Stan Wawrinka did what very few have been able to do in 2016. Defeat Novak Djokovic. Granted the Serb has been off colour since Wimbledon, having struggled with personal issues and an ongoing wrist problem. A Djokovic defeat is rare, but a Grand Slam in which one of the “Big Four” doesn’t emerge victorious is an even bigger rarity. The result in New York also reignited the debate about whether the Big Four in its current incarnation is over.
First thing’s first, there is absolutely no doubt that the Big Four in men’s tennis are no longer at the peak of their powers. Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray as a collective may no longer dominate the sport like they once did, but their standing as the four biggest players in tennis lives on.
The status of the Big Four depends on how you define them. If it’s purely on the number of matches won and rankings then some of the quartet may face competition for their places. Nadal is currently ranked fifth and Federer will drop out of the top #16 when he returns in 2017.
That said it’s worth highlighting that despite Wawrinka’s victory in New York, the Big Four have won 42 out of the last 47 Grand Slam titles. Moreover, they’ve also emerged victorious in all but four of the last 43 ATP Masters 1000 events.
Let’s also not forget that Nadal and Federer have been written off before. Nobody expected Federer to play the way he did and reach the semi-finals of Wimbledon this year. Similarly, when Nadal returned from injury in 2009 and 2013 he was met with scepticism. Yet the Spaniard proved his doubters wrong on both occasions, winning major titles after both returns.
“Big Four” lives on despite Stan Wawrinka’s US Open triumph
Conversely, you can argue that the Big Four are purely the names that matter the most within men’s tennis. They propel the sport and drive it off the court. They go over and above tennis. These are the players that are put on show courts at Grand Slams as it’s them that crowds pay to see.
Wawrinka summed it up perfectly when being interviewed after his US Open triumph:
“I personally really don’t care. For me, the Big Four always mean the Big Four. They’re good where they are because they did so much for the tennis and they were so strong during more than 10 years. They deserve to be the Big Four and they will always be the Big Four. That’s for me how I see it.”
After all, they’re still considered the Big Four despite Federer not winning a Grand Slam since 2012. In fact the Swiss superstar has only won one ATP Masters 1000 event since 2014. Add to this the fact that Nadal’s last slam success was in 2014 and it’s clear to see that the Big Four’s on court achievements have been steadily diminishing.
The rest are catching up
It’s undeniable that on court the gap is closing between the Big Four and the rest. After all there are new stars emerging like Dominic Thiem, Alexander Zverev and Borna Coric. There’s also other players who are capable of adding to their Grand Slam tallies. For example, Stan Wawrinka, Juan Martin del Potro and Marin Čilić. However nobody in their right mind would say that any of the Big Four won’t compete for a Grand Slam again.
Are the Big Four fading? Inevitably, but until one of these players retires the quartet will continue to be a significant part of the conversation in men’s tennis. They are synonymous with the men’s game and are massive brands in themselves. In essence, to the majority, they’re the names that matter within the sport. The real debate should be surrounding who will become the new Big Four in the upcoming years.