Novak Djokovic: Younger generation 'closer and closer' to Grand Slam titles

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Novak Djokovic believes the next generation of players is closer than ever to breaking through and winning a Grand Slam title.

Djokovic begins the defense of his Australian Open title on Monday, chasing his eighth win in Melbourne and his 17th Grand Slam title.

Between them, Djokovic, Roger Federer (20) and Rafael Nadal (19) have won 55 of the past 66 Grand Slam events and show little sign of slowing in their 30s, having shared each of the past 12 and 16 of the past 20.

But the Serb said performances by the likes of Daniil Medvedev, the runner-up at the US Open in September, showed that the handover to the next generation is not too far away.

"They're coming closer and closer, it's obvious," Djokovic told reporters at Melbourne Park.

"Medvedev had a great fight with Rafa (at the US Open) last season. (Stefanos) Tsitsipas played semis here last year. Dominic Thiem, twice finals in French Open. They're very, very close. They're literally one set away. On a given day, in the very near future, I think that can happen. It's going to happen. It's inevitable."

Alexander Zverev of Germany has been a fixture in the top 10 for the past two years, while Canadians Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime are pushing hard.

But Djokovic, who turns 33 later this year, admitted that actually winning a slam is still an incredibly difficult thing to do.

"To win a slam and also to kind of be consistently on the top level for many years, it takes, I think, a player (time) to gain that mental and emotional maturity and experience, to understand his own strengths, to kind of fight his own fears, to really be able to maintain that level for a long time.

"Rafa, Roger and I, obviously because of the past 10, 15 years, we know what we need to do mentally also in this particular situation. That gives us probably a little bit of an edge.

"(But) they're very close. I don't think that's miles, miles away maybe as it was some years ago. I think they are definitely hungry. They're challenging. They're knocking on the door."

The seven-time champion goes into the Australian Open with plenty of confidence, having led Serbia to victory in the inaugural ATP Cup last weekend, a victory that forced him to take it easier than usual in the week leading up to a Grand Slam.

"It was a phenomenal couple of weeks and great lead-up to Australian Open," he said. "But it did take a lot out of me. I did adjust my training sessions towards that, so I had a little bit more of recuperation rather than just stepping on accelerator a little bit more.

"I just actually kind of put a level down a little bit, just tried to keep the sessions a bit shorter, with good intensity. That's all, just maintain the right rhythm for the first match."

Djokovic opens his title campaign against Jan-Lennard Struff, the hard-hitting German, on Monday night.