Reports of a fast-encroaching ATP Next Gen appeared greatly exaggerated to Novak Djokovic when the Serb was asked about his young challengers after an intense Internazionli BNL d’Italia final against Rafael Nadal.

“This is probably the 55th time I’ve been asked about the Next Gen this week,” Djokovic joked in Italian following a 7-5, 1-6, 6-3 defeat to the King of Clay. “We are reinventing the Next Gen: Rafa, myself, and Roger, we are the Next Gen.”

Pointing to Nicola Pietrangeli, for whom one of the Foro Italico’s courts are named, the world No. 1 concluded with a flourish: “Mr. Pietrangeli is Next Gen too!”

The remarks came at a time where Hubert Hurkacz, Stefanos Tsitsipas, and Alexander Zverev—all under the age of 25—had won the last three Masters 1000 titles in Miami, Monte Carlo, and Madrid, respectively.

In Rome, however, order had been restored by the game’s elder statesmen—Djokovic defeated Tsitsipas while Nadal overcame Zverev, each in the quarterfinals—and for all the strides the younger set have made in the last few years, the Big 3 of Djokovic, Nadal, and Roger Federer continue to take home most of the majors, including 20 of the last 24.


We are reinventing the Next Gen: Rafa, myself, and Roger, we are the Next Gen. Novak Djokovic

“Of course, the Next Gen is there,” Djokovic continued in press after the match, “is coming, whatever. But, here we are still winning the biggest tournaments and Slams. I don’t know what to tell you other than that.

“I’m not focused on the Next Gen even though I know [with] people, it creates a story and people like to talk about it. Fine, guys are there and are already establishing themselves in the Top 5 or Top 10 in the world. It’s nothing new, but we are still there.”

Djokovic’s words proved prophetic through the summer as he picked up major victories at Roland Garros and Wimbledon. Ironically enough, it would be a Next Gen alumnus in Daniil Medvedev who would end his quest for a Calendar Year Grand Slam at the US Open, while Zverev denied him a shot at Olympic Gold in Tokyo.

With Nadal and Federer tending to chronic injuries that led them to prematurely end their 2021 seasons, Djokovic led an ATP Finals field of players that were largely a decade his junior. Might they meet his challenge to beat him on the game’s biggest stages in 2022?