By Dr Pranay Kumar Swain
What do you tell a 19-year-old facing a four-time defending champion, winner of seven of last eight championships at Wimbledon (W) and the then all-time Grand Slam leader Pet Sampras, in a 4th round match of the most prestigious Grand Slam event that enters the 5th set and the scoreline reads 4-4, 15-40 with Sampras having two breakpoints? The breakpoints were destined to be saved, the second one with a tailor-made volley at the net. On match point, the historic return of Sampras’s most ferocious weapon would bear ‘champion’ written all over. Began a new era!
Another 19-year-old despite heartbroken, as a two-points-away-from-a-straight-set-win was snapped away by the world no 1 Federer at Miami earlier that year, came back strongly to defeat him in the semifinal and eventually win the French Open (FO) and while doing so obliterated most of the records held by a teenager hitherto possessed by Andre Agassi and Mats Wilander. Another star announced his arrival on the big stage!
A year after celebrating his 19th birthday, this roller coaster rider on the ATP tour defeated the then No. 3 Roddick in quarterfinals, No. 2 Nadal in the semi-finals and No.1 Federer in final of Canada masters. How often does one see a player defeating the top three ranked players in one tournament? It was a first since Becker did so in 1994. One has to be a very special talent. And, indeed arrived a very special talent.
Yes, we are talking about the trinity of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic whose combined exploits have left the entire world of professional tennis players cursing their stars. Given a chance, I am sure they would all love to change their respective dates of birth. The only thing that is possibly be cherished about being born in the same era is if you are not playing the same game. Such has been the stranglehold of these three on the topmost titles of the game.
Let’s take the 2005 Australian Open (AO) as the starting point of the timeline for our consideration since these three played a Grand Slam event together for the first time in that very tournament. Until 2014 US Open (USO), this remained the last Grand Slam event in which none of the three made it to the final. And as rare as it could get, it has happened just one more time since then when Andy Murray and Milos Raonic played out the 2016 Wimbledon final.
Between 2005 Australian Open and 2019 Wimbledon, 116 appearances have happened for 58 times for the coveted Grand Slam championship in the men’s singles category. A staggering 22 times saw any two of the three being the last men standing vying for the championship. On 56 occasions – a mind-boggling 96.6%- at least one of the three played the final, leaving only two occasions when none of the trinity played on the last day of the tournament. 50 out of these 58 have been won by one of these three, their grand total being 54. Only four others [Andy Murray (2012 USO, 2013 W and 2016 W), Stanislas Wawrinka (2014 AO, 2015 FO and 2016 USO) , Juan Martin del Potro ( 2009 USO) and Marin Cilic(2014 USO) ] in these close to 15 years have managed to be lucky enough to find their names engraved alongside the three of the greatest of all time that the game has ever seen.
A deeper dive into the Grand Slam event wise break up reinforces the sheer dominance of the trinity across all the surfaces. On the green rebound ace surface till 2007 and then the blue Plexicushion acrylic surface of the Melbourne Park the win-loss stands at 13-1, on the Roland Garros red clay 14-1 with the Spaniard alone mercilessly disallowing others 12 of them, on Wimbledon grass 13-2 and on the DecoTurf of the flushing meadows 10-4. The numbers are merely academic, but the impact is titanic.
Out of the 58 Grand Slam finals played since 2005 AO, the Federer-Nadal-Djokovic trinity has (generously) let go as few as eight to be snatched away by as many as four other players. What does one call this phenomenon – Dominance? Incredible? Insane? Or Bizarre? For want of a better adjective, I choose to be content with the last. It indeed is bizarre to even imagine such a stranglehold over the biggest championships on the tour. Charge them for the way they have enslaved tennis!
About the Author
Dr Pranay Kumar Swain is the Chairperson, School of HSS, National Institute of Science Education and Research, Bhubaneswar. Contacts +91 674 2494010 (O), Handheld- +91 993 700 9939/943 986 1939
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