A member of the Big Three won the ninth Grand Slam in a row when Novak Djokovic beat Rafael Nadal in a strangely one-sided Australian Open final on Sunday. Other than perhaps the straight-sets result, that was no surprise. We are witnessing the most dominant generation of tennis yet, even if the competition is between only three men.
Ever since Roger Federer lifted his first Major in 2003, the trio has won 52 out of the 63 Grand Slams. Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have each crossed what was one thought improbable – Pete Sampras’s record of 14 Grand Slams and are the top three in the list of men’s all-time Slam champions.
The only other multiple Slam winners in this period are Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka with three Slams each, while Andy Roddick, Marat Safin, Gaston Gaudio, Juan Martin del Potro, Marin Cilic have one each.
In this era, the GOAT (greatest of all times) debate is a futile exercise, but what about the strongest player? The one who has consistently dominated over years, statistically and all surface-wise. The Big Three may have ruled the last 15 years, but a look at the decade-wise break of Majors since the Open Era suggests that it is Djokovic, not Federer or Nadal, who has the strongest claim to most dominant player of them all.
While Roger Federer won 15 Grand Slams from 2003 to 2010, Novak Djokovic has won 14 since 2011, with three more Majors left this year.
Leading Slam champions - 1970s
|5||John Newcombe, Jimmy Connors|
|3|| Ken Roswall, Jan Kodeš|
|2||Stan Smith, Ilie Năstase, Arthur Ashe|
|1||Mark Edmondson, Vitas Gerulaitis, Andrés Gimeno, John McEnroe, Manuel Orantes, Adriano Panatta, Roscoe Tanner|
Leading Slam champions - 1980s
|7||Ivan Lendl, Mats Wilander|
|3||Björn Borg, Jimmy Connors, Stefan Edberg|
|1||Pat Cash, Michael Chang, Yannick Noah, Brian Teacher|
Leading Slam champions - 1990s
|2|| Boris Becker, Sergi Bruguera, Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Pat Rafter |
|1||Andres Gomez, Petr Korda, Richard Krajicek, Gustavo Kuerten, Ivan Lendl, Carlos Moya, Thomas Muster, Michael Stich|
Leading Slam champions - 2000s
|2||Lleyton Hewitt, Gustavo Kuerten, Marat Safin, Pete Sampras|
|1|| Albert Costa, Novak Djokovic, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Gaston Gaudio, Goran Ivanisevic, Thomas Johansson, Andy Roddick, Juan Martin del Potro |
Leading Slam champions - 2010s
|3||Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka|
When Federer began his title reign in 2003, he was not unchallenged for long. A certain teen called Nadal came by 2005 for domination on clay but extended this challenge to grass hard courts only after 2008, beating the Swiss star in both 2008 Wimbledon and 2009 Australian Open finals. The two of them tussled for the Majors regularly since then, but were on almost equal footing majority of the times with each having their pet surface.
But when Djokovic broke through (again) in 2011 – he won his first Major in 2008 but only showed his full potential after a lifestyle change in the early part of this decade – he was virtually unchallenged on all surfaces, but clay.
Since 2010, Djokovic has won 14 Grand Slams, closely followed by Nadal at 11 while Federer has only five during this period – three of which came in 2017-18.
Of the Spaniard’s 11, seven have come at French Open (three at US Open and one Wimbledon) while Djokovic’s 14 have been distributed across – six at Australian Open, four at Wimbledon, three at US Open and one at French Open. That is versatility to back up the domination.
Admittedly, both Federer and Sampras have dominated their respective decades, blazing the trail as the first man, before the machine from Serbia came through.
The 37-year-old Federer won 15 Majors in essentially seven years – six at Wimbledon, five at US Open, three at Australian Open, and one at French Open. A good mix of grass and hard-courts, except the Roland Garros anomaly.
The only player close to the Swiss in that decade, as in this decade with Djokovic, is Nadal. The Spaniard won six Slams from 2005 to 2009 – four at French Open and one each and Wimbledon and Australian Open. Sampras on the other hand won 12 Majors in 10 years – with Andre Agassi being the second with five trophies.
But there are some differences between Federer and Djokovic’s decade domination.
For one, Djokovic has three more Majors to go in this decade to win two more and overtake Federer’s tally. And given how he has played in the last three Majors, there is very little to suggest that he will go off-track in 2019 as he did in 2016 after completing his Career Slam.
For another, the Serb’s reign has coincided with two of the greatest players to have played the sport. While Federer had only Nadal as competition in the second half of the decade, Djokovic has established his superiority while leaving behind Federer and Nadal, as well Murray and Wawrinka, both of whom have challenged him in Grand Slam finals.
The other striking part of this decade-wise domination is how the golden trinity has not let anyone else get a toe-hold. In the last decade, eight players won at least one Grand Slam while four one two Majors. But since the Djokovic broke through, only one player has managed to win the solitary Grand Slam – Marin Cilic in an unexpected 2014 US Open. This is unlike any other decade in the Open era and shows the extremely high level these three operate on.
Apart from the odd finals where Djokovic was beaten or absent, he has regularly been the top contender for the title... even against Federer and Nadal. Greatest is a cliché in men’s tennis now, but the most versatile and dominant should almost be a no-brainer.