Can anyone stop Al-Hilal from winning record 5th AFC Champions League?

Can anyone stop Al-Hilal from winning record 5th AFC Champions League?
Al-Hilal midfielder Nasser Al-Dawsari celebrates after a goal during the AFC Champions League group A match against Qatar’s Al-Rayyan on April 11, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 18 April 2022

Can anyone stop Al-Hilal from winning record 5th AFC Champions League?

Can anyone stop Al-Hilal from winning record 5th AFC Champions League?
  • After 3 rounds of group stages, the reigning Asian, Saudi champions are only team with 100% record

RIYADH: It is a question being asked all around Asia as the AFC Champions League gets into gear: Who can stop Al-Hilal? Who can stop the title holders, who picked up a record fourth continental crown last November, from making it five this time around?

While there is still plenty of time for a challenger to step forward, there is no doubt that the Saudi Arabian powerhouse are the ones to beat.

If evidence was needed of the Riyadh club’s ascendancy, then there is the fact that after three games of the western zone, the team is the only one with the maximum haul of nine points. Al-Hilal have already defeated Sharjah of the UAE, Qatar’s Al-Rayyan, and Istiklol of Tajikistan and are five points clear at the top of Group A and strolling through the first round.

While the foreign stars at the club generally grab the headlines, it is striking that Al-Hilal’s six goals in Group A so far have come from six different players with only one, a winner in the opening game from Brazil’s Michael, coming from an import.

Saleh Al-Shehri started the new campaign off with Abdullah Al-Hamdan, Mohamed Kanno, Nasser Al-Dawsari, and Salman Al-Faraj getting in on the act since.

The defense has been solid with just one goal conceded in 270 minutes of football. There is a real strength in depth at the club and they are not reliant on one player. Odion Ighalo has yet to score in the Champions League and the same is true of Moussa Marega and Matheus Pereira, two of the best talents in the competition. Even with injuries in the first game to Al-Shehri and Jang Hyun-soo in defense, and then Marega coming down with a bout of flu, the team have barely missed a beat.

Now they are approaching the realms of history-making. The most recent win over Istiklol, more comprehensive than the 1-0 scoreline suggested, was an 11th in succession. The run stretches back to the first game under coach Ramon Diaz who arrived in February. It is fair to say that the reaction to the Argentine’s return at the time was underwhelming, but results have been perfect. Not only is it the best streak of any new coach in the history of Saudi Arabian football, but it is also closing on club records.

Eric Gerets led Al-Hilal to a 12-match run during the 2009 to 2010 session when the well-travelled Belgian boss delivered the domestic title. The record belongs to Marcos Paqueta who oversaw a 13-game streak in the 2004 to 2005 season which, understandably, ended with the championship. Should Diaz and his men win the three remaining games in their group then both those runs will be surpassed.

There are only two downsides to Al-Hilal’s current hot streak. The first is that the knockout stages of the Champions League will not start until early next year as the tournament transitions to a September to May calendar meaning that, by the time the action resumes, players will have come and gone, not to mention momentum and form.

The second is that, unlike the previous two mammoth winning streaks, it is likely to end without a domestic title. At the moment, the Riyadh club are 11 points behind league leaders Al-Ittihad in the Saudi Pro League. There is still a little hope, as Al-Ittihad have played two games more than their challengers and the two teams are still to meet once more.

The problem for Al-Hilal is that the Jeddah giants have been in great form themselves, having dropped just five points from a possible 48 with the one defeat coming at the hands of Al-Hilal in March. That means there is probably too much for Al-Hilal left to do to make up the deficit. It also means that winning the current continental competition is more likely than domestic success this year.

That does not surprise former Al-Hilal goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi.

The ex-Omani goalkeeper, who had a spell with the Riyadh club in a career that saw him playing in the English Premier League with Bolton Wanderers and Wigan Athletic, said: “Al-Hilal’s games in Asia are easier than the games they have in the league. There is no doubt that they will qualify at the top of the group as there is such a clear difference between the Saudi leagues and the others.”

Al-Habsi may be right as the rest of the pack have yet to impress.

Al-Sadd and Al-Duhail of Qatar have the firepower to cause anyone problems but a look around the other groups does not find that many potential challengers.

The expulsion of Persepolis and Esteghlal for falling foul of the Asian Football Confederation’s licensing requirements have not done much for Iran’s hopes.

The UAE representatives do not look to be of the classic variety. It may well be that Al-Hilal’s biggest rivals in the western zone – the tournament is divided into two geographic halves until the final – will come from close to home with local rivals Al-Shabab perhaps the second-most impressive performer so far in the group stage, with Al-Faisaly and Al-Taawoun also standing out. It backs up the point that Al-Habsi has been making.

Whatever happens, Al-Hilal are not only the defending continental champions of Asia but are currently the best team in the competition. Add that to a potential record-breaking streak of wins and these are heady days to be following the most successful club in the history of Saudi Arabia as well as Asia.


Toyota’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi cruises to comfortable victory at Rally Asir

Toyota’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi cruises to comfortable victory at Rally Asir
Updated 25 September 2022

Toyota’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi cruises to comfortable victory at Rally Asir

Toyota’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi cruises to comfortable victory at Rally Asir
  • ‘It’s great to make such a good start to the Saudi Toyota Championship’
  • Kingdom’s driver ready for round 2 at Rally Qassim from Oct. 12-14

ABHA: Toyota Hilux driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi and his German co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz stayed clear of trouble to clinch an emphatic victory at the Abha-based Rally Asir, round one of the 2022 Saudi Toyota Rally Championship.

The Saudi was fastest on both selective sections on Friday and Saturday and a time of 1 hour 36 minutes and 54.6 seconds for the longer of the two stages earned the Toyota man a winning margin of 26 minutes and 1.5 seconds.

Al-Rajhi said: “This was a challenging rally, not easy, but the car was perfect and Dirk did a great job with the navigation. It’s great to get back to winning ways and to make such a good start to the Saudi Toyota Championship.”

Event stewards awarded Miroslav Zapletal and his Slovakian co-driver Marek Sykora a 12-minute penalty for a timing infringement on Friday afternoon and the Czech was pushed down from second to sixth place before the final 186.73-kilometer selective section got underway. The Ford F-150 driver’s misfortune promoted Al-Saif into second place and the Can-Am driver started the day 14:44 behind Al-Rajhi.

The final day’s action was split into two sections and passed between Tareeb and Al-Qa’ah. Al-Saif and his Spanish co-driver Oriol Vidal were unable to hold on to their position and set the fourth quickest time in the Black Horse Can-Am Maverick X3. The Saudi duly finished fourth overall, sealing victory in the T3 category in the process.

Zapletal was second on the day and managed to overhaul four crews, including Al-Saif and third-placed Mohammed Al-Tuwaijri and his Peruvian co-driver Hector Garcia, to regain second position in the overall standings. Khalid Al-Feraihi and French navigator Sébastien Delaunay finished fifth.

Hamad Al-Harbi and Russian co-driver Alexey Kuzmich managed to fend off a late challenge from Dania Akeel and her Uruguayan navigator Sergio Lafuente to confirm sixth overall and second in T3 in their Al-Shegawi Racing Can-Am. Akeel was seventh, despite finishing the stage with a cracked windscreen after hitting a tree branch.

Saudi Border Guard team driver Jafar Al-Qahtani secured eighth and outright success in the T2 section for series-production cross-country vehicles. SBG teammate Haylan Al-Subaie and Ahmed Al-Shegawi were second and third in the showroom section.

Both Saeed Al-Mouri and Maha Al-Hamali failed to finish the opening stage and the duel for the T4 category win was fought out over the final morning with both drivers carrying massive time penalties from the previous day. Al-Mouri and his Jordanian co-driver Ata Al-Hmoud pipped Al-Hamali and her Spanish co-driver María de Los Angeles to the day’s stage win and snatched T4 success, courtesy of having less time penalties for missing waypoints.

Mubarak Al-Zubaidi and Abdullah Al-Sanad joined Muneef Al-Salmani on the list of retirements, as 17 crews tackled the final stage. Ibrahim bin Sahnan and Fahad Al-Maioweed withdrew during the morning.

The event was organized by the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation in conjunction with the Ministry of Sport, the Saudi Motorsport Marshals Club and the Saudi Motorsport Company, in partnership with Abdul Latif Jameel Motors Toyota.

Round two of the championship will be Rally Qassim from Oct. 12 to 14.

 

Asir Rally 2022 positions after leg 2 over 186.73 km:

 

1. Yazeed Al-Rajhi (Saudi)/Dirk von Zitzewitz (Germany) Toyota Hilux: 3:19:58.7

 

2. Miroslav Zapletal (Czech)/Marek Sykora (Slovakia) Ford F-150 Evo: 3:46:0.2

 

3. Mohammed Al-Tuwaijri (Saudi)/Hector Garcia (Peru) Nissan: 3:49:42.4

 

4. Saleh Al-Saif (Saudi)/Oriol Vidal (Spain) Can-Am Maverick X3 (T3): 3:50:6.4

 

5. Khalid Al-Feraihi (Saudi)/Sébastien Delaunay (France) Nissan: 3:55:21.7

 

6. Hamad Al-Harbi (Saudi)/Alexei Kuzmich (Russia) Can-Am Maverick X3 (T3): 4:07:45

 

7. Dania Akeel (Saudi)/Sergio Lafuente (Uruguay) Can-Am Maverick X3 (T3): 4:16:48.2

 

8. Jafar Al-Qahtani (Saudi)/Ali Al-Yami (SAU) Nissan (T2): 4:51:57.4

 

9. Haylan Al-Subaie (Saudi)/Hussam Al-Zahrani (Saudi) Nissan (T2): 4:55:50.3

 

10. Ahmed Al-Shegawi (Saudi)/Waleed Al-Shegawi (Saudi) Nissan (T2): 5:00:10.9

 

11. Abdulaziz Al-Yaeesh (Saudi)/Omar Al-Lahim (Saudi) Nissan: 5:05:23.6

 

12. Ahmed Al-Gashami (Saudi)/Nawaf Al-Enezi (Kuwait) Nissan: 5:26:18.3

 

13. Majed Al-Thunayyan (Saudi)/Fahad Al-Sufinay (Saudi) Nissan: 6:34:47.7

 

14. Saeed Al-Mouri (Saudi)/Ata Al-Hmoud (Jordan) Can-Am Maverick X3 (T4): 22:47:18

 

15. Maha Al-Hamali (Saudi)/María de Los Angeles (Spain) Can-Am Maverick X3 (T4): 24:11:56.9


Thailand’s Atthaya grabs LPGA NW Arkansas lead

Thailand’s Atthaya grabs LPGA NW Arkansas lead
Updated 25 September 2022

Thailand’s Atthaya grabs LPGA NW Arkansas lead

Thailand’s Atthaya grabs LPGA NW Arkansas lead
  • After birdies at the first, third and fifth Atthaya picked up four shots in her last three holes

 

 

LOS ANGELES: Thai rookie Atthaya Thitikul fired an eagle and eight birdies in a 10-under par 61 on Saturday to seize the lead in the LPGA NW Arkansas Championship.

The 19-year-old chasing a second LPGA victory, had a 13-under par total of 128 and a one-stroke lead over Japan’s Yuka Saso, who carded a 6-under par 65 at Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers.

Former amateur No. 1 Lilia Vu carded her second straight 65 for solo third on 130 heading into the final round of the 54-hole event.

Atthaya teed off on 10 and picked up three strokes in her first nine holes.

After birdies at the first, third and fifth she picked up four shots in her last three holes.

She eagled the seventh, where her four-iron approach from 210 yards out left her two feet from the pin, and birdied the eighth and ninth.

“I think my mind was blank and just nothing there,” she said of her mindset as she picked up steam coming in. “Just hit a shot, just tap it in, putt it in, just like totally blank.”

She said she plays her best golf when she keeps her mind clear and her plan is to “keep that blank mind for tomorrow.”

The 19-year-old has plenty of experience to draw on come Sunday.

Her 11 international victories include a win in the Ladies European Thailand Championship as a 14-year-old amateur in 2017.

Since winning her first LPGA title in March she has top-10 finishes in the Women’s PGA Championship, the Evian Championship and the Women’s British Open.

“I think (I’ll) just do my best out there and I’m trying to enjoy every moment of it,” she said. “You’re not going to be in the same moment anymore so just keep trying my best.”

Saso, who was among six players sharing the overnight lead, had six birdies without a bogey and she’s hoping she can add a victory to what has been an otherwise average season.

Last year she made her first LPGA title a major when she won the US Women’s Open, but she had her last top-10 finish in January.

Nine players shared fourth place, four shots off the lead. The group included overnight co-leaders Megan Khang, Ryann O’Toole and Lee5 Jeong-eun.

But South Korean Kim Sei-young, who was also among the first-round leaders, faded with a 1-under-par 70 that featured a triple-bogey at the par-four 14th.


Portugal beat Czechs, Spain lose to Swiss in Nations League

Portugal beat Czechs, Spain lose to Swiss in Nations League
Updated 25 September 2022

Portugal beat Czechs, Spain lose to Swiss in Nations League

Portugal beat Czechs, Spain lose to Swiss in Nations League
  • Spain failed to disturb the Swiss in attack and their defense conceded two goals on corner kicks featuring Swiss defender Manuel Akanji

BARCELONA, Spain: Diogo Dalot helped Portugal take control of its Nations League group by scoring his first two international goals in a 4-0 rout at the Czech Republic on Saturday.

Spain blew their lead of Group A2 after flopping in a 2-1 loss to Switzerland in front of their disappointed fans in Zaragoza.

Portugal moved two points ahead of Spain before the neighbors meet in Braga on Tuesday in a winner-take-all clash to see which advances to the tournament’s final four next June.

While his Portugal rolled in Prague, Cristiano Ronaldo had a rough night, first enduring a nasty blow to his face that made his nose bleed and required a small bandage. International soccer’s all-time leading scorer with 117 goals also committed a penalty that, fortunately for him, the Czechs failed to convert with the score 2-0.

Dalot put Portugal ahead in the 33rd minute when the right back scored from a pass by Rafael Leão.

Bruno Fernandes doubled the lead in first-half injury time moments before Ronaldo was guilty of the handball inside his own area. But Patrik Schick wasted the penalty kick by sending it onto the crossbar.

Dalot put the result beyond all doubt in the 52nd with a curling shot into the corner.

Ronaldo finished with an assist for Diogo Jota to take a fourth goal in the 82nd.

Spain flops

Luis Enrique, who last year guided Spain to the semifinals of the European Championship and the final of the Nations League, is known for making unpopular decisions and sticking to them.

And, once again, he surprised by starting Marco Asensio, who has been relegated to a substitute role at club Real Madrid, as a false nine while leaving pure strikers Álvaro Morata and newcomer Borja Iglesias on the bench.

Spain failed to disturb the Swiss in attack and their defense conceded two goals on corner kicks featuring Swiss defender Manuel Akanji.

Akanji struck with a great header in the 21st when he outjumped his marker and drove the ball off the turf and into the top corner of the net.

Asensio finally managed to pick apart Switzerland’s defense in the 55th when he dribbled past four players before laying off for Jordi Alba to rifle in the equalizer.

But Switzerland hit right back three minutes later when Akanji was left unchecked at the near post to use one touch to redirect a corner kick into the six-yard box where Breel Embolo nudged it over the line.

“They said that it was easy to beat Switzerland and we have seen that is not true in the least,” Luis Enrique said. “They stopped us from playing our game, and you have to add to that our very sloppy first half. We improved in the second half, showed more precision, but just when we scored, we conceded another goal from a corner. Now we have to go to Portugal and win.”

Iglesias and 20-year-old Nico Williams debuted for Spain as substitutes. Nico’s older brother and clubmate Iñaki Williams debuted for Ghana on Friday after he changed allegiance from Spain.

Switzerland hosts the Czech Republic in St. Gallen on Tuesday to decide which avoids relegation. Switzerland has two more points than the Czechs in last place.

Portugal, Spain and Switzerland will all play in the World Cup in November.

League B

Israel were promoted from Group B2 after it beat Albania 2-1 thanks to a goal by Tai Baribo in injury time.

It is all level between Serbia and Norway atop Group B4 ahead of their game in Olso to see which joins League A.

Erling Haaland scored for Norway but Slovenia fought back for a 2-1 home win, while Serbia’s Aleksandar Mitrovic netted a hat trick to lead a 4-1 victory over Sweden in Belgrade.

Scotland remained in charge of Group B1 after edging Ireland 2-1 in Glasgow. Ukraine is two points behind after routing Armenia 5-0 before it plays the Scots in Krakow.

League C

Greece earned promotion from Group C2 despite losing to Cyprus 1-0 thanks to Northern Ireland’s 2-1 comeback win over Kosovo.

Friendlies

Senegal prepared for the World Cup by beating Bolivia 2-0 in a friendly in Orleans, France.


US lead Presidents Cup as Kim gives Internationals a spark

US lead Presidents Cup as Kim gives Internationals a spark
Updated 25 September 2022

US lead Presidents Cup as Kim gives Internationals a spark

US lead Presidents Cup as Kim gives Internationals a spark
  • The Internationals split the morning matches, and the way this Presidents Cup has gone for them, not losing ground felt like a win

CHARLOTTE, US: The Americans have a juggernaut in Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas that moved them closer to another victory in the Presidents Cup on Saturday.

The International team has a spark plug in 20-year-old Tom Kim, who delivered the emotion and big putts that made it clear the Americans will have to work for it.

The day started with the Americans having a mathematical chance to clinch the cup. It ended with them holding an 11-7 lead, with 12 singles matches left on Sunday.

Spieth and Thomas became only the second US partnership to win all four team matches in the Presidents Cup, handily winning their foursomes match in the morning and their fourballs match in the afternoon.

The Internationals split the morning matches, and the way this Presidents Cup has gone for them, not losing ground felt like a win.

And then it got better.

They rallied over the final hour in two matches to turn deficits into 1-up wins, taking the afternoon session by winning three of the four matches.

The star was Kim, the youngest player at Quail Hollow and perhaps the biggest personality. He started the comeback with a 55-foot eagle putt on the par-4 11th hole against Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele.

They were all square going to the last, Si Woo Kim already out of the hole, and Tom Kim facing a 10-foot birdie putt for the win. He took a few steps back as the ball neared the hole, dropped his putter and slammed his cap to the ground in a raucous celebration.

“I wanted that putt more than anything in the world,” Kim said.

Moments later, Adam Scott and Cameron Davis rallied from 1 down with three holes remaining when Davis made a 12-foot eagle putt on the 16th and a 15-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole to go 1 up.

On the final hole, Sam Burns hit his approach to 4 feet that gave him and Billy Horschel a chance to earn a halve. And then Davis made a 10-foot birdie for another point.

Every point is big for the International team, already depleted from four players who left the PGA Tour for Saudi-funded LIV, and already dealing with eight straight cup losses.

The Americans are still very much in control, needing only four wins and a halve from the 12 singles matches in the final session.

Spieth and Thomas have led the way. The only other US tandem in a Presidents Cup to go 4-0 was Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker at Harding Park in 2009. The Internationals had Louis Oosthuizen and Branden Grace do the same in South Korea in 2015.

Thomas and Spieth have been close friends for 15 years, dating to junior golf and international outings. This is the first time in a Presidents Cup that they have been paired together, and both are on their games. It a lethal combination.

Even so, the end of the matches gave Spieth pause.

“We’ve got to go get the job done tomorrow and win two more points for our team,” Spieth said. “I’d love to get a singles win, and I know Justin would, too. We’re going to be close enough where our two would be obviously extremely important.”

Kim won both his matches Saturday, teaming with K.H. Lee in morning foursomes to beat Burns and Masters champion Scottie Scheffler, 2 and 1.

Scott is playing on his 10th team — eight losses and one tie — and was shut out until he and Hideki Matsuyama took down Collin Morikawa and Cameron Young in the morning, and Scott and Davis proved to be a great Australian duo in the afternoon.

“Any victory against the US team has got to be really hard fought,” Scott said. “So this feels good.”

Max Homa is still having the week of his life. After his late heroics the night before, he partnered with Tony Finau in a 4-and-3 victory over Si Woo Kim and Davis. Homa sat out the afternoon session. He is 3-0 in his debut playing in a cup.

Schauffele and Cantlay lost for the first time in three matches this week. They were 2 up after 10 holes and were 3 under the rest of the way, with Schauffele making a 40-foot birdie putt from short of the 15th green for a 1-up lead that looked like it would carry them to another point.

Instead, Si Woo Kim made a 4-foot birdie putt to square the match on the 16th, and a 5-foot par putt to keep it tied on the 17th. Tom Kim was so nervous he covered his eyes and was peaking through his fingers, pumping his fist when the putt dropped.

And then the 20-year-old Korean had the stage to himself at the end, and he delivered a winner. Left to be seen is what one putt — one point — can do for an International team that still has a four-point deficit to overcome.


Federer, Nadal, Djokovic set new bar for next generations

Federer, Nadal, Djokovic set new bar for next generations
Updated 25 September 2022

Federer, Nadal, Djokovic set new bar for next generations

Federer, Nadal, Djokovic set new bar for next generations
  • Here we are, 20 years later, and Federer wound up with 20; Djokovic has 21; Nadal leads with 22

LONDON: Here is one way to look at what Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and the now-retired Roger Federer accomplished: The group known as the Big Three of men’s tennis accumulated so many Grand Slam titles — 63 in all — that it seems unlikely anyone will reach the standards they set.

Not anytime soon, certainly.

Here was another way to think about things as the professional level of the sport began its post-Federer life on Saturday, following the last match of his career: What he and the other two members of that distinguished trio, along with Serena Williams, managed to do was demonstrate that it is possible to dominate for decades, not merely years, at a time.

And the 41-year-old Federer, for one, thinks up-and-coming players can learn from the way he and the others of his era went about it, from their self-belief and attitudes about setting goals to their training, nutrition and other methods of ensuring longevity.

He laughed when relaying a conversation with Bjorn Borg, who is the captain of Team Europe at the Laver Cup, about what life was like back when he was winning his 11 major championships from 1974 to 1981 before retiring in his 20s. During an interview with The Associated Press this week, Federer recalled a conversation in which Borg talked about getting one weekly massage and maybe the occasional hot bath during his time on tour.

Federer’s massage routine over his quarter-century as a player?

“Every day, probably. Sometimes I would get tired of them, so I would say, ‘Can we skip a day today?’ You know what I mean? I will not miss those. I mean, I loved my massages from time to time, but come on; number 1,423 gets a little bit like, ‘Jesus. I’d rather do something different,’” Federer said, then added through a self-aware grin: “Complaining at a high level here.”

When Pete Sampras won the 2002 US Open in his last match, he collected his 14th Slam trophy, two more than any other man in the history of tennis to that point. Indeed, there were those who wondered at the time whether that mark would ever be broken.

Seems quaint now. Here we are, 20 years later, and Federer wound up with 20; Djokovic has 21; Nadal leads with 22. The latter two are still adding to their counts: Nadal, 36, won the Australian Open in January and the French Open in June; Djokovic, 35, won Wimbledon in July.

“No. 1, it’s easier nowadays to run through different surfaces. Pete only made one semi at the French. Borg never went to Australia. ... And,” Federer said, “it was less professional back in the ‘70s.”

Federer also made this point: He, Nadal, Djokovic and Williams, and the rise of social media, all contributed to a change in the paradigm of Grand Slam importance vis a vis other tournaments and made chasing those records — and talking about chasing those records — more widely accepted and matter-of-course.

“It’s a different world now,” Federer said.

In bygone days, he said, “It was not about records. This whole record thing started, I’d say, with Sampras wanting to surpass the 12 of (Roy) Emerson. This is what set up this generation that we see with Novak and Rafa right now. For me, I don’t remember much, when I came up in the ‘90s, about all these records. I remember Pete was kind of chasing them, but I was not aware of it. They just said, ‘Oh, you play like Pete, so you’re going to be ‘the next Pete Sampras.’ I was like, ‘Oh, OK.’”

With that, he rolled his eyes.

Then Federer continued discussing Sampras: “I don’t even remember how many Slams he had at that time. I don’t even remember where he passed that record. It was a big moment, I’m sure, but I, a historian of the game, don’t really remember it.”

Players have changed. Media coverage has changed. Fans’ attention has changed.

“We behave different, in the process, as well, and we are driven in a different way. I don’t think you were planning years ahead: ‘OK, I have 10 years ahead, so let’s break it down. What do I have to do to achieve such a thing?’ Back in the day, it was ‘OK, what are we playing next week?’” Federer said. “I just think it’s different and that’s why I think we’ll see more successful players in the future and they’ll be able to play longer, because they’ll maintain their bodies.”

For the current crop of new talent, including US Open champion and No. 1-ranked Carlos Alcaraz, who is just 19, or French Open and US Open runner-up Casper Ruud, who is No. 2 at age 23, the example is there.

Now the question is: Can they follow it?

“They brought it to a whole different level and showed that anything is possible. Just imagine if one of the three was not there, how many the two other ones would have. They would probably be close to 30. ... It gives young players like myself and the younger generation inspiration to see how well it’s possible to play,” Ruud said. “I don’t think that record will be broken, ever, but let’s see in the future. Anything can happen.”

Felix Auger-Aliassime, a US Open semifinalist at age 21 last year, agrees that having something to aspire to is helpful.

As is having role models, which Team World vice captain Patrick McEnroe pointed out the Big Three are in terms of sportsmanship and the “way the game is actually played on the court.”

“Now the younger players are training hard, always trying to improve, being more and more professional,” Auger-Aliassime said. “It does raise the bar of the level and the competitiveness of the sport, which I think pushes the sport forward.”