Some may feel that the powerful elite at the top of the ATP rankings have suffered a chink in their armour of late, but it seems that we are still some distance from seeing a new generation come to fruition.
While the 2013 tournament at Wimbledon was remembered for the curtain being brought down on a barren spell for British men at the All England Club, with Andy Murray becoming the first to win there since Fred Perry in 1936, the emergence of some new stars was coupled with earlier than planned exits for Murray and Rafael Nadal, and it was not the usual line-up on men’s semi-final day, as they were replaced by Grigor Dimitrov and Milos Raonic.
Top four dominance
It is no less than a staggering statistic that 37 of the last 39 Grand Slams have been won by the so called “big four” of Roger Federer (17 majors), Nadal (14 majors), Novak Djokovic (seven majors) and Murray (two majors).
Previous decades have had their stalwarts, but there was always a feeling of the unknown until modern times, where only Juan Martin del Potro and Stanislas Wawrinka have unlocked the door to Grand Slam success outside of the four-way clique that has emerged.
But who is going to break them up on a long-term basis?
Wawrinka has had his moments in 2014, and make no mistakes, his victory over Rafael Nadal in the Australian Open final in January was to do with more than just an injury to the Spaniard.
But if you look at what level of dedication and improvement it took for him over the years, it is a stark comparison to the unlikely Grand Slam winners of the past, such as when Petr Korda won the Australian Open in 1998 or Gaston Gaudio winning the French Open in 2004.
Roland Garros was notorious for throwing up surprise winners, as some of the greats never got over the line there, including Pete Sampras, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe and Boris Becker.
But Nadal has been almost unflappable there in the last decade, winning nine of the last ten tournaments, but with four of his wins in the final being over Federer and two over Djokovic, it shows that the elite will now do the business on all of the surfaces.
You can not afford to let your guard down at any stage now. Federer and Nadal have completed their career Grand Slams, Djokovic was a whisker away from doing so in Paris this year and Murray is halfway there.
The name on the lips of many tennis journalists who has been tipped to break the chain for at least a year now has been Bulgaria’s Dimitrov. Unlike the John Isners and the Milos Raonics of the tour, the world number nine is expressing more to his game than a powerful serve and starting to perform in more pressurised situations. The 23-year-old is now living up to the hype, after his three singles titles that he has won since the turn of the year and a ruthless crushing of home favourite Murray in the Wimbledon quarter-finals earlier this month.
Now that he is reaching his peak age, he is carrying a baton of hope for the future of tennis, as it is far too early to tell if Australia’s Nick Kyrgios is going to continue on from his more than impressive run to the quarter-finals at Wimbledon at his first attempt, beating Nadal along the way.
It could be argued that there is no worry about the future of the men’s game. While Federer may be 32, his run to the final at Wimbledon shows that there is life in the old dog end, particularly with the new serve and volley tactic modelled by his coach Stefan Edberg, and the other three are still under 30, and it could be at least five years before they start failing to make the latter stages of tournaments.
For too long now have the likes of Czech Tomas Berdych or David Ferrer of Spain been hovering around the top four, even occasionally breaking into it, but never showing enough killer instinct or that there is more to their game than a solid return.
There was a time where it seemed that del Potro’s powerful baseline strokes could lead him to more long-term success, but it seems that persistent wrist injuries have prevented that journey from continuing, and though Ernests Gulbis may have had a run to the semi-finals of the French Open this year, he is still better renowned for his performances and consistency in press conferences than on a tennis court.
Meanwhile, the cluster of talented French players that burst onto the scene in the mid 2000s have not delivered, with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Richard Gasquet and Gael Monfils now just pushing for higher seedings, and even they now play as though they don’t believe there time will come in a Grand Slam.
It may be unfair to still place Murray among the elite, as his world ranking has dropped eight places to 10th since winning Wimbledon, but his back surgery that kept him out of the back end of 2013 means he has very few points to defend as we come to the business end of the year, and he showed in his run to the semi-finals at the French Open that he is still a force to be reckoned with.
The big four have been sat on their perch for too long, but unless consistency and resilience is shown by the talent behind them, Dimitrov will be taking them on as a one-man army in years to come.
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