The so-called Big Four have so dominated men’s tennis in recent years, it’s reasonable to wonder whether there has ever been a group of four before who have been as good.
The foursome of Bill Tilden, Henri Cochet, Rene LaCoste and Jean Borotra were game in the 1920s. Around 1950, Pancho Gonzales, Lew Hoad, KenRosewall and Rod Laver were the preeminent figures. Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Bjorn Borg and Ivan Lendl dominated tennis in the 1970s. The Big Four of Nadal, Djokovic, Federer and Murray have dominated the game for the last couple of years now.
The Federer quartet has won 34 of the last 36 Grand Slam titles. Only Juan Martin del Potro’s U.S. Open victory in 2009 and Stanislas Wawrinka’s 2014 Australian Open Title have interrupted the run that began with Federer’s victory in the 2004 Wimbledon tournament. The way I see it, they have been the Guardians of Grand Slams and the ATP 1000s.
Rise of the Guardians
The early 2000s were seen as a time of transition in tennis, with older players retiring and a few players breaking through at the very top of the game. Roger Federer had first played on the ATP Tour aged 17 in 1998. His breakthrough came in 2003 when he won his first Grand Slam tournament, and finished the year as world number 2 behind Andy Roddick. The following two years he won five of eight Grand Slams losing just ten matches.
Rafael Nadal had won his first ATP Tour match aged 15 years and 10 months in April 2002, and he defeated Federer in their first meeting in 2004 at Miami. 2005 was Nadal’s breakthrough year, in which he won 24 consecutive matches on clay, including his first French Open beating Federer en route in the semifinals, and he finished as world number 2 whilst Federer remained number 1 for a second straight year.
The period between 2005 and 2008 was subsequently dominated by the Federer-Nadal rivalry. They won 11 consecutive Grand Slams, meeting in every French Open and Wimbledon final from 2006–2008. The 2008 Wimbledon final, which Nadal won, has been lauded as the greatest match ever by many long-time tennis analysts. From 2005–2010 they ended every year as the world’s top two players.
Novak Djokovic and later Andy Murray attempted to end the duopoly of Federer and Nadal at the summit of tennis, they did not break it but were clearly ahead of the rest of the tour. At the 2008 Australian Open, Novak Djokovic defeated Roger Federer in the semifinals, reaching his first Australian Open final and ending Federer’s streak of ten consecutive major finals. Djokovic went on to defeat Jo-W Tsonga (who had eliminated Nadal in the semifinal) to win his first Grand Slam.
In August 2008, Nadal passed Federer to become world No. 1, after Federer had been at the top for a record 237 consecutive weeks. The 2008 US Open, saw all four players reach the semifinals of the same Major for the first time. Federer defeated Djokovic in the semifinals, whilst Murray won through to his first Grand Slam final after upsetting the top-ranked Nadal in four sets. Federer then defeated Murray in the final to win his fifth consecutive US Open title, and win his 13th Major title overall.
Novak Djokovic was Mr. 2011. Djokovic won 10 titles in total, including three Grand Slam titles (only the fifth man in the open era to do so) and five ATP Masters 1000 titles (a record), enjoyed a 41 match winning streak (ended by Federer in the semifinals of the 2011 French Open), and ascended to number 1 in the world for the first time. Djokovic’s run in ’11 has been described as one of the best seasons for a player in the history of the game, with Tennis Magazine describing it as the third best tennis season ever, behind Roger Federer’s 2006 season, and Rod Laver’s in 1969.
By his standards, Roger Federer had a weak season in 2011. He failed to win a Grand Slam title for the first time since 2002, losing to Nadal for the fourth time in a French Open final, and the sixth time overall in Grand Slam finals. He dropped to world number 4 in November, the first time he had been ranked outside the top 3 since 2002. Federer’s drop was caused by Murray’s remarkable run of form in Asia in October, winning three successive titles. However, Federer rallied, winning his three final tournaments, including the World Tour Finals, which was enough to secure an end-of-season ranking of number 3.
The dominance of the Big Four continued in 2012. Each player won one Grand Slam tournament: Djokovic won in Melbourne, Nadal in Paris, Federer at Wimbledon and Murray with his first Grand Slam title at the US Open.
The rivalry between Nadal and Djokovic has been considered as one of the best in recent times. Nadal defeated Djokovic in the French Open final, denying him a Career Grand Slam and the opportunity to become the first man since Rod Laver to hold all four Majors at once. The two also share the record for the longest Australian Open and Grand Slam final match ever played (5 hours and 53 minutes), at the 2012 Australian Open final.
Federer and Nadal have been playing each other since 2004 and their rivalry is a significant part of both men’s careers. It is also considered one of the greatest in history. They have played 33 times (seventh-highest in Open Era history), most recently in the 2014 Australian Open semifinals, and Nadal leads their nine-year-old rivalry 23–10, with the 2008 Wimbledon final being lauded as the greatest match ever by many long-time tennis analysts.
Head-to-head records at Grand Slams
There have been other players who have threatened the dominance of the Big Four time and again and have even gotten close to break into the Big Four, but have failed terribly.
Tomas Berdych, who won the ATP Masters in Paris back in 2005, has been an inconsistent danger. He has won matches, reached finals, but has never been able to make a stand. Remember when Juan Martin del Potro won the 2009 U.S. Open? He was the popular pick to break up the Big Four, but he has failed to even reach a Grand Slam final since.
The most recent player, ranked above two of the Big Four, Stanislas Wawrinka, has shown great strength and has given hope to other tennis players. He has won three tournaments so far this season, which includes the Australian Open Championship and the ATP Masters in Monte Carlo. After his maiden grand slam win, Wawrinka said, “Again, to be really honest, it’s a final of Grand Slam, so I’m really happy to win it. But it’s not the way a tennis player wants to win a match, because the opponent is injured…so was strange to play him in the final. But I was really sad for him. I really hope that it’s not too bad for him because he was already injury last year, and he came back the better player in the world.” A few people have since denied him the appreciation that he deserves. He may have faced an injured Nadal in the finals, but he did defeat an injury-free Novak Djokovic in the semi finals.
He has been ranked No 3 since that tournament and we don’t see him losing his grip.
So, is it too early to discount Andy Murray from the Big Four? I guess we could wait until the grass season gets over. World No 8, Murray is the defending champion at AELTC and Queen’s and is ranked 12 in the Race to qualify for the Year-End Championships.
|Current Rankings (last 52 weeks)||Race to London|
|1||Rafael Nadal||12,900||1||Stanislas Wawrinka||3,535|
|2||Novak Djokovic||11,040||2||Novak Djokovic||3,050|
|3||Stanislas Wawrinka||6,580||3||Roger Federer||2,920|
|4||Roger Federer||5,805||4||Rafael Nadal||2,865|
|5||David Ferrer||4,910||5||Tomas Berdych||2,135|
|6||Tomas Berdych||4,720||6||Kei Nishikori||1,525|
|7||Juan Martin del Potro||4,215||7||David Ferrer||1,440|
|8||Andy Murray||4,040||8||Grigor Dimitrov||1,355|
With help from AtpWorldtour.com and Wikipedia.org
This week, Madrid will see the Big Four in action together, after a long time. Djokovic will not meet any of the three before the finals, but could face Swiss No 1, Stanislas Wawrinka in the semis. If all goes well for Djokovic, we may even see him take over the top spot by the end of the tournament.
Federer, Nadal and Murray are in the same half of the draw and a potential quarter final clash between Roger Federer and Andy Murray in on the cards. The winner might face Nadal in the semis, incase if he is able to overturn his poor run.
April and May used to be that time of the year when Nadal slept like a baby and won everything that came his way, but this year, April turned out to be a complete nightmare for him and he would be looking to go back to sleeping-well this month.