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Youngsters now ready to take on the game's big hitters

The men's game has had so many false dawns over the past few years that trying to figure out when the new generation is finally going to make it had become a waste of time.

The strength of the top four, and then of the likes of David Ferrer, Tomas Berdych, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Juan Martin Del Potro behind them, meant that breaking through to the top of the game had become so hard it seemed nigh impossible.

Just when we had started to give up hope, though, suddenly there is hope again. In the past fortnight, Bulgaria's Grigor Dimitrov, long-burdened as the new Roger Federer, and Bernard Tomic, the talented yet difficult-to-handle Australian, have made significant strides.

Milos Raonic, the other member of the three most likely, is ahead of Dimitrov and Tomic in his development, especially in terms of temperament but, in terms of talent, the Bulgarian and Australian without doubt are the most gifted and finally that ability is beginning to show.

The 20-year-old Tomic ended 2012 in a huge funk, his form gone, his motivation lacking and his off-court antics, from his orange sports car to his clashes with the police – the two were often linked – capturing more headlines than his tennis.

But a new year – and being dropped for Australia's first Davis Cup tie of 2013 – appears to have sparked something inside Tomic's head and he is now playing the kind of tennis that made him the world's most outstanding junior and singled him out for greatness at age 16.

At the Hopman Cup in Perth, albeit largely an exhibition event, Tomic beat world No.1 Novak Djokovic and drew high praise from the man who will try to win his third straight Australian Open title when the year's first grand slam event begins on Monday.

Djokovic reportedly told Tomic he had outplayed him on the day, leading the 20-year-old to say: "To get that feedback from a guy like this is huge and it shows even the best players know you're improving. It's a good feeling."

For all his off-court problems, Tomic is popular on the Tour. It's the opposite of his image at home of a troubled soul, the baggage of a troublesome father affecting his focus and prompting a slide down the rankings.

His tennis certainly slipped at the end of 2012, from a high of 27 just before Wimbledon to his present mark of 64. The chances are Tomic will always have his ups and downs but good performances in Sydney this week look set to lift him back up the rankings and he seems to be back on track, which is particularly good news for Australian tennis.

With his flowing one-handed backhand and a mirror image on serve of Roger Federer, Dimitrov was nicknamed Baby Fed, a name he never liked. The pressure that began when he was junior champion alongside Britain's Laura Robson in 2008 has continued but only now, after a series of injuries and struggles, does he appear to be coming through.

His slight frame means his physical progression has taken longer than the likes of Raonic, who can thunder down serves at well over 140 miles an hour. But finally Dimitrov appears to be coming into his own, as he showed in Brisbane last week, beating Raonic, Juergen Melzer and Marcos Baghdatis before losing in the final to Andy Murray.

Murray described Dimitrov as a great shotmaker but he has always been that. Now, it seems he is adding a bit of steel to his talent and that could make all the difference. Rumours of a romance with Maria Sharapova have yet to be confirmed by the two players, but he certainly looks happy with life.

Raonic, with the big weapons and the unflappable temperament, has been there longer and is ranked much higher than the other two, but despite being world No.15 to Dimitrov's 41st and Tomic's 64th, the Montenegro-born Canadian has yet to make it to a grand slam quarter-final.

Nor, in fact, has Dimitrov. Only Tomic, at Wimbledon a couple of years ago, has done it, which explains how far they all have to go.

Even their latest impressive exploits don't mean that when it comes to best-of-five-set matches, in the pressure of a grand-slam event, they will be able to deliver.

Both Tomic and Dimitrov will be unseeded in Melbourne and, while Djokovic, Federer and Murray would all fancy their chances against anyone, few others would relish taking them on early in the tournament.

Maybe this will be the time for one of them to step up. We've been waiting long enough.

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