Cape Town – Former world No 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero has backed Alexander Zverev to pose the biggest threat to Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer in 2018.
While the tennis world is anxiously awaiting the return of injured duo Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, former French Open champion Ferrero reckons it's the younger generation that will pose the real threat to the big two's current dominance.
"Zverev is very competitive and results have arrived sooner than expected," Ferroro told ibtimes.co.uk.
"He is a top world player so far and during the last part of the season he focused on the mental side in order to cope with pressure.
"He is number four in the ATP rankings and they now begin to see him as a potential number one. Because he is able to make it. We are working a lot on that side of him, so far Zverev has not had to face this aspect of the game."
Ferrero is working alongside Zverev at Equelite, the sport academy in Alicante where he grew up.
He is also working with US Open finalist Pablo Carreno, another young player he is tipping for big things.
"As for Pablo, he is playing superb tennis and during his last season, bravery made a difference. He has set higher goals and he has proven to himself that he can compete against the best players in the world. If he keeps on with the hard job, he will give us very big moments the next season.
Despite another year ticking off on the calendar for veterans Nadal and Federer, Ferrero doesn't see them becoming a spent force in 2018.
"You cannot be surprised with Rafa. He is one of the greatest in tennis history and his fighting capability is simply unbelievable," Ferrero said.
"This year he has been playing more aggressively, his tennis is more straight forward, he is adapting his game style and he has been able to enjoy himself again on the court. A tennis player of his level is constantly trying to adapt and improve.
"We are going to see a very competitive season. As I said before, the big four will have to face the newcomers, the young players who are currently in the top 10 who want to remain there for a long time. And let's not forget players like Stan Wawrinka or Kei Nishikori, who have been injured for some months. It is going to be a tough season for all of them."
Even Federer – if he continues to manage his schedule properly – could still perform next season, Ferrero said.
"Federer knows himself better than anyone, he knows where his limits are and he cherry-picks his calendar based on his knowledge on himself. One of the keys for last season's success might be that Roger Federer has focused more on enjoying than on simply winning. He is no longer carrying such a burden on his shoulders."
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