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THE FINISH LINE

New rivalries ready to ignite men's tennis

At the moment, these are still nascent. The hope is that some will eventually turn into blockbusters

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New flames are emerging from the embers of arguably the greatest-ever era in men's tennis: From left are 20-year-old Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas; Germany's Alexander Zverev, 22; and Canadian Denis Shapovalov, 20, who are set to spark the next generation.

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Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime, 18, will head to his first Wimbledon seeded 19th after a whirlwind rise from outside the top 100 at the start of the year.

London

FOR more than a decade, tennis fans have been over-indulging in the greatest rivalries the sport has known as Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic battled for supremacy.

Federer and Nadal have squared off 39 times and Federer and Djokovic 47, while Djokovic and Nadal's 54-match rivalry is the most prolific and competitive in the history of men's tennis.

Compelling and addictive as they are, those hooked by them know with each passing episode the end moves a little closer.

In the case of the big three - Federer, Nadal and Djokovic are aged 37, 33 and 32 respectively - it could be argued they have already exhausted the narrative, claiming 53 Grand Slams between them since 2003. They have won 15 of the last 18 Grand Slam titles and all of the last 10 - sending new sub-plots to the cutting-room floor.

Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka, each with three Grand Slams, have been impressive co-stars while Andy Roddick, Marin Cilic and Juan Martin del Potro have briefly shone.

But the nagging fear has been what would happen when the credits roll for the final time.

Electrifying game

New flames are emerging from the embers of arguably the greatest-ever era, however, with 20-year-old Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas; Germany's Alexander Zverev, 22; and Canadians Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime, aged 20 and 18 respectively, set to ignite the next generation.

World No 6 Tsitsipas has career wins over the big three and is tipped as the man most likely to win the race to a first Grand Slam title - taking over from 2018 ATP Tour Finals champion Zverev in the pecking order.

Shapovalov became the youngest player to beat a top-two opponent for 13 years when he overcame Nadal in Montreal in 2017 and while he is still striving to harness his electrifying game, he will be seeded 29th at Wimbledon.

Shapovalov is not even the best youngster in Canada any more. That title goes to Auger-Aliassime who will head to his first Wimbledon seeded 19th after a whirlwind rise from outside the top 100 at the start of the year.

"It's boring to see these guys win all the time," Tsitsipas said last week at Queen's Club where he was beaten by Auger-Aliassime in the quarter-finals. "We are responsible, we work hard and believe in ourselves if we can come up with something new, come up with our best games to beat those guys."

Inspiring each other

There has been impatience that the passing of the torch has yet to happen but seven-time Grand Slam champion John McEnroe believes the new crop are closing in and will inspire each other to forge rivalries that will sustain the sport.

"I think Tsitsipas is going to be a great champion and player. He's got everything that you could hope for. And to me, Aliassime from Canada is going to be a No 1," said the American, who will be working for broadcaster ESPN as a summariser.

"We all know that (Federer, Nadal and Djokovic) have gotten better because of each other, I know I got better because I had to get better in a way with (Bjorn) Borg, (Ivan) Lendl and (Jimmy) Connors.

"An individual sport desperately needs (rivalries)."

While people will mourn the day those greats call it a day, Shapovalov said his peer group will fill the void.

"People say what are we going to do when they are gone," he told Reuters at the Boodles exhibition event where he beat Djokovic earlier this week. "But we have so many great young players. We don't know who will be at the top but we are going to see rivalries that are just as good or even better. It's an exciting time to be part of the Tour."

At the moment, those rivalries are still very much in their infancy. The hope is that some, if not all of them, will eventually turn into blockbusters. REUTERS