Something just wasn’t right at the Australian Open this year. No, it wasn’t Federer’s pink shoelaces. Nor the ballkid’s terrible neck-flapped caps. Nor the fact that it was the first time since 1997 Wimbledon – and only the fifth time in history – that all four number one seeds won their respective titles (Where’s the excitement and shock in that?!).
It was the non-appearance of Rafael Nadal for a second Grand Slam in a row. As Murray and Federer enjoyed a five-set semi-final battle, Djokovic faced fifth seed David Ferrer who he ripped through in under an hour and a half. The big Nadal hole was clear to see.
Indeed, it also made apparent the now clear divide between the top four of men’s tennis and the rest, with the fifth seed unable to cope with Djokovic’s fitness, power and array of weaponry. In a similar story, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga – sixth seed – may have taken Federer to five sets, but, in reality, there was only ever going to be one winner of that game.
Fed raised it, Nadal matched and raised it Djokovic, for that intense little period of time, even raised it. Now all of a sudden Murray is in the equation of where is he going to go. But when I see those top three guys, I see what history will say is the golden age of tennis. You’re talking about arguably the three best guys ever.Andre AgassiOn The Quality Of Men's Tennis
Roger Federer. Rafael Nadal. Novak Djokovic. And now Andy Murray. In a league of their own.
Like Frankel in a horse-race, Mo Farah in the 800m and Manchester United in the 2013 Premier League Season, these four players have streaked clear of the field, seemingly uncatchable by those flailing behind.
The statistics say it all. In the last seven years, the ‘big four’ of men’s tennis have won all of the grand slam titles – bar one – sharing out 28 grand slam titles between them since Roland Garros in 2005 (the one being Del Potro in the 2009 US Open).
Consistency and the range of tennis surfaces are no problem either. These four players have been the top four seeded players in the world rankings almost uninterrupted since 2008.
They also make up a select seven of players to have reached the semi-finals of all the grand slams in one year, joining legends Rod Laver, Tony Roche and Ivan Lendl in this incredible feat. As a rule, they never lose on the biggest stage – Grand Slams – except to each other.
It is not just being the best, but sheer dominance of a sport. Competitors have come and gone, but none look like competing with this elite group. It is hard to see any other player winning a Grand Slam in 2013; and if a new contender did emerge, it would be a major shock.
Such predictability may be seen as boring for the sport, but watch a match between the top four and you’ll change your mind. In a sport where comebacks are part-and-parcel of the game – with players snatching victory from the jaws of defeat – this group has created numerous hour-long battle of wit, skill and determination with the winner unfathomable until the last.
Their differing styles and personality makes it all the more watchable too. Federer, stylish, suave and the best of all-time, ageing against these young bucks. Nadal, the powerhouse and the only one with positive head-to-head records with the other three. Djokovic, the new king, a machine that doesn’t give up. Murray, the still-emotional newcomer, coming-into-his-own – ready to defend every point with a shriek – but still fragile.
They have made tennis one of the most exciting spectacles of recent, especially after the years of pure Federer dominance. So much so that both Andre Agassi and Bjorn Borg has named it the ‘Golden Age of Tennis’
Some may still dispute Murray’s position in such esteemed company, but after winning his first Grand Slam last September, the Brit has only improved. He comfortably beat Federer at the Australian Open in the end and reaching another final, it could be said that ‘Djokovic vs. Murray’ looks set to be the new rivalry.
The wildcard is, of course, Nadal, who is at last back from injury and played his first competitive tennis in over six months this weekend. In a positive start, he made it to the single and doubles final of the Chile Open – only to lose both finals. Positive results undoubtedly, but the former world number one probably has some way to go before he reaches his best again. Here’s hoping he makes it.
One thing’s for sure though, the next few years look set to be a treat. Other eras have enjoyed two or three champions; so let’s enjoy an era where we have a quartet of poise, quality, skill and class beyond anything ever seen before.