x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

The awesome foursome a force to reckon with in tennis

I bungled a fact from the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, hurriedly looking up the world ranking of Janko Tipsarevic, seeing the numeral 27 next to his name, jotting it down, typing it in.

You want an excuse? I'll give you an excuse.

For yesterday's editions, I bungled a fact from the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, hurriedly looking up the world ranking of Janko Tipsarevic, seeing the numeral 27 next to his name, jotting it down, typing it in.

Twenty-seven would be his age. His ranking would be No 9.

Now, aside from feeling bad for short-changing a cool guy who last night collaborated with the No 1 player on a second set of superb quality, I could always castigate myself for briefly forgetting that Tipsarevic reached No 9 last November, or I could blame the extraordinary state of the men's tour.

Even with all the talent in all the countries in all the world, the tour has its extraordinary hegemony, reflected here at Aviation Club where the stars rule again.

The much-mentioned four men tower above the subdued others, with the subdued others ever more unseen. They bounce around the rankings in a de facto second tier, and if you know that Jo-Wilfried Tsonga holds down the No 5 ranking, you ought to appear on game shows, because you know a lot of stuff.

The No 1 Novak Djokovic, No 3 Roger Federer and No 4 Andy Murray all have held seedings to the semi-finals here, and No 2 Rafael Nadal probably would have had he not made it highly unlikely by not playing this tournament. In that sense, this event again presents a state-of-the-game, much as it did last year when Djokovic sustained early-season dominance that would stretch across the calendar.

Even if you don't know about rankings points - and so few of the seven billion people do - the numbers do shout: Djokovic has 13,130 points, Nadal 10,435, Federer 8,235, Murray 7,150 and Tsonga … 4,410.

That's not to knock the 4,410 which is more than about 6,999,999,996 other people have. Nor is it to knock the 2,710 points that place Tipsarevic in ninth, about which I feel bad while persisting with excuse.

Said the player holding down No 7, Tomas Berdych: "I think these days it's a really tough time to be … in this era of tennis." And that's a guy who made the 2010 Wimbledon final, the 2010 French semi-finals and two successive Australian quarter-finals before ramming into the four.

The hard maths reveal that the last seven grand slam tournaments have afforded 28 semi-final slots. Four men have hogged 24. Only Berdych, Tsonga, David Ferrer and Mikhail Youzhny have interloped. Three of the last four slams have seen all four in the final four. Murray made all four slam semi-finals last year, and he's the worst of the four.

All of this rates both familiar and amazing given all the populous talent perpetually at practice banging balls around.

"Let's say if you look at my draw in Melbourne, I was playing quarters with Rafa," Berdych said. "If I beat Rafa, then I need to beat Murray, then in the final I get to, actually, whatever, then I get to play the final with Djokovic."

Actually, it would have been Federer instead of Murray, but the point is solid. Just pondering that three-tiered task can make you tired. As No 8 Mardy Fish put it last year: "Those guys, they present so many problems, so many different problems, all four of them ... Obviously to win a [grand slam] tournament, you have to play two of those guys absolutely."

And a notch below grand slams, as Djokovic, Federer and Murray have prevailed here, that, too, upholds the all-event statistics.

In 2012, the big four are 40-5, with three of the five losses coming against each other. Only Gael Monfils (in Doha v Nadal) and John Isner (in the Davis Cup v Federer) have rebelled. In 2011, they went 259-46, with half of their 46 losses coming against each other, and 12 of their losses coming against Djokovic.

In matches against the subdued others, they went 236-23, a winning percentage exceeding 91. And their fame is so entrenched, so aloft above the others via the grand slams, so congealed in the cliched-but-accurate phrase "big four", that the 23 comes as surprisingly high.

So here, as a service of trivia, the last half of the top 10, marvellous players all: Tsonga (5), Ferrer (6), Berdych (7) Fish (8), Juan Martín del Potro (10); and most importantly today: Tipsarevic (9). Between them, they have one grand slam title and two finals, but all came before the foursome really got autocratic.

So you might call it telltale of the age for somebody who follows tennis to mistype the ranking of the No 9 player in the world. Or you might just say it was a boneheaded blunder.

OK, it was a boneheaded blunder.