Not seen at Aus Open since Nadal, Djokovic and Murray in 2009 – 'Next Gen' make move
Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray were leading the charge the last time the Australian Open saw what is happening in Melbourne in 2019.
Nadal, then 22, went on to win his first and, thus far, only title in the opening slam of the calendar by beating Roger Federer in the final.
A 21-year-old Djokovic, defending his maiden grand slam title, fell in the quarter-finals, while Murray got to the fourth round, months after losing a US Open decider to Federer.
The year was 2009. That trio was helping to form a dominant era in men's tennis alongside Federer and, 10 years on, the world still waits for the 'Next Gen' to break through.
But perhaps they are answering the challenge because 2019 marks the first time since a decade ago that at least seven players aged 22 or under have reached the last 32 at the Australian Open.
Back then, it was Nadal, Djokovic, Murray, Marin Cilic, Juan Martin del Potro, Richard Gasquet and Gael Monfils. Only the two Frenchmen have been unable to go on and win a grand slam crown.
This year, there are 10 still standing – Alexander Zverev (21), Borna Coric (22), Stefanos Tsitsipas (20), Denis Shapovalov (19), Karen Khachanov (22), Daniil Medvedev (22), Alex de Minaur (19), Frances Tiafoe (20), Taylor Fritz (21) and Alexei Popyrin (19).
With Murray potentially having made his last Australian Open appearance due to his troublesome hip, it seems the time is just about right for the next generation.
Still, record six-time champions Federer and Djokovic, and Nadal, stand in their way. After all, one of the 'Big Four' have won 13 of the past 15 Australian Opens. They have won 53 of the previous 60 grand slams. This is dominance that will take some ending.
The youngsters will get their chances. Shapovalov faces Djokovic in the third round. If they make it that far, Medvedev could get the subsequent engagement with the Serbian great. Zverev and Coric are in the second quarter. Whoever makes the most of their opportunity may face Djokovic in a semi-final, although Milos Raonic appears a huge danger.
Tsitsipas could get a shot at his idol Federer in what would be an entertaining fourth-round clash, while De Minaur faces Nadal in the third round in the bottom half of the draw.
When Nadal won the title in 2009, Federer ended the run of Del Potro, while Andy Roddick beat Djokovic and Murray lost a five-setter to Fernando Verdasco.
The 'Next Gen' has seemed to be getting closer to a major breakthrough in the past 12 months, with Zverev, Khachanov, Coric, Tsitsipas and Medvedev all ranked in the top 20.
It will take something special to stop Federer, Nadal or Djokovic, but the youngsters are at least giving themselves a chance.