NEW YORK: When Rafael Nadal pulled out of the US Open, his agony was sweet music to Milos Raonic, Grigor Dimitrov and Kei Nishikori, tennis’s widely-hyped but under-performing next generation.
More than anyone else, Nadal has proved to be their nemesis, leaving many in the sport wondering if the men trying to follow in the footsteps of the Big Four will ever achieve similar dominance.
Raonic, the big-serving Canadian, and Dimitrov, the high-profile Bulgarian, are both 23, while Japan’s Nishikori will be 25 in December. In stark contrast, Nadal was a major winner at just 19.
Nishikori has lost all seven times he has played Nadal while Raonic and Dimitrov have identical, depressing 0-5 records.
World number one Djokovic has a 3-0 winning record over Raonic, enjoys a 4-1 stranglehold against Dimitrov and is 1-1 against Nishikori.
Federer is 6-0 against Raonic, 1-0 against Dimitrov and 2-2 with Nishikori.
The only record against the Big Four which is in positive territory is Raonic’s 3-1 edge over Murray. The Scot, however, is 3-2 when facing Dimitrov and 3-0 against Nishikori.
Raonic upholds importance of serve
Raonic has made the fourth round at the US Open on his last two visits. He was buoyed by a title march in Washington where he fired 83 aces as well as a semi-final run in Cincinnati.
If he is to make a deep impression at Flushing Meadows, he knows the serve will again be crucial.
“It has improved,” said Raonic. “I have put more focus on it, I would say, just getting out there and hitting more serves... it’s just been more difficult for my opponents.”
Nishikori’s uneven journey in grand slams
Nishikori, meanwhile, was a first round casualty at the 2013 US Open and it’s six years since he had his best run — a fourth round place in 2008.
Like Raonic and Dimitrov – and unlike Nadal, Djokovic and Federer – the quietly-spoken Florida-based Japanese player is erratic on the grand slam stage.
His last-16 runs at the Australian Open and Wimbledon this year sandwiched a first round exit at the French Open.
But despite the trio of hopefuls all being in their mid-20s, there is always hope.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 21st, 2014.
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