With Stan Wawrinka’s win at the 2014 Australian Open, he officially ended the so-called Big 4’s reign at the top of the men’s tennis rankings. The following Monday he pushed his way into the top four – past both Andy Murray and his compatriot Roger Federer – to become the #3 player in the world. The Big 4’s stranglehold on the top four places in the rankings had already been broken, but now it seems like with Stan’s win that it was permanent.
The Big 4 (as they were dubbed) were Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. A combination of the four always remained in the top 4 positions in the men’s singles rankings (and kept everyone else out) starting in 2009 to 2012 and won all the majors (with the exception of Marat Safin’s win at the 2005 Australian Open and Juan Martin Del Potro’s win at the 2009 U.S. Open) from 2004 to 2013. Their dominance was not only a physical force, but a mental one as the players ranked beneath them found it difficult to break through the barrier created by them.
Federer began the Big 4 in 2004 with his win at 2004 Wimbledon. Nadal made it a duo with his win at the 2005 French Open. By 2008, Djokovic and Murray were challenging the top two so much that by the next year, these four players made up the Big 4 and no one else could break into the sphere that they had created around the game.
Towards the end of their dominance, there have been several interlopers try and succeed in cracking the Big 4. Del Potro was the first to capture a major in their reign. David Ferrer was the first player not named Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray to break into the top 4 during their reign. Indeed, Ferrer (due to his relentless and successful schedule and injury and subsequent decline of part of the Big 4 – Nadal and Federer respectively) was the first player to crack the Big 4. Although he has received a lot of credit for this, it was Wawrinka’s win that finally put an end to the Big 4 – mainly because of the stage that he did it on – a major.
As with anything that is successful, nothing lasts forever. It was only a matter of time before challengers and personal challenges cracked the Big 4. Three things happened that precipitated the beginning of the end of the Big 4: Federer’s game declined, a prolonged injury timeout by Nadal and back surgery by Murray allowed challengers into the fray. By the time all of this happened and the dust settled, it was the beginning of 2014 and the 2014 Australian Open.
Time and age have caught up to Federer. He simply can’t outrun them, no matter who he employs as his coach or what racquet he uses. Nadal’s (and Djokovic’s for that matter) go-for-broke style of play simply can’t be sustained without sustaining repeated injuries. It was only a matter of time before the Big 4 was no more. It may have started quietly a couple years ago, but now with Wawrinka’s win, it is official. Look for more players to make inroads into the upper echelon over the next two years.
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