Novak Djokovic is now 'vulnerable' against the group of rising ATP Tour stars, says Eurosport's Mats Wilander, who believes 'they are not intimidated anymore'.
There has been a lot of talk around a new 'big four' in men's tennis with the world number one joined by US Open champion Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev, who won gold at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and took the ATP Finals title in Turin.
Djokovic, who will be targeting a 21st Grand Slam title in 2022 to move ahead of his long-standing rivals, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, suddenly has a lot more serious competition, according to Wilander.
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"I think the biggest difference is the guys that are coming from behind or that are surrounding Novak, they now have the confidence that they can beat Novak on any surface on any given day," Wilander told Eurosport.
I think they are not intimidated anymore unless you get to a fourth or fifth set in a Grand Slam.
"But even then, I feel like they have seen Novak most probably have the best year on Tour ever in 2021. Still, at the end of it, he looked a little bit vulnerable at the US Open, at the ATP Finals, and maybe even in the Olympics.
"So maybe the Olympics was a bad idea for Novak. That is why it seemed like he lost a little bit of confidence, lost a little bit of drive. I mean, what an unbelievable year for Novak, and he does not look a day older than 24 years old, not 34.
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"The ATP Finals to him is not a Grand Slam. He is clearly aiming at winning Grand Slams, not the ATP Finals, although for his confidence, maybe it was a little bit of a defeat. But yeah, I think it's two completely different situations.
"I think he was having fun. He is thinking about next year or the year after. It is just pacing himself to enjoy his tennis until it's over."
'We'll have to wait and see' - Djokovic still unsure about Australian Open participation
Djokovic has still not revealed his final decision as to whether he is willing to participate at the Australian Open, given the decision taken by Tennis Australia to accept only vaccinated players.
"I think the Australian Open is obviously doing the thing that they have to do and the Australian government has decided this is what is going to happen," Wilander said.
"I can easily see that some players are not going to get vaccinated and they are not going to go. Is it a big deal? Yeah, it is a big deal for the Australian Open, but it gives opportunities to other players. I don't know what Novak Djokovic is going to do.
"Is the Australian Open the most important tournament in his career? Well, it is the most successful Grand Slam for him. I'm not sure if it is more important than the French Open or Wimbledon or the US Open, but it is his most successful Slam.
"It would be the most natural place for him to break the tie of 20 Grand Slams with Roger and Rafa. But at the same time, Novak Djokovic, I think, is thinking about his own health.
He's thinking about the future. He's thinking long-term, and so I wouldn't be surprised at all if Novak doesn't go.
"Is it going to hurt the tournament? Yeah, it will hurt the tournament in one way. But at the same time, we have a better chance to see a new Grand Slam champion, so I would not be that concerned.
"I think we're still in the Covid era, and I think we have to be thankful for any tournament that is being played. Thankful for any professional tennis player that is able to show up, that is healthy, that is willing to live under quarantine rules, sometimes in a bubble.
"It's been a rough year for players and tournaments and I still think we have to be just appreciative to take whatever we get with players and tournaments."
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