For the best part of four years, many circles in the British press have tried, and failed to bill men’s tennis as a four man competition. The “Big Four” we’ve been told have been the players that have dominated tennis since late 2008. However, it does not take a genius to see that until recently tennis has been the Roger and Rafa story. Last year Novak Djokovic had other ideas, tearing up the script and dominating arguably the two greatest players of all time.
Still, the British press has throughout this time included Murray in that elite band of four at the top of men’s tennis. And if one were to look at the ATP rankings since the 2008 US Open, one would have a point. Barring his post Australian Open final low points in 2010 and 2011, and his one week drop in 2009, Murray has not left the top four, indeed becoming the first man (in 2009) to get in between the Federer-Nadal monopoly of the top two spots, when he briefly rose to world number two.
However, when have we taken world rankings as gospel truth? Of course they hold far more value than in the women’s game, where over the past few seasons the number one ranking has meant absolutely nothing – remember Safina? Or Jankovic? Yes, I didn’t think you would…
The main barometer we can use to determine dominance is, of course, the grand slams, which until Novak decided to boss the game, was effectively a two horse race, such was the exquisite brilliance that is Federer and Nadal.
Since the 2005 French Open to this year’s US Open, only the Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro had won a grand slam outside of Djokovic, Federer and Nadal. That is a ridiculous statistic when one considers that in eras gone by one slam wonders were much a plenty. In the last three or four years, there have been very clear divisions in tennis. The premier league of Rafa, Roger and Novak are very much cemented at the top; then its Murray, Del Potro, Jo Wilfried Tsonga and a few others; then everyone else.
So now, with Murray having won the 2012 US Open, along with the Olympics, can we finally call this a “Big Four”? Can we finally put him in that premier league bracket that is just a cut above the rest? Let’s look at the past year.
On paper, if one were to look at raw statistics, one could argue that Murray has actually had the best year out of the top four. In 2012, there were five big titles up for grabs: the four grand slams and the Olympics. Murray won two out of the five. Everyone else won one. Good start.
Now let us look at slam finals reached. Djokovic leads the pack with three, followed by Murray and Nadal on two, and then Federer on one. Yet again, the statistics imply that Murray deserves to be part of this elite group.
However, if one were to look at this year’s ATP Masters 1000 tournaments, the statistics are not so encouraging. These events have been dominated by Federer, Djokovic, and Nadal, with David Ferrer being the only other player to have won one of these nine titles.
But the Masters 1000 events are not grand slams and are only played over a best of three sets, rather than five. It is accepted in tennis that winning a grand slam is the defining point of a season.
So the question stands, does Murray deserve to be classed in this premier league of tennis players in this oh-so-amazing golden era? The only thing preventing him from joining the club, as it were, is the fact that he is not a multiple slam winner. He has only just won his maiden slam; surely it is too early you may be asking?
I don’t think so though. Murray has stuck in the top four for the best part of four years, and has regularly featured in the latter stages of grand slams. Not only that, but he has had a better year, on average, than Nadal, and, it could be argued, Federer. So whilst Djokovic lifted the ATP World Tour Finals trophy to finish off what has been possibly the greatest year in tennis history (it was clear that he was the top dog), Murray must now be considered on a par with this elite group of players who are among the best tennis has ever seen.
So whilst 2012 is definitely the year that Andy Murray joined the club, 2013 will be even more fascinating, as we will see whether he deserves to keep his membership.