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Visual Depiction of Big Four (+2) Dominance

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Note: I received a couple requests to post this to the blog – which I’ve neglected thus far – so I thought I’d take the opportunity to get the gears turning and post some entries. Expect more of the same – statistical analysis and historical surveys. 

I thought it would be interesting to create a chart that depicts the levels of dominance of the “Big Four” over the last decade. With apologies to Tomas Berdych and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, I’ve included David Ferrer and Juan Martin Del Potro to flesh it out a bit with a couple from the next tier of players.

The graph might be a bit confusing at first but I think the key is to focus on each player’s line to see how it changes, then go to the next player, etc, and then put it all together.

What do the numbers mean? They are the average of how many matches a player won per Slam played in a particular year. This does NOT include Slams a player didn’t enter, nor does it include qualification victories or take note of walkovers. The key is simple: 2R = 1, 3R = 2, 4R = 3, QF = 4, SF = 5, F = 6, W = 7. So, for example, Andy Murray was in the Final at the Australian Open (6), missed the French Open, and won Wimbledon (7). I am not penalizing him for missing Roland Garros as that would inaccurately reflect his actual performance, so the total of 13 is divided by 2, for an average of 6.5.
It should go without saying that not all Slam rounds are equal, which this method implies. But this system is not an attempt to measure overall greatness via Slam results – I’ve done that in past forum posts and may resuscitate my methodology here in the future – but to look at the players relative to each other.

So here’s the chart (click on it to make it large enough to decipher):


A few things pop out to me:

  • Notice that Andy Murray (green) is the only player to equal or improve his results from each year – his line just keeps getting better and better.
  • We can see that Roger Federer’s phase of dominance is quite clear: 2004-2009, with Rafael Nadal equaling him in 2008.
  • The downward trend for Roger and Rafa is alarming. Obviously it is skewed by their early exits in Wimbledon, but I don’t think we can discount that as an anomaly. This strongly indicates that both players are in decline – yes, Rafa as well as Roger.
  • Contrary to a view I hear occasionally, Novak in 2012-13 is not the same player he was before 2011; he isn’t quite as good as in 2011, but he’s definitely a notch above 2010 and before – at least according to his Slam results, which I think is the single most important indicator of a player’s level.
  • It is interesting to note Ferrer’s dip in 2009-2010, and then his resurgence in 2011 until the present – his best tennis so far. A rare career trajectory.
  • As for Del Potro, we can see that in 2009 he surpassed Andy and Novak and then dealt with injuries. Hopefully he can get back there, although it may be too much to expect a truly elite season (which we could define as >5, or averaging more than a SF in each Slam).

What does this chart tell us in general? It supports what we all likely already know, that the “Fedal Era” is over and has been over for a couple years now – at least in terms of their shared dominance. It also suggests that Andy Murray – at least in 2013 thus far – is right there with Novak Djokovic. If we consider the “Fedal Era” to be 2005-2010, given the age of “Djokurray” (both 26), it seems unlikely it will last as long, but we can say it is 2011-13 so far, with possibly another year or two ahead.

Comment below, or you can also discuss in detail with fellow tennis fans on the Tennis Frontier Message Board Forum


About Jonathan Northrop

Jonathan Northrop is the resident in-house analyst of numbers, trends and how they can be applied with an eye on tennis history. You can contact Jonathan via: eldude@tennisfrontier.com
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