The Big 4 Era in Tennis May Be Over

Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray have reigned supreme over the game of tennis for the past decade. They hold an astonishing combined career singles record of 2787-658 (80.9%) with 225 career titles and a prize money of over $250 million. They have won 36 of the past 39 Grand Slams, from the 2005 French Open to the 2014 U.S. Open. Two of these losses came in 2014, at the Australian Open and the U.S. Open, where Stanislas Wawrinka and Marin Cilic captured their maiden Grand Slams respectively. The 2014 U.S. Open final was also the first final since 2005 that didn’t feature any of the Big Four. Their decline in performance in 2014 as well as the rise of new stars that are ready to establish themselves may serve as a big reason that the Big Four era is on its way out.

Roger Federer’s decline has been evident from 2013, which marked the first year that he did not reach a grand slam final since 2002. Federer won only one title (the Gerry Weber Open) and saw his ranking go down from 2nd to 6th. The start to the 2014 season looked promising for him as he reached the semi-final at the Australian Open and the final at Wimbledon. However, the loss to Novak Djokovic at the All England Tennis Club magnified his downfall and made tennis critics and fans wonder if he’ll ever win another Grand Slam again. At age 33, he has played in over 1,200 single matches and it is clear that he simply does not have the power and agility he once had to compete with younger legs.

Rafael Nadal continued his dominance in clay court, winning the 2014 French Open for a record ninth time. However, it was his string of injuries that raised headlines in 2014, which prevented the Spaniard from playing in several tournaments. A back injury cost him the 2014 Australian Open final and a wrist injury prevented him from playing in the 2014 U.S. Open. Near the end of the season, he suffered from appendicitis and required surgery, prematurely ending his season. It is clear to see that Nadal is banged up and the biggest concern is how long he can stay healthy and continue to play high quality tennis.

Andy Murray was a surprising disappointment in the 2014 season. He fell from the top 4 ranking (for the first time since 2008) as he struggled to rebound from his back surgery in 2013. His best finish at a Grand Slam in 2014 was a semi-final appearance at Roland Garros and his form only improved later in the season where he won his only three titles of the year. His inconsistencies and his mere 2 Grand Slam titles are the major factors why critics sometimes refer to this group as “The Big Three.”

Novak Djokovic was the most consistent player out of The Big Four and ended the season with the No.1 ranking, while capturing the 2014 Wimbledon title and the ATP World Tour Finals for a third consecutive year. The year started poorly, however, as the Serb was ousted in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open, ending his 3 year reign as champion of the tournament. There were other disappointments too, including falling short to Nadal at Roland Garros and losing to Kei Nishikori at the U.S Open semi-finals. 2014 also marked the year in which Djokovic got married and welcomed his first child. These are both major lifestyle adjustments and it may be only a matter of time before fatherhood fatigue catches up with the world No.1. Historically, only ten players since 1980 have managed to win a Grand Slam after becoming a parent, with only two of Federer’s 17 Grand Slams coming after his first set of twins were born (yes, he has another set of twins). Greats such as Pete Sampras, John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl failed to lift another Grand Slam trophy after welcoming their new bundle of joy. Djokovic’s lack of experience as a young father can make this adjustment difficult, but he still finished the 2014 season strongly, and his consistency is a valid reason why he will still be a threat in 2015.

It is evident that the Big Four’s dominance in tennis may slowly be winding down, which gives hope for other players who have played under the shadow of the Big Four for most of their careers, such as Wawrinka and Cilic, to break through. The rise of other young stars is also prominent, with players like Kei Nishikori, Milos Raonic and Grigor Dimitrov all proving they can compete with the Big Four and can continue to produce at a high level. With concerns over Nadal’s fitness, Murray’s form, Federer’s age and Djokovic’s fatherhood, will 2015 hold the same fate?

As always, time will tell.

Braginan Vakeesan