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No room at the top yet for the young pretenders

THE most fascinating verdicts are those delivered by members of the jury who wear "Been There, Seen It, Done It" T-shirts.

Gregor Dimitrov could not beat Novak Djokovic, but he looks the most capable of the young guns. Picture: Reuters
Gregor Dimitrov could not beat Novak Djokovic, but he looks the most capable of the young guns. Picture: Reuters

The men's singles competition at Wimbledon delivered a spectacular final. It was followed by sober appraisals of how the the men's game stands at at time where the phrase "changing of the guard" is wearily ubiquitous.

Roger Federer, gracious in defeat after his 59th grand slam event, was asked about the advent of the new generation and gently but firmly pointed out that they were neither particularly young or imminently threatening. The Big Four - despite the rankings most observers include Andy Murray in such a category - all made their breakthroughs at the very highest level before the age of 23. Both Milos Raonic and Grigor Dimitrov are 23, Kei Nishikori is 24 and Nick Kyrgios, spectacular but winner of only a handful of ATP Tour matches, is 19.

One of them may win a grand slam - this observer's money would be almost exclusively reserved for the Bulgarian - but any conversation about the likely champion of the US Open will be dominated by the Big Four.

The Been There brigade certainly hold this view. Boris Becker, Djokovic's coach, said of his player: "We're looking pretty good now: he's back to No.1, Wimbledon champion, obviously he's going to take a couple of weeks off now but the next big one is the US Open. He lost in the final to Rafa there last year so hopefully he can go one better."

The last sentence is a reference to the monkey that has now been catapulted from the Serb's back. He had lost five of his six grand slams but Wimbledon 2014 was acknowledged by Djokovic as crucial in restoring his self-belief.

Martina Navratilova, no stranger to winning and to the demands imposed by failure, said of Djokovic: "This was the biggest emotional effort that I can remember. He should have won in three sets, and in four, and he's hanging his head and he's barely moving, his leg is bothering him. I thought he was done. He just wouldn't give up.

"The mental resolve it took for him to keep fighting . . . but, of course, if you put in so much hard work physically before you get here it is a little easier to lay it on the line when you are out there."

Both Becker and Navratilova expect Federer to be a contender but there is an acceptance that time is not on his side and that the draw at Wimbledon 2014 offered him a marvellous opportunity. He spiked the young gun of Raonic with such ease that the Canadian must rethink his game if he is to be successful at the very highest level.

Rafael Nadal, however, remains the major rival to Djokovic. His efforts at Roland Garros compromised his challenge at Wimbledon but next year he will be aided by the extra week placed between the two majors.

He will return from the beach to launch a sustained campaign to defend his US Open title.

But what of Murray? His defeat by Dimitrov was deeply disappointing, particularly after he had cruised through to the quarter-finals. The loss was followed by the sort of conspiracy theories that leads one to suspect there will be a call for a public inquiry.

There have been reports of discord in the Murray camp over the appointment of Amelie Mauresmo and differences of opinion over tactics. The truth is that Murray played far below his best level against a highly motivated and talented opponent. His first priority will be to settle the Mauresmo question: will the Frenchwoman be his permanent coach?

Murray is his own man and will make his own decision. He was conspicuously supportive of Mauresmo after his defeat.

He is aware, too, that he needs to win. Barely an hour after coming off court against the Bulgarian, he sat deep inside Wimbledon and spoke of how important the run-up to Flushing Meadows would be.

He has slipped to No.10 in the world and this has complications in tournaments outside Wimbledon where rankings decide who one will play and when.

Murray, though, remains typically obdurate. His retreats from Wimbledon have always been followed by a surge in his game. At 27, there is no reason to suspect that his route back to the top is littered by unmoveable obstructions.

The Scot had surgery on his back after last year's US Open and it was instructive to listen to Pat Cash, another of the Been There brigade, state that players had to be patient after injury and that any comeback followed a pattern that included a bad performance. His assertion was that these blips were steadily weeded out as the player was restored to both form and full fitness by continued competition.

The young guns will turn up to New York in hope. The reality, though, is that the old order still prevails.

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