The Big 4: Dominating the Open Era

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Starting from as early as 2003, tennis has been dominated by 4 outstanding individuals: Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Andy Murray. Collectively, they won 47 Grand Slam Singles titles, and only 3 players have won Grand Slam titles besides them from 2003. They have changed the game of tennis while making it increasingly more popular worldwide. Now comes to the debate of, who is the greatest member of the Big Four?

Roger Federer

Age: 35 (August 8, 1981)

Height: 6’1

Highest Ranking: 1 (February 2, 2004)

Singles Titles: 89

Grand Slam Titles: 18

Involvement:

Arguably the greatest tennis player of all time, Roger Federer was the first member of the Big Four. His dominance started in 2004 and wasn’t truly challenged until Nadal’s emergence at every style court. A fan-favorite and oldest member of the Big Four, Federer has kept up competitively even after the age of 30. This was shown by his win at the 2017 Australian Open.

Playing Style:

One of Federer’s greatest strengths has been adapting his game to the modern era. While he continues to add variety and use a serve-volley technique, he has developed his baseline game as well. An offensively focused player, Federer’s forehand is possibly the greatest shot in tennis, his serve is like a marksman, and his backhand can hit different spins with identical form. His greatest weakness may be Father Time, but his backhand could surely improve as many individuals attack it as a weak point. 

Against Nadal: 12 – 23

A rivalry in which many pundits consider to be the greatest of all time, Federer and Nadal dominated tennis in the late 2000’s. Nadal was the biggest reason why it took Federer until 2009 to finally win at Roland Garros. They had a span where they won 11 straight Grand Slams from 2005 to 2008. Federer defeated Nadal in the 2017 Australian Open, a match with a picture-perfect story and ending.

Against Djokovic: 22 – 23

The most balanced rivalry based on the results, there are strong arguments for who is the greater player. One thing to note is that Federer played Djokovic’s prime after the age of 30, while Djokovic played Federer in his prime while he was still coming up. Federer still had his moments, however, as he defeated Djokovic in the 2011 French Open, ending Djokovic’s 43 game winning streak. His win at the 2012 Wimbledon allowed him to become the first player to defeat Djokovic at all four majors.

Against Murray: 14 – 11

A rivalry that may seem one-sided, Federer defeated Murray in every Grand Slam matchup besides the 2013 Australian Open. The most anticipated match was the 2012 Wimbledon, where Federer defeated Murray. This match would have created history on both sides. Federer broke Sampras’ record of world number 1 and tied the most Wimbledon titles ever, while Murray was the first British man to reach the finals since 1938.

  

Rafael Nadal

Age: 30 (June 3, 1986)

Height: 6’1

Highest Ranking: 1 (August 6, 2008)

Singles Titles: 69

Grand Slam Titles: 14

Involvement:

Nadal emerged as the second member of the Big Four. He famously eluded Federer of a French Open title. His dominance and record of 9 French Open titles have led him to become known as the King of Clay and arguably the greatest tennis player of all time. Still young, Nadal has shown glimpses of winning more Grand Slam Titles.

Playing Style:

Nadal’s game focuses generally behind the baseline. He is more defensively focused than Federer, playing like an aggressive counter-puncher. His forehand has an incredible amount of topspin and has been noted for his extreme stamina. His serve has developed into a weapon later in his career but could still be cited as a weakness. 

Against Federer: 23 – 12

Nadal and Federer competed in several matches over the course of their rivalry, including the 2008 Wimbledon. This match was deemed by many as the greatest tennis match to have ever been played. It was a near 5 hours, 5 set battle in which Rafael solidified his argument as the greatest tennis player of all time.

Against Djokovic: 23 – 26

This is possibly the most prolific rivalry in the sport, with each player encountering each other a total of 49 times. Nadal’s 5 set victory over Djokovic in the 2013 French Open was possibly the greatest semi-final match in the game. It could be argued that Nadal is ahead in this matchup despite being behind, due to numerous injuries late in Nadal’s career and Djokovic entering his prime at the same time.

Against Murray: 17 – 7

While neither of them has faced each other in a Grand Slam Final, there are still a few notable matches with them. Nadal clearly has the edge in this rivalry, losing only 10 points on his serve in the 2014 French Open.

 

Novak Djokovic

Age: 29 (May 22, 1987)

Height: 6’2

Highest Ranking: 1 (July 4, 2011)

Singles Titles: 67

Grand Slam Titles: 12

Involvement:

Djokovic has probably been the most dominant player this decade. He statistically has a few seasons that could easily be argued as the greatest in the history of the sport. His match winning rate is the greatest in the Open Era. He really turned the Nadal-Federer rivalry into a group of dominant players. His prime career is often compared to the prime of all-time greats. He completed the “Nole Slam” in 2016, winning four consecutive Grand Slam Titles.

Playing Style:

Known for a defensive playing style, Djokovic is probably the best returner in the history of the game. His signature shot is his down the line backhand, which leads to many winners. Early in his career, he was heavily criticized for his service form, but he later changed it into one of his greatest strengths. While he is a great all-around player, Djokovic could improve his attitude and add variety into his game.

Against Federer: 23 – 22

Djokovic and Federer both are in the conversation as having the greatest prime careers of any tennis players. Djokovic 2011 season is arguably one of the greatest in the history of the sport. Djokovic has had an advantage in recent years, winning the majority of their recent matches.

Against Nadal: 26 – 23

Listed as the third greatest rivalry in the last decade, the Djokovic-Nadal rivalry was the first rivalry at all 4 Grand Slam Finals. The most notable match was possibly Djokovic’s victory in the 2012 Australian Open, a match that lasted nearly 6 hours and is widely considered as the greatest match in tennis history.

Against Murray: 25 – 11

A storied rivalry that began as children, Djokovic and Murray have been the top two tennis players in the last few years. While they had a competitive rivalry in the beginning of their career, Djokovic has taken a commanding lead by winning 14 of their last 17 encounters.

 

Andy Murray

Age: 29 (May 15, 1987)

Height: 6’3

Highest Ranking: 1 (November 7, 2016)

Singles Titles: 44

Grand Slam Titles: 3

Involvement: Andy Murray is often seen as the “weakest link” in the Big Four, and while he may hold the least amount of Grand Slam titles, his impact and dominance is not forgotten. He is often seen as Djokovic’s late rival, as both were born a week apart, played each other as junior tennis players, and made their Grand Slam Debut in 2005. Additionally, as Federer and Nadal dealt with injuries and age late in their career, Murray was the only one who challenged Djokovic.

Andy Murray is often seen as the “weakest link” in the Big Four, and while he may hold the least amount of Grand Slam titles, his impact and dominance is not forgotten. He is often seen as Djokovic’s late rival, as both were born a week apart, played each other as junior tennis players, and made their Grand Slam Debut in 2005. Additionally, as Federer and Nadal dealt with injuries and age late in their career, Murray was the only one who challenged Djokovic.

Playing Style:

Andy Murray has a lot of variety in his game and excels in many aspects. He has possibly the best backhand in the current game of tennis while having a very strong first serve and volley game. He is a tactician that embodies the idea of “playing against the opponent”, often pinpointing and attacking their weaknesses. Andy Murray has a decent forehand but tends to play too defensively at times. Additionally, his second serve and on-court behavior are also lacking.

Against Federer: 11 – 14

The most notable matchup for this rivalry was possibly the 2013 Australian Open, where Murray showed the world that he deserves to be in the Big Four. Murray displayed a strong mental game, breaking Federer twice in the fifth set and reaching his third consecutive final.

Against Nadal: 7 – 17

Although this matchup favors Nadal, Murray still shows a glimpse of dominance. After being swept in under 2 hours at Wimbledon, Murray solidified his entrance into the Big Four by defeating Nadal at the 2008 U.S Open.

Against Djokovic: 11 – 25

Murray’s most memorable moment against Djokovic probably came at the ATP World Finals in 2016. This match had great meaning, as the winner would end the season as the number one ranked player in the world. Murray won in straight sets and reached world number one for the first time, solidifying the Big Four’s dominance as no other player had been world number one since Andy Roddick in 2003.

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