The Big Four – architects of their own downfall?

The Big Four are not as dominant as they once were. For the first time since 1998, eight different men and women have won the respective Grand Slam singles titles. They muscled their way to the top – quite literally – and have shown little signs of relinquishing their dominance before this year.

So what’s gone wrong? Two have spent most of the injured or in surgery. The other is 33-years old and a father of four. And Djokovic, despite his supreme form at Wimbledon, has looked underwhelming ever since.

But there’s more to it than meets the eye. Roger Federer’s first Wimbledon win in 2003 marked a changing of the guard. From the wam-bam-thankyou-man of Sampras and Ivanisevic, to the more physical game brought about with slower courts and better rackets.

And of course 2005 marked Rafael Nadal’s explosion onto the Grand Slam scene. On clay at least, Federer had to work hard to compete over the course of brutally long matches. Those three or four years of dominance have taken their toll on a 28 year old Nadal. He set the bar and is now struggling to reach it again.

Murray and Djokovic were next; both struggled with fitness in the early stage of their careers and embarked on intensive strength and conditioning regimes. Murray is now once again back on the road to recovery after a punishing season.

As each one has battled for supremacy, it is only natural that they go one step further than their predecessors. But in bringing about the new, increasingly physical, game they have paved the way for their own downfall. As they get older and the challengers get younger, it is only going to get harder for them to keep up.

Advertisements

Is Federer finished?

Roger Federer wins Wimbledon, 2009 - image credit, Just Jared

Roger Federer wins Wimbledon, 2009 – Image credit, Just Jared

Reacting in last Sunday's final to pegging Djokovic level - Image credit, Billie Weiss

Reacting in last Sunday’s final to pegging Djokovic level – Image credit, Billie Weiss

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s not the crushing disappointment of last Sunday’s final. Nor is it the aging body of the 33 year old seven-time Wimbledon champion. It’s what he’s lost in his two year Grand Slam drought.

His previous invincibility, that cool demeanour with which he took both triumph and adversity has all but evaporated. Now, he is a mere mortal.

As a case in point, Federer’s leap and fist-pump into the air after breaking Djokovic’s serve in the fourth set was almost identical to that which followed his 2009 Wimbledon victory over Andy Roddick.

Roger Federer – one of the greatest tennis players the world has ever seen and a famously cool competitor – was celebrating winning just one game.

That is not to diminish the power of the Djokovic effect. He piled on the pressure; every game was a tightly fought battle. But that’s all the more reason for Roger to keep calm and carry on as normal. After all, he’s the king of that particular court.

Roger Federer, for perhaps the first time in his career, didn’t look like winning was his default setting. He confirmed his role as underdog by celebrating pegging level with a fist-pump; he looked almost appreciative for every point he remained in the contest.

And this is no fault of the mighty Fed. It is surely a sub-conscious reaction. He is the underdog. He has a lot less to lose than he used to. He said himself after the match that ‘the disappointment of the match itself went pretty quickly’.

Compare that reaction to the tears he shed five years ago after losing the Australian Open final.

His over-egged celebration was symbolic of an entirely new Federer mind-set. Gratitude. He is appreciative of every game he remains competitive. For him to return to winning ways, Federer must rediscover some of the hunger which propelled him to seven Wimbledon victories.

It is heart-warming to see such a genuine love for the game, but if our hero is to go out with the proverbial bang, he must stop being so bloomin’ gracious.