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Thursday, Sep 19, 2019

Men still have the Big 3 mountain to climb

The last player outside the Big Three - Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic - to win a Grand Slam title was Swiss Stan Wawrinka, who beat Djokovic at the 2016 US Open final.

tennis Updated: Sep 10, 2019 11:27 IST
Sandip Sikdar
Sandip Sikdar
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Rafael Nadal after winning the US Open
Rafael Nadal after winning the US Open(USA TODAY Sports)
         

“The way you’re playing is a big joke,” Russian Daniil Medvedev said at the presentation ceremony, unable to explain how Rafael Nadal turned it around in the deciding set to win his fourth US Open and 19th Grand Slam title.

With his triumph in New York on Sunday night, Nadal extended the dominance of the ‘Big Three’ with the last 12 Grand Slams won by the Spaniard, Serb Novak Djokovic and Swiss maestro Roger Federer. Such has been their supremacy that the three of them have won 54 of the last 64 Majors, accounting for a remarkable 84.345 victory percentage.

The last player outside the Big Three to win a Grand Slam title was Swiss Stan Wawrinka, who beat Djokovic at the 2016 US Open final.

Murray slips away

For a certain period the Big Three was actually the ‘Big Four’ with Andy Murray winning three Majors and the Olympic gold medals at London 2012 and Rio 2016.

However, an elbow injury followed by a hip surgery put the Briton out of contention and Murray is now struggling to make a comeback to the tour.

However, the Big Three are thriving. No other generation of tennis players have dominated the scene like them be it the 1960s era of Roy Emerson (setting the record of 12 Slam titles), or the American-dominated 1990s run of Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras, whose 14 titles became the new pinnacle.

Since Federer won his first Major to launch the Big Three era at Wimbledon 2003, only five men’s singles Grand Slam finals have been played without either the Big Three being involved.

There have been young challengers though.

Players like Wawrinka, Cilic or even Nishikori threatened to break the hegemony of the Big Three. However, that threat was shortlived.

Also Read: Rafael Nadal, 33, nineteen going on twenty?

World tennis does have the young blood like the Zverevs, Thiems and now Medvedevs, but whether they’ll be able to break the dominance is another question.

Such has been the lack of competition from the younger generation that no 1990s born, let alone the noughties, has managed to win a Major. The closest who came to break this record is Medvedev when he levelled the match to 2-sets all against Nadal on Sunday before losing the decider.

Compare this with women’s singles where Canadian teenager Bianca Andreescu, born at the turn of this millennium, lifted the US Open crown on Saturday evening defeating Serena Williams.

Women’s tennis winners have been so inconsistent in the last decade or so that barring Serena no one has been able to dictate the Slams.

Serena has been the only consistent factor in women’s tennis, reaching at least one Major final since 2001, with the exception of 2006. Longing to match Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Major titles, Serena has been stuck on 23 ever since her victory at the 2017 Australian Open. And since her return to the tour in 2018 after becoming a mum, the 37-year-old has reached four finals—two Wimbledon and US Open each—going down in all four.

And since the beginning of this decade, no player has been able to win three Slams or more apart from Serena and Germany’s Angelique Kerber. In fact, Serena (2010, 2012, 2013, 2015) and Kerber (2016) are the only two who have been able to win more than one Major in a calendar year in this decade.

Though you’ve had players like Kim Clijsters, Li Na, Petra Kvitova, Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova, Garbine Muguruza, Simona Halep and Naomi Osaka who have won two Majors each in this decade, no one but Serena has been able to reach the semi-finals and finals of the four Majors regularly.

You’ve had the Jelena Ostapenkos and Flavia Pennettas win a Slam and create a bit of a buzz, but their fall has been as quick as their rise.

Big Three era coming to an end?

On the eve of the final, Nadal warned tennis fans that the era of the Big Three is coming to an end. “We don’t need to hold this era anymore. We have been here for 15 years almost. At some point, (it’s) going to happen sooner than later that this era going to end. I am 33. Novak is 32. Roger is 38. Andy is 32, too. The clock is not stopping. That’s part of the cycle of life,” said Nadal.

However, at least as of now, the stats agree to disagree.

First Published: Sep 10, 2019 10:31 IST