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Rafael Nadal, Tennis’ Big 3 Are Crushing Yet Another Generation Next

His name is Jannik Sinner. He’s 19 years old and he’s the next great thing in tennis. And this French Open is his big arrival. He has great power, good movement, nerves of steel and there is no stopping. . .

Oops, sorry. Never mind. False alarm. Old-man Rafael Nadal crushed him Tuesday, beat him up, then broke him down. He’s gone. Next!

We’ve seen this so many times through the years. Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic just keep plowing through one Generation Next after another. Not just one young player after another, but one young generation after another. They come up, lose, get old and go away. And the big three are always still there.

It isn’t saying anything new to point out how great these three guys are, but at some point time beats everyone.

That point isn’t now, after all. We learned that Tuesday for sure. There was some sense in tennis that maybe this was the moment. Federer’s body is cracked, Djokovic’s mind is cracked and Nadal talked about sitting in his bedroom playing video games during the pandemic, unable to bring himself to practice. So he and Federer missed the U.S. Open while Djokovic got thrown out of it when he angrily hit a ball that accidentally hit a line judge in the throat.

So Dominic Thiem, the leader of the current Generation Next, won the U.S. Open, beating Alex Zverev. And in the next Generation Next after them, along came Sinner, the talk of this French Open for the past week and a half for the cold-minded beatdown he kept putting on everyone, including Zverev.

On Tuesday, all of that talk ended. Here we are again. First, Thiem lost. And then Nadal beat Sinner 7-6 (7-4), 6-4, 6-1 in the quarterfinals. While Federer is out with a knee injury, Nadal and Djokovic have pushed every other Generation Next’s heads back under water.

Nadal has been blowing out everyone. Djokovic has been blowing out everyone. And the tournament seems as if they are just sending messages to each other from opposite sides of the draw.

Oh yeah, Rafa? Look at this. Oh yeah, Novak? Look at this.

Tuesday was just such a clear moment. Sinner stuck with Nadal early in the match and broke his serve to go up 5-4 in the first set. And then Sinner had a momentary mental blip over the thought of actually being able to take down Nadal.

Nadal broke Sinner’s serve back and went on to win the tiebreaker. Sinner went up 3-1 in the second set and -— blip — Nadal won the set. From there, Sinner was mentally broken.

What you saw was the difference between great tennis and great tennis skills. Nadal never gave away any free points. Not one. He was so focused on every single shot. Every once in a while Sinner would just have a careless 60 seconds.

Nadal played amazing defense, forcing Sinner to keep hitting more and more shots, even though those shots had been winners against everyone else the entire tournament. Nadal would whip forehands back to Sinner’s backhand over and over and over until Sinner was standing in the corner of the court, trying to get back to the middle, waiting for Nadal to crush a shot into open space. But then Nadal would just keep whipping his forehand back into that same corner.

Nadal was punching holes in Sinner’s psyche. And it was so funny watching the announcers on Tennis Channel point out how Sinner was so unflappable until. . .oops, sorry. Nevermind.

False alarm.

In the previous round, Nadal beat 20-year old Sebastian Korda, who described Nadal as “perfect’’ and grew up idolizing him. Korda even named his cat “Rafa.’’

From here, Nadal still has to beat Diego Schwartzman in the semifinals. Schwartzman beat Nadal a few weeks ago. It won’t happen again. Djokovic still has to bear, probably, Stefanos Tsitsipas — a leader of Thiem’s generation.

Then Nadal will play Djokovic in the final. At this moment, you’d have to favor Djokovic. But they still have a few days worth of messages to send back and forth to each other.

And, apparently, to everyone in the future.

Written by Greg Couch

Greg earned the 2007 Peter Lisagor Award as the best sports columnist in the Chicagoland area for his work with the Chicago Sun-Times, where he started as a college football writer in 1997 before becoming a general columnist in 2003. He also won a Lisagor in 2016 for his commentary in RollingStone.com and The Guardian.

Couch penned articles and columns for CNN.com/Bleacher Report, AOL Fanhouse, and The Sporting News and contributed as a writer and on-air analyst for FoxSports.com and Fox Sports 1 TV. In his journalistic roles, Couch has covered the grandest stages of tennis from Wimbledon to the Olympics, among numerous national and international sporting spectacles. He also won first place awards from the U.S. Tennis Writers Association for his event coverage and column writing on the sport in 2010.

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