The 20-time major champion will drop out from the top-3 on Monday, following his early Citi Open loss.

The 35-year-old celebrated the 650th week in the elite group two months ago, becoming the second player since 1973 to achieve that after Federer.

Nadal is set to compete in next week’s National Bank Open Presented by Rogers in Toronto, where he has won the Canadian Masters 1000 event 5 times and can break his tie of 36 with Djokovic for the most ATP Masters 1000 titles.

“For me [the important thing] is just [to] keep going. Accept the challenge that I need to keep working, and I’ll probably have another chance next week in Toronto,” Nadal said. “I’m going to keep trying my best.”

Daniil Medvedev will headline in Toronto, where Nadal is joined by Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas, Russian Andrey Rublev, home favourite Denis Shapovalov and #NextGenATP Italian Jannik Sinner.

Medvedev and Tsitsipas made their first Masters 1000 final at this tournament, in 2019 and 2018 respectively, and both lost to Nadal in in that championship match.

Roger Federer's last match was a loss to Hubert Hurkacz in the Wimbledon quarter-finals

© Glyn Kirk/AFP via Getty Images

Former World No 1 Federer has withdrawn from Toronto and the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati due to a knee injury.

The 39-year-old underwent two right knee surgeries in 2020 after the Australian Open before returning to the Tour in Doha this March, and has competed in 5 tournaments this year, recently missing the Tokyo Olympics due to injury.

When he announced his withdrawal from the Olympics, Federer tweeted: “During the grass-court season, I unfortunately experienced a setback with my knee.”

The current World No 9’s best result this season was a run to the Wimbledon quarter-finals.

The 28-time Masters 1000 champion also competed at Roland Garros, where he reached the 4th round before withdrawing.

Federer has enjoyed success in Canada, winning two titles in Toronto, and is a record-holding 7-time champion in Cincinnati.

It was also announced on Thursday that Tokyo Olympics singles gold medallist Zverev will not compete in Toronto either.

“I regret to inform you that, unfortunately, I have to withdraw from the National Bank Open in Toronto,” Zverev said in a statement. “Due to the intense past couple of weeks and my incredible experience at the Olympics, I need to recover so that I can hopefully be at my best for the remainder of the US summer swing.

“It was a difficult decision for me as I have had great memories from Canada and I can’t wait to be back next year!”

Italian Matteo Berrettini, Canadian Milos Raonic and Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta have also withdrawn from Toronto.

Novak Djokovic smashes his racket during his Tokyo 2020 Olympic Tennis Event as he went down to Pablo Carreno Busta in the Bronze medal match

© Tiziana Fabi/AFP via Getty Images

Meanwhile, speculation surrounds Djokovic after his emotional outbursts that stole the headlines at the Olympics.

During his loss to Spain’s Carreno Busta, Djokovic smashed his racket several times and even threw one up into the empty stands after losing a point.

Two-time Grand Slam champion Tracy Austin thought it strange to see a top player lose control in such a fashion.

“First of all, Djokovic imploding, I have never seen a player where they actually kind of hit the ball in the net and take the racket and chuck it 15 rows up into the stadium,” Austin told the Tennis Channel in the US.

“I will say, for Djokovic, he’s being compared to Federer and Nadal; these are like Mother Teresa and the Dalai Lama [of tennis].

“I mean, you know, they don’t do anything wrong. If he played in the era of John McEnroe, Ilie Nastase, and Jimmy Connors, he’d be number four,” she added.

Djokovic was up by a set and a break against Zverev in the semi-final but even that wasn’t enough for him to clinch victory.

“It was a true privilege to represent #SRB at the Olympics. Thank you #Tokyo2020 and everyone that helped us come together for the magic of sport,” Djokovic said in a Twitter post.

“I know in my heart I gave it everything to fight for a medal, and I’m looking forward to coming back stronger at #Paris2024.”

After his loss in the bronze medal match, Djokovic pulled out of the mixed doubles bronze medal match due to a shoulder injury.

“I apologise to all the fans in Serbia who I have disappointed,” Djokovic told Serbian reporters, according to Tennis Majors. “I know everyone expected a medal, I did too.

“I feel bad for Nina because we did not fight for a medal in mixed, but my body said ’enough’: I have played under medications and abnormal pain and exhaustion.

“But again, my heart is in the right place, because I know that I gave my all.

“It is a privilege to play for Serbia, I want to play in Paris. If I am there, I hope to win a medal.”

Despite his Golden Slam hopes now over, Djokovic still has a lot to play for this year.

Àlex Corretja, the two-time French Open finalist, in a recent interview, spoke about Djokovic’s chances of winning the US Open after an emotionally draining two weeks at the Olympics.

Corretja, a former World No 2, feels Djokovic needs to recover fully before the start of the US Open and believes his mental toughness would help him in getting back stronger.

“Now he needs to rest and recover because it has been a blow,” he said. “New York is one month away and we will see if he plays any tournaments, but he has shown that, mentally, he is a rock.

“The motivation to place the 21st in his record in September is going to be so great that it will make a clean slate.

“Djokovic is going to continue winning Grand Slams,” Corretja concluded.

Andy Murray pulled out of the singles at Tokyo 2020 but played in the doubles

© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Elsewhere, Murray has accepted a wild-card entry for the Cincinnati Masters.

The former World No 1’s last competitive singles match was a 3rd-round defeat at Wimbledon as he opted to withdraw from the singles event at the Tokyo Olympics due to a minor thigh strain.

He still teamed up with Joe Salisbury in the men’s doubles, but after losing in the quarter-finals he vowed that he will ‘see how the injury heals’ and won’t ‘rush’ his return.

Murray’s team, though, indicated that he should be fit for the US Open, which starts on 30 August and by accepting a wild-card for Cincinnati it seems that the hard-court Grand Slam remains part of his plans.

The 34-year-old is a two-time former winner in Cincinnati as he won titles there in 2008 and 2011, while last year he defeated Frances Tiafoe and 5th seed Alexander Zverev before losing in the 3rd round against Raonic.



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