Over the last decade, the top half of men’s tennis has been largely dominated by only four players, an occurrence rarely seen in sport.
Since Wimbledon 2003, a staggering 52 out of 57 Majors have been shared among five men – Roger Federer (19), Rafael Nadal (15), Novak Djokovic (12) and Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka (3 each).
Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Murray are old by tennis’s historical standards — all are 30 or above, and Federer is the oldest at 36. But instead of fading away like other greats of the game, they’ve continued to push the sport as they’ve aged.
The graph below shows that despite the onslaught of time, these four players have remained close to the top of the rankings, even with the competitive nature of the game.
Their collective dominance has been so complete that for the last 708 weeks, no other male tennis player outside these ‘Big Four’ has been No 1 in the world.
With Nadal regaining his No 1 ranking after a 37-month absence, this domination looks unlikely to change soon despite the injury setbacks.
With Djokovic and Murray out of the US Open due to injury, it’s almost impossible not to believe that Nadal and Federer will benefit from their absence especially since both are playing some of their best tennis.
Where is the next generation?
Another huge advantage for both Nadal and Federer is that the younger players aren’t really breaking into this group. At the ongoing US Open, we have already seen some of top-billed youngsters crash out. Alexander Zverev and Grigor Dimitrov – the winners of the last two Masters tournaments before the Grand Slam and Top 10 players – lost out in the second round.
As it stands, the current top-20 in the rankings has eight players who are over 30 years of age and seven players between the age of 25 and 29 are in the top 20. Only a small group composed of Zverev, Dominic Thiem, Nick Kyrgios, Lucas Pouille and Jack Sock are the players below 25 that have broken into the top 20.
Only Zverev, Thiem and Kyrgios have been able to compete with Big Four, but don’t have the same kind of consistency. If they do manage to beat one of the top players in a tournament, rarely a Major, they are unable to follow it up with a series of wins, as was evident during the last Grand Slam of the year.
Till the younger players begin performing consistently, it is tough to see the Big Four dominance fade away. As Federer said after his second-round win over Mikhail Youzhny, “Changing of the guard is going to come at some stage. Could very well be next year. But I still predict it’s going to take a few more [years].”