Remnants of the ATP Cup: Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and a little self-belief

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Remnants of the ATP Cup: Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and a little self-belief

The ATP Cup, in its first edition, has ended. And as with all other things, it has left behind its impressions. The feel-good factor of the tournament has intermingled with distress about whether it is too much, too soon with a Major event – literally – to follow, a week on.

Nonetheless, these remain subjectively-contentious aspects of the swirl-and-turn of the tennis tour. The bigger spectre that is raised in the aftermath of the event is about the players making up the numbers. To be specific, how the older generation – led by Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic – have fared throughout the event vis-à-vis the youngsters, still referred to as the NextGen.

The start of a new season, a new decade – although, this is again a debated topic – had been built upon the potentiality of the NextGen finally ushering in their time. If the events of the ATP Cup are anything to go by, the actualisation of this potentiality has now been pushed to the Australian Open.

Not that the younger lot were collectively disappointing. Denis Shapovalov, Alex de Minaur, Daniil Medvedev, Hubert Hurkacz, and Casper Ruud were a few who left the arena with more than tokenism of having just played. However, the few among these who faced Nadal or Djokovic were convincingly outlasted by the two.

Thus, the obviousness lingered about the catch-up that was needed to first level up with them before getting the better of them. Both Nadal and Djokovic alluded to this while speaking about them upping their game after Spain and Serbia’s semi-final ties against Australia and Russia respectively.

“No, I wasn't surprised, no. He's (de Minaur) young. He has a lot of energy. He plays with a lot of passion. Sometimes even too much,” Nadal said of de Minaur, to whom he conceded the first set. “And I was a little bit lower energy than usual.

That's why he was able to take advantage. And I think when the match was going on, I was able to play better and better, to find a little bit better the rhythm and the energy back to my body. I think I played a good third set, good end of the second.

My feeling is was tough for me to win points on the return for a while, no? But with my serve, I was doing things well”. About his match, after his yo-yoing win over Medvedev, Djokovic commented on how he had to refocus to get himself back to an advantageous position.

“…He showed why he's one of the best players in the world, why he's top 5. I mean, this kind of consistency and this kind of solid game from the back of the court, big serves got him to where he is, you know.

He deserves to be there,” the world no. 2 said. “So, you have to kind of try to use the various tactics and variations in the game itself, the rotation in the ball… I feel the same when I'm in lockdown, so it was a very physical battle”.

The Fog Clouding Zverev and Tsitsipas For the youngsters above, this is somewhat of a determined gap that needs to be bridged. Or, if it has been done so before, then, making it repetitive. But for two of the next generation players who had to come to be seen as the light at the end of the tunnel, attempt to overcome this distance between the present and the future came unwound catastrophically.

Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev’s struggles – technical as well as mental – seeped through anew at the ATP Cup. Zverev, the top-ranked German, lost all his three round-robin rubbers. Tsitsipas did one better but the sole win he had in his three rubbers came against Zverev in the Greece-German tie.

The results by themselves were insipid but their on-court comportments were the most unimaginative. Zverev and Tsitsipas’ temper tantrums led to parental angst but did nothing to improve their on-court fortunes. Adding insult to injury, their temperamental fluctuations have stayed on despite days passing since each’s outburst and exit from the court, thereafter.

The 20-somethings’ behavioural lapses were a throwback to the regression that had plagued them in 2019, before each shook it off as best as he could – on a high, at the ATP Finals. Their backsliding has made it difficult to evaluate their prospects at the Australian Open in straightforward terms.

Seeded in the top-10 they maybe but both Zverev and Tsitsipas have gone on from considered probable threats to being possibly threatened themselves at a time when they ought to be among the favourites. The chasm created by this sharp contrast – with existing favourites remain largely untroubled – is getting wider and huger to cross for these youngsters.

If their peers, too, have similar missteps, they could find themselves receiving a mention under the same notation, along the season. Maybe, it is time these true-blue millennials started taking themselves seriously instead of worrying about rivals.

After all, Nadal and Djokovic, and even Roger Federer for that matter, did not get to where they are now, without self-belief. Photo Credit: Yahoo Sport Australia