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Dominance of the Big Four - from 2004-2013
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El Dude Online
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Dominance of the Big Four - from 2004-2013
In one of my statistical-historical forays into the realm of tennis I wanted to get a visual depiction of just how dominant the current "Big Four" (or 3+1 or 2+2 or however you want to characterize it) have been over the last decade. 2013 marks the tenth year that at least one of the Big Four has been truly dominant; while Federer won an ATP 1000 in 2002 and his first Slam and World Tour Finals in 2003, it wasn't until 2004 that he was truly dominant, so I'm marking 2004 as the beginning of the reign of the Big Four.

Below is the graph. I'm including what I'm calling "big tournaments" - Slams, World Tour Finals, and ATP 1000s - because not only do they have much higher point totals but they're the only tournaments that elite players almost always show up for. Most elite players miss one, maybe two, a year, but they miss many more ATP 500s.

Notice that I included colors for each of the Big Four but no color for any other player so we could get a visual sense of their dominance:

[Image: BigFourDominance.jpg]

There are a few interesting things to note:

1) In the last 10 years there have been 130 "major" tournaments; of those only 24 have been won by players other than the Big Four.

2) As you can see, 2004 was all Federer and then 2005-06 was all "Fedal," with Djokovic showing up in 2007 and Murray a year later. 2010 was the Year of Rafa and 2011 the Year of Novak, with 2012 a nice balance between all three, especially Rafa, Novak, and Roger.

3) Novak Djokovic actually looked like he was breaking through to "Big Three" status in 2008 but took a step back in 2009 and 2010, two years in which Andy Murray actually won more significant tournaments - four ATP 1000s to Novak's one. Actually, just looking at wins Novak had a better year than Roger but the Serb's 2R loss at Wimbledon ruined his point total so that he finished 3rd (while Roger did much better in Slams that he didn't win).

4) I was surprised to notice that Roger only won a single big tournament in 2008 - what a huge step down from 2007. On the other hand, given that 2008 was the year he turned 27 and that my research has shown that age 26-27 usually shows a slight step down, it makes sense. 2009-12 has been relatively consistent for Federer, although my research also implies that it is likely that 2013 will be another, bigger, step down. Will 2013 be the first year since 2008 that he wins less than two?

5) The Big Four have been especially dominant from 2011 to the present in which only one of thirty-two tournaments were won by another player - David Ferrer at the 2012 Paris Masters. That is mind-boggling, to say the least.

6) I was very surprised to note that the Paris Masters has been won by a different player in each of the last ten years. It actually goes back 11 years to Tim Henman in 2003 and then Marat Safin shows up again in 2002 (and 2000). It is an odd anomaly; I can only assume it is because it is the last ATP 1000 of the year and some top players must skip it to rest up for the World Tour Finals, but I could be wrong.

7) Finally, here is a list of big tournaments won during the last ten years (Slams + WTF + ATP 1000s); if a player won tournaments before 2004 I'm included their overall total in parentheses just for reference:

41 Federer (44)
33 Nadal
22 Djokovic
10 Murray
3 Safin (7)
3 Roddick (6)
3 Davydenko
3 Nalbandian
1 Agassi (26), Berdych, Coria (2), Del Potro, Ferrer, Gaudio, Ljubicic, Moya (2), Robredo, Soderling, Tsonga

Note that Rafa is exactly 75% of the way to Roger's total, and Novak 50%. In this list you can see how far Murray is behind the other three, but how he stands up head and shoulders above the rest - even Safin and Roddick. Other than Agassi, of course!
23-Apr-2013 09:59 AM
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Riotbeard Offline
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RE: Dominance of the Big Four - from 2004-2013
Great work El Dude!

One question I had in response. Does Murray have a right to be in the Big 4? Is he closer to the rest of the field than Nadal, Djokovic, and Federer in terms of achievement/dominance? Can someone be in the big 4 without having ever had a dominant year? He is closer in terms of masters tournaments, but certainly very far behind in terms of grand slams, etc? Or maybe he should be somewhere in between?

I take your larger point, but I am just thinking in terms of what class of player is murray ultimately? I think before 2011, this would be an equally fair question to djokovic, but the fact that he has risen seems to have lifted murray conceptually as well, since they are rhetorically paired together like Fed and Nadal are. I am also struck to realize that Murray has not ever won the ATP finals. Obviously this could change in the future, but I am not convinced yet that murray deserves to be in the top class of tennis, although he is certainly not "just another player."

This may seem tangential to your larger point, but it was my immediate thought based on the table you created.
23-Apr-2013 10:22 AM
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El Dude Online
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RE: Dominance of the Big Four - from 2004-2013
Thanks, Riotbeard.

To address your point, first of all, as a side note, Rafa has never won the WTF either. I would imagine that it is a larger omission to his record than the Olympics are for Federer given the number of opportunities (or we can say Roland Garros will become for Novak if he fails to win it in the next couple years).

But I agree with you. For the last 5+ years Andy Murray has been both "the worst of the best" and the "best of the rest." He is clearly the 4th best player of the 2008-present era, significantly ahead of Davydenko, Ferrer, Del Potro, Soderling, Tsonga, and Berdych. But I agree with you that he isn't in the same class of greatness as Federer, Nadal, or Djokovic, and likely will never be. Though I think now he's the 3rd best player in the world - after Rafa and ahead of Roger.

If Rafa wins another 2-3 Slams he'll be among the very few best in Open Era history - in the conversation with Federer and Sampras. Even if he doesn't, he's right there after them and coeval with Bjorn Borg for a shared #3, imo. Novak is already in the mix with the Agasssi-Connors-McEnroe-Edberg-Becker-Wilander group and, given his current level, is likely to surpass them. I would imagine he ends with somewhere between 10-15 Slams, which places him in a small group of five Slam winners (of the Open Era) with 10+ Slams (along with Federer, Sampras, Nadal, and Borg).

As far as Murray goes, I think he has a solid chance of winning a few more Slams but, at best, will finish with 4-5, and very possibly less than that. Right now I'd say Andy is in a similar group with "almost greats" like Roddick, Hewitt, Safin and Kuerten. But he has a chance to be in the middle group with Vilas and Courier. But I don't see him getting higher than that.

In my opinion, when you look at all-time greatness you start with Slam victories. That's the baseline. Other factors are important, but secondary - rankings, non-win Slam results, WTF, ATP Masters, etc, all of which help us differentiate players of equal or similar Slam counts. But Slam wins is the primary marker. So for Andy to be taken serious as an all-time great he really has to win another 2-3 Slams at least. 3-4 gets you in the "lesser great" category; there are no 5-Slam players in the Open Era, so 6+ Slams is as good a threshold as any for true greatness. I for one don't see Andy winning five more Slams, not with Novak the same age and Rafa still kicking around. I think the best he can hope for at this point is another 2-3 and being up there with Vilas and Courier.
23-Apr-2013 11:17 AM
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Kieran Offline
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RE: Dominance of the Big Four - from 2004-2013
That's a great effort again, El Dude, and it makes for interesting reading. Totally agree about Murray, but I think 15 is a liberal high-mark prediction for Novak.

Interestingly, if Rafa wins a slam this year, he's the first player to win one in nine successive seasons. He currently shares with Borg, Sampras and Federer the distinction of winning one of the majors 8 years in a row...
23-Apr-2013 11:30 AM
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Denisovich Offline
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RE: Dominance of the Big Four - from 2004-2013
It's pretty consistantly yellow all over the place, whereas the red has been replaced with the green over the years.
23-Apr-2013 12:05 PM
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El Dude Online
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RE: Dominance of the Big Four - from 2004-2013
10-15 was a quick--and rather broad--"guesstimate" for Novak, but upon further thought I think its as good a range as any. Here's why.

First of all, Novak turns 26 this year. Let's say he has 2013-15 (through age 28) as his best window of opportunity for Slams, with the decreasing possibility of adding a Slam or two after that. Let's focus on the next three years, or 11 Slam opportunities.

I think that Roger Federer has 0-2 Slam wins left in him. 0 seems most likely but I could see him pulling off another Wimbledon or US Open, MAYBE two - but that seems a longshot. I'd say the chances are something like 50/30/15/5 - for 0/1/2/3 Slam wins left.

Despite his loss at Monte Carlo, Rafa still seems the favorite at Roland Garros - this year and maybe next; certainly he'll win at least one more before he's through. Beyond that, who knows. But I think Rafa has 1+ Slam wins in him - how many depends upon his health.

As for Andy, he might win 1-4 more (or so), but he might win none. He's a bit of a wildcard.

Of other active players, the only ones that I think have a decent shot at winning a Slam in the 2013-15 range are...well, none have a decent shot. MAYBE Tsonga or Berdych if they got hot long enough, but it seems unlikely. Del Potro? He's probably the 5th best player in the world right now but it is hard to imagine him having the stamina to win another Slam. Beyond those there are only "prospects" - Raonic, Dimitrov, etc; none of whom seem like serious Slam contenders...yet.

So Novak is lucky in that even if he loses a step over the next year or two, his biggest contender is a year older and with questionable knees, and his other two main contenders are old and just not as good as he. Everyone else is either significantly lower in ability or not there yet.

So in the next three years we have 11 Slams. If Roger wins 0-2, Rafa 1-4, and Andy 0-2, that is a range of 1-8 Slams won by likely candidates other than Novak. Low-end and Novak "only" wins three, plus maybe another after - which is the 10 I came up with the low-end of his career final. But what if he continues to squeak by and win most tournaments? I really could see him winning MOST of those 11...as many as 6 or 7, really, which would put him at 12-13 by the end of 2015, with another 2-3 at ages 29-31 or so.

So barring something unforeseen--catastrophic injury, Nadal and/or Federer discovering the fountain of youth/health, and a young player or three all of a sudden attaining elite form--I see Novak averaging 2+ Slams a year through 2015; even "only" two a year puts him at 11 by the end of 2015, and he could pad his total with a few more in later years. 10-15 is the broad range, but 12-14 seems most likely.
23-Apr-2013 12:08 PM
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AndrewWilliam Offline
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RE: Dominance of the Big Four - from 2004-2013

Well done El Dude. What stands out to me are the years 2009-2010 where Djokovic fell off the map. I remember quite distinctly those years and how the Serb struggled with his serve and confidence. Then he got his mojo back in 2011 with that sensational year. Quite amazing.

Can't we get Roddick a color? Maybe a tan or navy blue? Tongue

(This post was last modified: 23-Apr-2013 12:34 PM by AndrewWilliam.)
23-Apr-2013 12:31 PM
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Riotbeard Offline
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RE: Dominance of the Big Four - from 2004-2013
I think Murray's lack of a WTF title is significant because of his lack of title in general above the masters level (1 slam, 1 gold medal), for rafa it would be nice, but means very little to his legacy. I had just been hearing so much big 4 (not from you, but from the din of tennis commentary) that i noticed a big 3 is for the time being maybe still more apt, although not necessarily for the sake of the stats exercise you are doing here.

I also agree that nadal is the second best player still with murray the #3, it will just take a while for the slams to recognize this. i am glad too, murray-djokovic matches are boring.
(This post was last modified: 23-Apr-2013 12:59 PM by Riotbeard.)
23-Apr-2013 12:58 PM
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herios Offline
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RE: Dominance of the Big Four - from 2004-2013
Great analysis, but I have a big problem with the title: there was no Big 4 until 2008, you can see easily, no yellow mark in 2004, no green until 2007 and no blue until 2008.
So the year range is an exageration.
23-Apr-2013 10:50 PM
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Moxie629 Offline
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RE: Dominance of the Big Four - from 2004-2013
(23-Apr-2013 10:50 PM)herios Wrote:  Great analysis, but I have a big problem with the title: there was no Big 4 until 2008, you can see easily, no yellow mark in 2004, no green until 2007 and no blue until 2008.
So the year range is an exageration.

I have to say the inclusion of 2004 is not common. It's easier to mark the beginning of the Fedal era at least, from 2005. But that's unfair to Federer, because he was beginning to dominate in 2004. However, in fairness to El Dude, and his very interesting stats, herios, it's always going to be complicated to compare the "Big 4," because of the difference in ages, and, more importantly, how long it took Djokovic and Murray to break the Federer-Nadal dominance. Remember that there was no "Big 4" until there had been a "Big 2." If you want to discuss a "Big 4," you can't start in 2008, as that wouldn't give enough context.

Anyway, nice job, Dude, with the chart, and the analysis.
23-Apr-2013 11:45 PM
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Mastoor Offline
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RE: Dominance of the Big Four - from 2004-2013
Semantics, but El Dude is actually right. Fedal ARE part of Big 4 so what they won 2004 - 2007 should be included.
23-Apr-2013 11:56 PM
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El Dude Online
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RE: Dominance of the Big Four - from 2004-2013
(23-Apr-2013 10:50 PM)herios Wrote:  Great analysis, but I have a big problem with the title: there was no Big 4 until 2008, you can see easily, no yellow mark in 2004, no green until 2007 and no blue until 2008.
So the year range is an exageration.

Mastoor got my intention right. I was looking at the time-frame in which any but not necessarily all of the Big Four dominated. I didn't include 2002-03 because, while Federer was definitely on the map and a top 10 player, he wasn't truly dominant. 2004 was his first dominant year, so that is the start of period that I see as the "Reign of the Big Four."
24-Apr-2013 07:10 AM
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herios Offline
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RE: Dominance of the Big Four - from 2004-2013
(24-Apr-2013 07:10 AM)El Dude Wrote:  
(23-Apr-2013 10:50 PM)herios Wrote:  Great analysis, but I have a big problem with the title: there was no Big 4 until 2008, you can see easily, no yellow mark in 2004, no green until 2007 and no blue until 2008.
So the year range is an exageration.

Mastoor got my intention right. I was looking at the time-frame in which any but not necessarily all of the Big Four dominated. I didn't include 2002-03 because, while Federer was definitely on the map and a top 10 player, he wasn't truly dominant. 2004 was his first dominant year, so that is the start of period that I see as the "Reign of the Big Four."

IMO, it is still a clear distinction, beween 2004-07 (the Fedal era) and then the 2008-13 period, with the top 4. I would not glue them altogether.
(This post was last modified: 24-Apr-2013 07:55 AM by herios.)
24-Apr-2013 07:54 AM
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El Dude Online
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RE: Dominance of the Big Four - from 2004-2013
Yes, I agree they are distinct, but I think you're missing the point of the study. It was to look at the dominance of any of the four over the period of time that at least one of them was dominant. The aspect you're talking about is part of that discussion, but is not the focus.
24-Apr-2013 09:14 AM
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Front242 Offline
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RE: Dominance of the Big Four - from 2004-2013
The 4th member of the top four is changing hands a fair bit lately but I think it's fairer to say Big 3 in the last few years really. No disrespect meant to fans of the 4th but there really have only been 3 guys winning the majority of the slams. I'm not counting masters wins as they're not in the same league.
24-Apr-2013 03:36 PM
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