Novak Djokovic has taken a none-too-subtle swipe at the ongoing discussion about tennis' 'Next Gen' stars tipped to eventually usurp the 'Big Three' of himself, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.
The Serbian superstar said he and Nadal were 'reinventing the Next Gen' after losing to the Spaniard 7-5, 1-6, 6-3 in the final of the Italian Open.
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While the likes of Daniil Medvedev, Dominic Thiem and Stefanos Tsitsipas, among various others, have been tipped to eventually become the dominant force in men's tennis that Nadal and Djokovic have long represented, none have been able to consistently best the pair.
Speaking after the loss, Djokovic said it was plain to see that the Next Gen still had some growing up to do.
"Rafa is one of the biggest rivals I've had in my career, every time it's a struggle, today almost three hours," he said.
"I mean, I said it thousand times. I don't know how many times people want me to repeat it. Of course the Next Gen is there, is coming, whatever.
"I don't know what to tell you other than that. I'm not focused on the Next Gen even though I know people, you know, it creates a story.
"People like to talk about it. Fine. The guys are there. They are already establishing themselves in the top 5, top 10 of the world. Nothing new. But we are still there."
Djokovic will continue his pursuit of Roger Federer's record 20 grand slam victories at the upcoming French Open, but will have fierce competition from Nadal, who has dominated the French major for 13 victories.
Nadal scythes down Djokovic in Rome final
After a mid-match wobble, Nadal turned up the heat in the decisive moments of his 57th meeting with top seed Djokovic - the pair's ninth in Rome - to secure the victory over the defending champion in two hours and 49 minutes.
The win will provide Nadal with a huge boost as he next targets a 14th Roland Garros crown when the claycourt grand slam begins on May 30.
"I was lucky in some moments, especially against (Denis) Shapovalov," Nadal said, referring to the round of 16 match that he won in a tiebreak in the decider.
"And then I think I played a good tournament. I have been playing better and better, finding my rhythm on clay. I had a very positive week and I'm very happy.
"It's amazing to have this trophy in my hands for the 10th time. It's something impossible to imagine but it happened, so I'm super happy and can't thank my team enough."
Nadal broke to go ahead 6-5 in a tight opening set and staved off a late comeback attempt from Djokovic to take the early advantage in the contest with a searing inside-out forehand that caught the Serbian off guard.
But Djokovic, who lost to Nadal in their previous meeting in the Roland Garros final last year, pounced in the second set to race ahead 5-1 as the Spaniard's intensity dropped and quickly levelled the match at one set apiece.
Second seed Nadal then saved two break points at 2-2 in the decider and fired an emphatic shot down the line to hold, before switching gears to complete the win and match Djokovic's record of 36 ATP Masters 1000 titles.
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