Rafael Nadal has acknowledged the emergence of a younger generation of players in 2021, but has made it clear that he is not willing to give up his seat at the winners table just yet.

The Spaniard will begin his quest for a 10th title at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia against Jannik Sinner, who is among the new generation threatening to break the stranglehold "The Big Three" – Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic – have had over the game in the last decade and a half.

The last three Masters champions have come from outside of the trio, with Alexander Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Hubert Hurkacz winning in Madrid, Monte Carlo and Miami respectively. Djokovic was the last Big Three member to win a Masters title when he won in Rome last year.

"It's normal that after almost 20 years on the tour there is another generation that is winning tournaments," Nadal said, as quoted on the ATP Tour website. "[The Big Three] have been achieving almost every single important event for the last 19 years. Nothing strange, 100 per cent ready to accept that. But I'm going to keep fighting for things."

"First thing is that we are missing events. Second thing there is a new generation of players that are good. I think we are 33, 34, 39. That's something usual that nothing is forever. You need to be ready to accept that and let's see what's going on," he added.

Nadal has shown this season that he is human after all when it comes to playing on clay having lost in the quarterfinals at Monte Carlo and in Madrid. The Spaniard is keen to continue improving his game as he is not ready to give up his claim to the Roland Garros crown just yet.

"Let's see in three weeks or in four weeks," Nadal said when asked if the younger generation can now start winning Grand Slam titles. "I don't know. It was not the case yet, but why not? Hopefully not, anything can happen."

Nadal is wary of the threat Sinner poses in the second round of the Italian Open. The Spaniard admits that all the matches are difficult, especially those against in-form players – Sinner made the final at the Miami Masters earlier in the year.

"All the matches are difficult," the former world No.1 added. "He's improving every day for sure, and he's in a moment that he's ascending in the rankings. He's confident. He played a great tournament in Miami."

Rafael Nadal
Rafael Nadal outlasted Stefanos Tsitsipas in an epic Barcelona Open final to win the tournament for a 12th time