It’s a question that feels almost as old as the old guard themselves: is [insert name of young buck here] the man to break Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic’s stranglehold on men’s tennis?
Grigor Dimitrov, Milos Raonic, Nick Kyrgios and Alexander Zverev have all been touted as saviours, yet none has managed to succeed and the last 12 grand slam titles have been mopped up by the big three.
So there may be understandable cynicism at the heralding of another new talent in Stefanos Tsitsipas, especially one who looks like he would be more at home on a surf board than holding a racket.
But the strides made by the gangly Greek in the last 12 months and moreover the wider appeal of the 21-year-old mean the question bears repeating: is Tsitsipas, at last, the real next big thing?
What Tsitsipas did at the O2 in London on Sunday night has lent the question greater weight and urgency.
In a swashbuckling defeat of world No5 Dominic Thiem, he claimed his biggest singles title by far and became the youngest man to win the ATP Finals since Lleyton Hewitt in 2001.
Over the previous week he also beat last year’s champion Zverev, only narrowly lost to world No1 Nadal and swept past Federer in straight sets in the semi-finals.
It all capped a breakthrough season for the young man from Athens, which began with a first grand slam semi-final appearance at the Australian Open and included titles in Marseille and Estoril.
Refreshing and intriguing
Improving results are only part of the package that makes Tsitsipas so refreshing and intriguing, however.
With his 6ft4ins frame, he slam-dunks booming flat forehands like few aside from Kyrgios can, while he has a one-handed backhand in the mould of Federer’s elegant masterstroke.
More than that, he plays with a looseness, an evident freedom and enjoyment. In a men’s tennis scene crying out for charisma and personality, Tsitsipas has it in spades.
It is easy to see why Greg Rusedski compared him to Bjorn Borg, while Boris Becker has called him “box office” and Tim Henman labelled him “a massive star of the future”.
Brands have not overlooked the appeal of an avid vlogger with 162,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel, either. Adidas provide his kit and Wilson his rackets, while he also has a deal with Rolex.
Walk the walk
The key to toppling Federer, Nadal and Djokovic will be consistency. It is what sets those three serial winners apart and why so many pretenders have failed to dethrone them.
Dimitrov has not won a title since the ATP Finals two years ago; Raonic’s drought is longer still; Kyrgios has struggled to harness his obvious gifts; and Zverev was in a similar position to Tsitsipas 12 months ago but has not yet kicked on.
Tsitsipas – a pupil of Patrick Mouratoglu, coach to Serena Williams – is convinced he can succeed where his predecessors haven’t.
“I believe I’m really close to being a grand slam champion,” he said following Sunday’s triumph. “I know those are strong words to say but I do feel like I belong there.”
Having talked the talk, next year the youngest man to beat all of the big three will be expected to walk the walk. The jury remains out on whether he is the saviour, but it will be fun watching him try.
Main image credit: Getty