Alexander Zverev’s stunning ATP Tour Finals victory over world number one Novak Djokovic took many in the world of tennis by surprise.
The 21-year old took home the title after defeating the Serbinator in straight sets at the O2 Arena, 6-4, 6-3.
He also became the second player outside the top four to win the tournament after Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov who won last year.
The question now is, will Zverev’s triumph in London inspire a new generation of players to compete against the world’s established elite: namely, Djokovic, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal?
Still the best – but for how long?
Despite Sunday’s defeat to Zverev, Djokovic can be satisfied with what he has achieved in 2018. The 31-year-old added the Wimbledon and US Open titles to his grand slam haul and ended the year at the top of the rankings once again.
He easily beat Zverev in the round-robin stage at the O2, and perhaps the German took advantage of some level of complacency as he dramatically turned the tables in the final.
‘Perhaps the time is ripe for the rising stars of men’s tennis to really make their mark’
The way he was able to raise the level of his performance really surprised the world No.1, and he was unable to deal with the pressure exerted on him by his younger opponent.
Djokovic still has time on his side to increase his slam tally beyond the current 14, but whether Federer has any more in him is open to question.
There is no doubt the Swiss star will be remembered as the greatest men’s player of all time, but he turned 37 in August and surely cannot have much longer at the very highest level.
True, he won his sixth Australian Open title earlier this year, becoming the oldest player to win a grand slam for 45 years, surpassing Ken Rosewall who won in Melbourne in 1972.
With 20 majors in the bag, his place in tennis history is assured, but will 2019 be the year in which Federer’s fortunes begin to wane?
Taking its toll
Whilst he has remained largely injury-free in his illustrious career, the same cannot be said for his great rival Nadal, who has 13 slam titles to his name.
The Spaniard, 32, has suffered a series of injury setbacks in recent seasons, including another at this year’s Aussie Open when he had to retire during his quarter-final against Marin Cilic with a hamstring injury.
It has been 10 years since Nadal has completed a season without sustaining an injury, and his immensely physical style of play is seemingly taking its toll on one of the toughest competitors the sport has even seen.
So perhaps the time is ripe for the rising stars of men’s tennis to really make their mark. Who has the potential to impress in 2019?
The Austrian is on most people’s list of layers to at look out for next season. He has won three titles this year, in St Petersburg, Buenos Aires and Lyon. Although these events are not part of the Masters 500 or 1000 Series, the 25-year old has shown that he has the potential to be a superstar in men’s tennis.
Thiem has had interesting season in terms of participating in the grand slams. The world number eight reached the fourth round at the Australian Open, lost to Nadal in the final at Roland Garros, did not play at Wimbledon and only reached the second round of the US Open. He will be looking for a major improvement on the sport’s biggest stages in 2019.
The Russian, who beat Djokovic in the final of the Paris Masters, did not qualify for the World Tour Finals, but at the age of 22, he has potential to be a future star of the game.
That stunning victory in the French capital is his one Masters title so far. At the start of 2018, he was ranked just inside the top 50, but ATP Tour wins in Marseille and Moscow plus that Paris success have seen him rise to 11th.
For British tennis fans wondering about life after Murray, this 23-year old is another player to look out for in 2019. Born in Johannesburg to British parents, he spent much of his junior career in New Zealand but began representing Great Britain in 2013.
Norrie does not have ATP Tour titles to his name, but he does share a doubles title with Davis Cup team-mate Kyle Edmund. The British duo won the Millennium Estoril Open on clay in Portugal. This is a clay court tournament which is part of the ATP 250 series.
Ahead of Norrie in the British pecking order is another South African-born 23-year-old who is currently in an impressive 14th place in the world rankings.
Edmund’s 2018 got off to a tremendous start as he reached the semi-finals of the Australian Open, and he won the European Open title in Belgium in October.
He has also gone deep into other tournaments this year, and played well for Great Britain in the Davis Cup, proving his Melbourne feats were not just a flash in the pan.
Edmund, who used to train with Murray in Miami, is now seen as the man most likely to succeed the Scot as a Brit at the sport’s top table.
However, Murray might have something to say about that as he plots his comeback from hip surgery – another member of the old guard looking to hold off the rising stars of the game in 2019.
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