ATP Tour

Lloyd Harris 'absolutely' starting to see cracks appear in tennis' 'Big 3'

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Lloyd Harris of South Africa. (Getty Images)
Lloyd Harris of South Africa. (Getty Images)
  • South African tennis ace Lloyd Harris feels a changing of the guard is imminent in the men's game.
  • Harris believes Daniil Medvedev's US Open win was an indication that the younger generation "is coming through".
  • Before the US Open, the "Big 3" of Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal had combined to win 60 of 72 Grand Slam titles.

South African tennis star Lloyd Harris believes the stage is set for the sport's younger generation to start taking control.

For the best part of the last 15 years, men's tennis has been dominated by the so-called "Big 3" of Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

Remarkably, before Djokovic lost Sunday's US Open final against Daniil Medvedev, the trio had combined to win 60 of 72 Grand Slam titles.

It dated back to Federer's first slam success at Wimbledon in 2003 - right up to Djokovic's Wimbledon triumph in July this year.

The only other players who could win Grand Slams in this period were Andy Murray (3), Stan Wawrinka (3), Andy Roddick (1), Gaston Gaudio (1), Marat Safin (1), Juan Martin del Potro (1), Marin Cilic (1) and Dominic Thiem (1).

Djocovic's failure against Medvedev at the US Open leaves him level on 20 Grand Slams with Federer and Nadal and Harris feels it could be tough for the "Big 3" to add to their tally.

The South African, who has notched wins over Wawrinka and Nadal this year, climbed 15 spots in the ATP rankings to a career-high No 31 after reaching the quarter-finals at the US Open.

Harris is still in New York where he will represent South Africa in a Davis Cup World Group II tie against Venezuela at the West Side Tennis Club this weekend.

He addressed reporters in an online media briefing on Tuesday where he gave his insights into the future of the men's game.

When probed whether he felt there are finally some cracks starting to appear in the armoury of the "Big 3", Harris responded: "Absolutely, it's been coming for a while. It's been hard for the younger generation to just crack into those Grand Slams. Novak's just been unstoppable until this very last match... I just think he came up against an extremely difficult opponent on the day. Daniil played some really good tennis throughout the whole summer and [he] just kind of reflects this newer generation."

Harris pointed to Medvedev's success, and German Alexander Zverev winning the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics, as examples that the era of the "Big 3" was waning.

"There was Zverev winning the gold medal, Medvedev winning the other (Canadian) Masters in the summer... so this young generation is really coming through. If you look at the top 50 now, I think there are more young guys in there than there's been in the last 20 years.

"It just shows you... Felix (Auger-Aliassime) had a tremendous run as well as (Hubert) Hurkacz got a Masters win in Miami, (Casper) Ruud winning three titles... so this new generation is really coming through nicely and these are all the guys that I grew up with. It's incredible how we're all within one year from each other, [born] between 1996 to 1998 almost, which is pretty incredible.

"So, yes, I've known these guys for a long time, we've been competitive in the juniors already and it's nice to see all of us progressing and now I think it's time to kick out that 'Big 3' and let the younger generation take over," Harris said.

READ | Lloyd Harris says US Open heroics better than win over Nadal

Harris is yet to win an ATP title - he's lost in two finals - but coming up against his talented peers will have no fear or intimidation factor for the Capetonian.

"I've known these guys since 15, 16 playing on the ITF (International Tennis Federation) junior tours. I've seen all of them around and played against a bunch of them. It's almost like one of your friends that you grew up with and now [we're] all just competing on tour against each other.

"Obviously we're fierce competitors when we're out on the court but I'm definitely not scared on intimidated going on the court against them. And also now with my recent wins, having more belief, even if you go up against a Rafa, Roger or Novak... you've got to have the belief to beat them and I know I can... so why not, you know it's going to be an extremely difficult match and you've got to be ready for a challenge that's for sure. But that's what we love, we love going out in front of fans, in new stadiums and getting those goosebump moments competing against one of those legends.

"If you can pull off a win against one of [them], it always feels amazing, there's almost just like that little bit of extra motivation when you are playing against them."

South Africa, meanwhile, will be favourites to topple a largely unknown Venezuela this weekend.

The South African squad also features Davis Cup veterans Ruan Roelofse and doubles specialist Raven Klaasen. 

They will be joined by young guns Philip Henning and Sipho Montsi, who are both based in the United States where they compete on the collegiate circuit.

Former professional player, Christo van Rensburg, is the South African Davis Cup captain.

Van Rensburg added that he felt Harris was ready to stake a major claim on the ATP Tour in the coming years.

"He was brought up in the ITF's with these guys, so when you're in that environment and you grow with these guys, ranking does not actually matter because you treat them as your own.

"Usually when you're 18 or 19 and you get on the tour and play a guy who's 29 years old and ranked No 1, there will always be that feeling of over-respecting them. So, I think that plays in Lloyd's favour.

"I got to know him now and physically it's amazing how strong the guy looks, so I think taking confidence from winning, competing and beating former number one's... he can build on that confidence and from my point of view, [I'm] very fortunate to be on the court here with someone with that much confidence," Van Rensburg said.

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