In 2015, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Roger Federer are quashing tennis’s Big Four mutiny
Last October, after beating Grigor Dimitrov to reach the quarter-final of the Paris Masters and book his place among the top eight for the season-ending ATP World Tour Final, Andy Murray signed a camera lens with a marker pen with a simple two-word message.
“Bad year,” Murray wrote, perhaps relieved it was coming to a close.
The Scot had struggled in 2014 as he returned from back surgery and, for only the second time since 2008, he had failed to reach the final of a grand slam. His best was the semi-final at Roland Garros.
A proud member of the elite club we know as the “Big Four”, Murray had good reasons to be disappointed. But then, the other members of that clique, if judged by their lofty standards, did not really have great years, either.
The tennis world, instead, was gushing about these young up-and-comers, who looked intent on demolishing their dominions.
The movement started with Stan Wawrinka’s success at the Australian Open. Marin Cilic’s win over Kei Nishikori in the US Open final gave the campaign a massive boost; for the first time since the 2005 Australian Open, when Marat Safin clashed with Lleyton Hewitt, none of the “Big Four” was in the final of a major.
But, alas, that mutiny has been ruthlessly dealt with in 2015, at least in the first quarter of the year.
Rafael Nadal has been struggling with his confidence, but the finals of the three biggest tournaments so far – the Australian Open and the Indian Wells and Miami Masters – have all been contested by members of the Big Four: Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray. Djokovic has emerged victorious in all three.
And where are the poster boys of last year’s uprising? They, for one reason or another, seem to be gradually melting into the crowd.
Cilic has played only one match this year, forced out of action by a shoulder injury. Nishikori has won a title in 2015, but a 250 event in Memphis, and David Ferrer (No 10 at the Australian Open) is the only top 10 player he has beaten on the tour this season.
Wawrinka has done a little better, with three wins over top 10s – Nishikori (Australian Open), Milos Raonic and Tomas Berdych (Rotterdam) – but his form has been, unsurprisingly, patchy. The Swiss has failed to win back-to-back matches in the three tournaments since his Rotterdam triumph, losing to No 59 Sergiy Stakhovsky in Marseille, No 104 Robin Haase in Indian Wells and No 32 Adrian Mannarino in Miami.
Dimitrov, long considered a future No 1 and a semi-finalist at Wimbledon last year, has also failed to win back-to-back matches in four tournaments since the Australian Open, while Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Ernests Gulbis have struggled due to injury and form.
Miami was Tsonga’s first tournament of 2015 following an arm injury that had put the Frenchman, winner of the Toronto Masters last year and hot contender for the 2014 US Open, out of action. Gulbis, a semi-finalist at Roland Garros in 2014, has been struggling with his confidence in 2015 and has only one win in eight matches.
Raonic is the only member of the group who has consistently challenged the Big Four this season. He has beaten Nadal and has lost a final (Brisbane) and a semi-final (Indian Wells) to Federer. At the Australian Open, he finished second-best to eventual champ Djokovic in the quarter-final.
The Canadian, however, is moving forwards and no one will be surprised if he upstages the Big Four to win a grand slam in the coming months.
The other pretenders to the throne, however, could be signing off on 2015 with the same words as Murray in 2014 – “Bad Year”.
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