I know this won’t be the first piece to speculate which players will fill the void once tennis’ Big Four have finally departed the scene.
But now certainly feels like a good moment to look at that question.
Roger Federer sounded closer to retirement than ever after winning his 103rd title at the weekend in Basel.
“It’s not a problem that the season is almost over. It’s more of a problem that I’m at the end of my career,” Federer told Swiss broadcaster SRF.
“I feel like everything happened so fast. That makes me a bit sad sometimes. But I know I’m going to be OK when the moment comes.”
At 38, Federer is significantly older than the other members of the famous quartet – Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray – all of whom still seem to have plenty of tennis left in them.
Yet there is now a proper pack of young players rising up looking to sustain a real challenge. Change at the top may come sooner than many think.
Following a period which saw the average age of the top 100 in the men’s game reach a record high of over 30, young talent is pushing itself higher and higher.
No fewer than 12 of the top 33 are currently 23 or younger. Djokovic, Nadal and Federer may still be the top three but the challengers are queuing up behind.
Here’s my look at those most likely to be contending for the Grand Slam titles once the Big Four have finally made way.
An obvious choice given he’s already knocking on the door of the top three.
Was superb during the summer hardcourt season which included a victory over Djokovic and culminated in a run to the US Open final. In it, he pushed Nadal all the way.
He’s continued that form since, winning the Shanghai Masters, and looks well set for 2020 when he could really push on.
Medvedev’s game has proved awkward for opponents – on all surfaces. He hits very flat, particularly off the backhand side, which can rush the player at the other end, while he’s also unconventional in his shot selection.
“I want to make people miss with shots that they’re not used to playing,” he explained earlier this season.
His tennis has improved greatly in 2019 but another significant change has been mentally with fewer angry moments on court – something which dogged his early career.
At only 23, he still has plenty of time to improve further.
Been listening to some reactions to Andy Murray's win in Antwerp last week, among them Novak Djokovic: "Knowing what he has been through in the last three years it was really nice to see him win, he definitely deserves it."
— Mike Dickson (@Mike_Dickson_DM) October 28, 2019
2019 has undoubtedly been a disappointing season for a player who finished last season by beating Federer and Djokovic back to back to win the ATP Finals.
Yet he’s still in with a strong chance of qualifying for those Finals again and it’s not like there weren’t reasons for his dip.
Away form the court, Zverev spent a large part of the year locked in a legal battle with his former agent which left him without a managerial team. His father was ill and he split from both his girlfriend and coach, Ivan Lendl. All this at the age of 22.
Most players hit a few bumps on their way to the top and 2019 should be necessarily be evidence that Zverev has plateaued.
The German has a big game when it’s working properly and is capable of bouncing back in 2020.
"I don't feel, health-wise, 100 percent."@DjokerNole's win today wasn't comfortable.
— TENNIS (@Tennis) October 30, 2019
The Greek is the only player to have beaten Federer, Nadal and Djokovic this year and that warrants serious respect.
Those looking to break into that top three are going to have beat those players on a regular basis and Tsitsipas has, so far, risen to the occasion.
Now established in the top 10, it’s fair to say his mental approach to the game may well determine how much further he goes.
He’s already something of an ‘outsider’ on the tour. Bright and articulate, his approach to life, never mind tennis, is certainly different. He’s long spent much of his spare time making travel vlogs, while recently he opted to delete social-media apps from his phone to “refresh” himself.
“I believe it’s going to help a lot on the mental side,” he explained.
I see a lot of Bjorn Borg in Tsitsipas but that’s also a reason to feel he may not fulfil his undoubted potential – I wouldn’t be at all surprised for him to walk away from tennis at some point to chase other dreams.
— ATP Tour (@atptour) October 26, 2019
Given the longevity Federer has shown, it won’t be a shock if Djokovic, Nadal and even a rejuvenated, pinned-back-together Murray remain the players to beat once the Swiss has left the stage.
With that in mind, it would be foolish to limit the search for the next big stars to that dozen currently in the world’s top 33.
Step forward Jannik Sinner, the 18-year-old Italian who is currently the youngest player in the top 100.
He caught the eye of those following the lower echelons of tennis a while ago and he recently introduced himself to a much wider audience when he made the semi-finals in Antwerp on the main ATP Tour.
If anyone can make a similar surge to the one Felix Auger-Aliassime has made in 2019 – and I still consider FAA a serious contender to rise to the top of the game – then Sinner looks to be that man.
The general feeling is that Thiem’s generation – the Austrian is 26 – may have already missed the boat having so far failed to dislodge the big guns, who seem likely to be around for a while to come.
But Thiem has undoubtedly improved in 2019, notably on the surfaces which don’t come naturally to him.
While the ‘Dominator’ was once again second best only to Nadal on clay, his results in the second half of the season are what have really stood out for me.
In the past, he often faded in this period having played too often.
But this year he’s won in Beijing on a faster-than-ideal court, reached the last eight in Shanghai and triumphed at his home event in Vienna.
Earlier in the year he made his Masters breakthrough in Indian Wells, another hardcourt success.
His improved, all-round consistency could see him finish above Federer this year and bodes well for him to be major player in 2020 and beyond.