The Lost Geneation: Starring Milos Raonic, Featuring Grigor Dimitrov
In January 2011, Raonic had just defeated 10th seed Michael Youhzany in the 4th round of the Australian Open in a fairly convincing 4 sets. John Mc Enroe stated convincingly in commentary after the match that Raonic was, ‘The real deal’
After Progressing into the quarter finals of Halle, ( The Wimbledon warm up event) Andre Agassi was also glowing about Raonic, ‘His potential is to be right at the very top of the world … He has an intangible quality that will get him to the top’ Later in 2011 Sampras jumped in saying, ‘He’s very eager, He can do everything, He’s got a great future.’
These sorts of glowing comments sounded similarly to the stuff Federer was getting as he began to break through.
3 years later and Raonic finds himself going on 25 years old and has only managed to propel himself to number 9 in the world. In the 3 years which took Raonic from age 22 to 25 his ranking has increased just 4 places . Just to put in perspective how far Raonic has fallen behind the dominant players he was supposed to become, by the age of 25 Federer, Djokovic and Nadal had averaged over 7 grand slams between them and had cemented themselves as world number 1.
The story is similar for Grigor Dimitrov. Peter Lundgren who coached both Dimitrov and Federer in their youth described Dimitrov as, ‘better than Federer at the same age.’ However Dimitrov, 24, finds himself at number 22 in the world.
In June 2014, Raonic had a feature written on him by Mens Journal magazine titled, ‘Is Milos Raonic the future of tennis.’ I think that question can now be answered as a definitive no. And if Raonic isn’t the future of tennis it is fair to say then neither is Grigor Dimitrov.
The reason why Raonic and Dimitrov have failed to impact the game as Federer,Djokovic and Nadal did at their age is that the older generation, who are undoubtably the best generation ever to hold a racquet, still haven’t finished playing. It is looking increasingly likely that the three all time Grand Slam leaders will have played in the same generation. It runs highly against reason that the three most dominant players in tennis history played at the same time making the potential statistic far more impressive. The core of the old generation are incredibly talented.
Ignoring the obvious dominant 3 players, the world’s top 8 is still crammed full of ‘old generation’ players. If you look at the top 8 players in the world 5 years ago, 6 of the worlds top 8 are unchanged today. 5 years ago the average age of the world top eight was 26 and as the ‘old generation’ have grown up it is now thirty.
Five of the worlds top eight from the ‘old generation’ have went on to win grand slams. Berdych and Ferrer, two stalwarts of the ‘old generation’ who failed to win a slam, are ranked at five and eight in the race respectively and have since made 10 world tour finals (top 8 players in the world) between them. The ‘older generation’ consists of a core, Federer, Djokovic and Nadal who have dominated the last ten years. It also contains an outer core crop of players through the last ten years, Murray, Roddick, Nalbandian, Wawrinka, Berdych, Ferrer, Tsonga, Del Potro, Cilic, Davydenko. Over the last ten years this group has occasionally penetrated the core, either through sustained chipping away or a flash in the pan grand slam win. The ‘older generation’ has two tiers of strength. In order to win big prizes you must first join the periphery group and from there leaps can be made and slams can be won. The lost generation are currently on the coat tails of the periphery group. They are not even nearly close to the big time.
It is only just becoming apparent how amazing the ‘older generation’ is. Looking back over the last twelve months most speculators would be surprised that Federer is even still playing let alone keeping the lost generation in the wilderness. In the last twelve months he has won ten sets and lost just one against Raonic and Dimitrov. Novak Djokovic looks as fresh as ever at 28 and if Federer can produce the tennis he is at 34, Djokovic’s dominance could long continue. It was said that Andy Murray was born at the wrong time, in the middle of the best generation tennis we will ever see. But, in hindsight, the dominance of Federer, Djokovic and Nadal is now likely to span at least 15 years, if Murray was born 5 years earlier he would have ran into a more rampant Federer and if he was born 5 years later he may just have been a part of the ‘lost generation’, still getting beaten up by the prehistoric Federer before for the old dinosaur Djokovic begins to chow down on the corpse.
There is every chance that Djokovic, well into his thirty’s is still thwarting Raonic and Dimitrov as Federer does so effortlessly at the moment. You feel by the time Federer, Nadal and Djokovic are finally lifted to tennis heaven a more promising ‘baby generation’ of Coric, Zverv and co will be carrying the torch not Raonic and Dimitrov. Coric’s lowest rank at age 18 is 33. Zverv’s was 74. This looks completely different from Raonic and Dimtrov ranked 373 and 258 respectively at 18, and much more similar to Nadal and Federer ranked 34 and 38 respectively at age 18.
Saying Raonic and Dimitrov’s generation is lost is perhaps harsh. The reality is more that they were the generation that never existed. There talents were blown far and wide out of proportion as they were the best of a bad crop. The ‘lost generation’ is a by product of the tennis world’s fixation on discovering the next Federer long before the old man had called it enough. When the history books are written Raonic and Dimitrov will not a member of a tennis generation at all.