Novak Djokovic hailed Thanasi Kokkinakis as a breath of fresh air after putting the gallant teen to the sword to end Australia’s French Open singles hopes.
Djokovic’s 6-4 6-4 6-4 victory on Saturday followed Andy Murray’s 6-3 6-2 6-3 third-round elimination of Nick Kyrgios as the grand slam’s old guard kept the Aussie-led young brigade at bay, for now at least.
Nine-times champion Rafael Nadal also advanced in straight sets to remain on a quarter-final collision course with Djokovic, who was glowing in his praise for Kokkinakis after progressing to the last 16 with the lone service break in each of the three tightly-contested sets on Court Philippe Chatrier.
“Thanasi has a lot of talent and strength. He has plenty of time to do great things,” Djokovic after posting his 25th successive win of the year.
“I hope he does as he has a lot of qualities. Tennis needs players like Thanasi, who is a teenager, but still able to come out on centre court and play with courage and play with power and believe in himself.
“He’s one of this group of three, four young players that are starting to be more and more consistent and make couple of big wins in their careers and that are obviously expected to do very well from the tennis world.
“We didn’t have that many young successful players under 20 year olds in the last six, seven years.
“So I think it’s quite refreshing for tennis.”
Kokkinakis, who only turned 19 last month, was the first teenager to make the last 32 in Paris in seven years.
But with an open-era record of 39 thirty-somethings making the main draw, the veterans are still ruling.
And no one has ever ruled Roland Garros like Nadal, who, despite being roundly written off this year, has marched into the last 16 without looking like dropping a set.
The Spanish sixth seed swept past Russian Andrey Kuznetsov 6-1 6-3 6-2 and next faces giant-killing Jack Sock, the youngest American since Pete Sampras in 1993 to make the fourth round.
If he gets past 22-year-old Sock, who crushed Croatian teenager Borna Coric 6-2 6-1 6-4, Nadal will almost surely run into Djokovic at the earliest stage of a grand slam since their first of 43 career meetings back in 2006 in Paris.
Djokovic plays 20th seed Richard Gasquet, one of five Frenchman in the last 16, and says he knows how the likes of Kokkinakis and Kyrgios, two young men in a hurry, feel – even if their Gen-Y antics aren’t always what tennis fans expect.
“They have so much desire to play and win and so much energy,” the Serb said.
“They are young and go out on the court and want to fire every shot as hard as they can and put their heart on the court.
“And this is good to see. I mean, I don’t think they are rough. It’s just that’s the way they are. Everybody is different.
“That’s the beauty of this sport, because it portrays different characters, players who have, say, different ways of approaching a tennis match and just life in general.
“They bring something new. Both of them, they have some character on the court and people like them because of that, I think.”
Murray’s win over Kyrgios propelled the Scottish third seed into a Monday meeting with another local hope in Jeremy Chardy, a 6-3 6-4 6-2 winner over Belgian 17th seed David Goffin.