Three men and the slams
WRECKORDER - FGS Gujilde (The Freeman) - March 26, 2020 - 12:00am

There is something wrong with men’s tennis. Since 2004, only three men, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic dominated the grand slams - Australian, French, US Open and Wimbledon. They combine for 55 crowns out of 65, consoling six other men with crumbs - three each for Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka, one each for Gaston Gaudio, Marat Safin, Martin del Potro and Marin Cilic. Gaudio who?

Unfamiliar, if your name is not Roger, Rafa or Novak, the big three who turned the courts into their private playground, chasing each other for the most number of slams. With 20, Federer remains on top, but of the eggshell, as Nadal is just one slam shy and Djokovic by three. Dangerously close.

They won all four slams to join the elite circle of five other men in tennis history to achieve such pinnacle – Andre Agassi, Fred Perry, Don Budge, Roy Emerson and the legendary Rod Laver who won a career slam twice. Not even pistol Pete Sampras is in their company, blame it on clay.

  Men’s tennis usually changes guards every fifteen years or so, which should have been last year, this year or the next. This year, Nadal turns 34, Djokovic 33 and Federer the oldest at 39, beyond peak for a brutal five-setter sport. But oddly, no younger player has leveled up to their supremacy. 

Dominic Thiem got close but fell short in three slam finals, bowing down to Nadal in the last two French Open finals and blowing what could have been a stunning upset against Djokovic in this year’s Australian Open five-set final. At the peak age of 26, he should be winning already. But with the ageless triumvirate still on top of their game, he risks leaving the sport remembered for being the best player to have never won a slam.

Aside from Thiem, Alexander Zverev, Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas lurk, being the highest ranked players alongside big three company. But with the French Open moved due to corona, the trio’s crown monopoly remains monotony. To break the treble boredom, it interests to identify who among them is greatest.

If the number of slams were to gauge, Federer is. But he won only one French. Not because he is not versatile, but because Rafa doesn’t share clay. He lags by one slam, courtesy of, what else, clay majority. Djokovic then? He only has 17 slams with one red mud title, just like Federer, again because of the Mallorcan bull discourtesy.

It seems they dominate best in their favorite surface. The FedExpress is master class in grass, with a record eight Wimbledon titles, five in succession. Nadal is king of clay, owning a dozen titles in Roland Garros, the most in all majors by any player, man or woman. Djokovic is toughest on hard court, winning a record eight down under and three more in Flushing Meadows, and is not crass in grass either, where he won five. 

In grand slam head to head, Nadal dominates Federer, 10-4, including the 2008 Wimbledon epic five-setter final, the greatest match in tennis history. Djokovic edges Federer, 11-6, including their last six meetings and the 2019 Wimbledon where he bucked two match points to win a nail-biting final. No one steals a match point from the Swiss maestro, especially at a slam. Nadal may be ahead of Djokovic, 9-6, but Novak won their last three meetings and is the last man to beat him at Roland Garros.

It looks like even if he owns fewest major titles among them, Nole now slams Federer and Nadal, two of the nicest gentlemen on the men’s tour. Djoker is more funny than nice, especially when he mimics service antics of the recently retired poster girl of women’s tennis, Maria Sharapova. But that is not the point, much less match point. The question remains, who is the greatest then?

It is too early to tell, the big three still dominate the court with such impenetrable monopoly. Maybe after they retire, when Nadal may have equaled or bettered Federer, courtesy of two more clay titles perhaps, or when Djokovic may have dwarfed the twin tower best of friends. Barring injury or concentration lapse, he could win more on any surface. But no one knows for sure.

Except Federer, who would know by then. His watch doesn’t only tell time, it tells history. Let it be the judge then, because if I were to pick, I’d drop Federer and Djokovic quick, with due respect. And I’m not saying it is my 10-year old Rafa, the neighborhood bully of a dog.

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