Wimbledon (England), Jun 28: There is a real shift happening at the top of tennis, a youth movement that long seemed inevitable but never actually arrived until now.

As the sport's attention shifts to the grass of Wimbledon, where play begins Monday, Carlos Alcaraz, Jannik Sinner, Iga Swiatek and Coco Gauff are the players whose names are on everyone's lips.

Alcaraz is the defending men's champion and owner of three Grand Slam titles at the age of 21 after his triumph at the French Open. Sinner, 22, is the top-seeded man at Wimbledon and won the Australian Open in January. Swiatek, 23, is the top-seeded woman and just earned her fourth championship at Roland Garros and fifth major overall. Gauff, the youngest of the bunch at 20, is ranked a career-best No. 2, has reached at least the semifinals at the past three Slam tournaments and won her first such trophy at last year's U.S. Open.

While Swiatek has entrenched herself at No. 1 in the women's game, and is now 11-1 against Gauff, neither has been past the quarterfinals at Wimbledon, and there is a much more closely contested and intriguing rivalry developing between Alcaraz and Sinner ( Alcaraz leads 5-4 after winning their semifinal at the French Open in five sets). Then there's this: For so long, people wondered when the men's game would evolve from the extended dominance of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, owners of a combined 66 majors, and that trio would cede space to others.

That time, it seems, is now — and Alcaraz and Sinner are beginning to separate themselves from the rest.

“These two guys will win many, many Grand Slams. How many? That's the question. Of course, they will be the best for 10 years, I imagine — Alcaraz and Sinner. I have no doubt about it,” said Richard Gasquet, a three-time major semifinalist, including twice at Wimbledon. “They will be the future of the game. ... The new generation is coming.”

Gasquet, a 38-year-old Frenchman who got to No. 7 in the rankings, knows all too well the difficulties of being a professional tennis player during the era of the so-called Big Three of men's tennis. The opponents in his three losses in Grand Slam semifinals? Federer, Nadal and Djokovic, once each.

But Federer, now 42, played the last match of his 20-Slam-trophy career in 2021. Nadal, 38, lost in the first round at the French Open — where he claimed 14 of his 22 major championships — and then opted to miss Wimbledon so he could focus on preparing for the Paris Olympics that start in late July; he has dealt with a string of injuries that included a hip operation last year.

And Djokovic? The owner of a men's-record 24 Grand Slam titles needed to pull out of the French Open before the quarterfinals after tearing the meniscus in his right knee and having surgery. As of Thursday, he still was gauging whether his knee had healed enough for him to compete at the All England Club, where his streak of four consecutive trophies ended last year in a five-set loss to Alcaraz in the final.

Sinner was eliminated by Djokovic at Wimbledon each of the past two years, in the 2022 quarterfinals and 2023 semifinals. But Sinner won their two most recent matchups, at last year's Davis Cup Finals and in this year's Australian Open semifinals.

Both Alcaraz and Sinner excel at court coverage and big hitting. Both bring excitement, too, whether it's Alcaraz's creative shot-making or Sinner's all-out dives along the way to his first career grass-court title at Halle, Germany, in June, a rare instance of a man winning his first tournament after making his debut at No. 1.

“No one has ever played like Alcaraz. No chance. And Sinner? The same thing,” said Mats Wilander, a seven-time Slam champ in the 1980s. “They're like, Whoa! What and where did they come from?'”

Alcaraz and Sinner realize they are well-positioned to take over.

They're also aware that they've only just started down a path to possible greatness.

“We have to see what we do from now on,” Sinner said, "(and) do it year after year after year after year.” (AP)