The Big Four have been shown the door. It’s been a long time coming but the appearance of Marin Cilic and Kei Nishikori in the US Open final earlier this week is surely the beginning of the end.
You have to go back to 2005 – an epoch ago in tennis terms – to find a Grand Slam final that hasn’t featured either Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray. From now on it’s open season. Okay, not open season exactly, but let’s just say the stranglehold of the Big Four has very much loosened its grip.
So who’s going to replace them?
Stanislas Wawrinka and Cilic already have their titles, so they automatically form part of the new group.
The other US Open finalist, Nishikori, is flying high. But he lacks both the confidence and the phsycial stature to get past the finish line at any Grand Slam.
Grigor Dimitrov: now here’s an interesting option. Three ATP titles this year, semi-finals at Wimbledon, and a career-high ranking of No.8 in the world in August. He’s certainly got the confidence to take a Grand Slam title.
Finally, we have Milos Raonic. He disappointed at the US Open, losing to Nishikori in five sets in the fourth round. But if his career path continues in its upward direction, it won't be long before he triumphs at a major.
So it’s Wawrinka, Cilic, Nishikori, Dimitrov and Raonic. The Big Five, the Fab Five, the Quintet of Quality. Whatever you want to call them.
After winning in New York, Cilic referred to them as “the second line”.
“The guys there are from second line, are moving closer and they are more often at the later stage of the tournament,” he said. “They are going to get only better. They’re not going to get worse.”
As with all changings of the guard, while the youngsters are waxing, at the same time the old boys are waning.
Federer is 33 years old and has four kids. Barring dirty nuclear devices in Mallorca and a gluten famine in Serbia, he will never win another Grand Slam. It’s obvious to anyone that he’s well past his best.
As for Nadal. How long do you seriously think his body is going to hold out? There are perhaps a couple more major titles in him; a handful at most. But, taped up and on pain-killers, he will always struggle to replicate the superhuman athleticism that has won him his Grand Slams so far. Right now he’s paying the price for pushing his body so hard in earlier years.
Andy Murray dropped out of the world top 10 this week. He can easily fight his way back into it. But there are two key factors holding him back from future Grand Slam titles.
Firstly there’s the dodgy pairing with coach Amelie Mauresmo. While that union may be great in terms of sports politics and PR, it doesn't seem to be doing his game any good.
Secondly there’s what we should call the double curse of Wimbledon. For any Briton, the psychological ramifications of that tournament are highly complicated.
Yes, he proved all his critics wrong by becoming the first Briton in 70-odd years to take the title. And what an enormous achievement that was.
But then the enormity of his achievement came back to bite him in the posterior. Although Murray would never dare admit it, there must be some nagging thought in the back of his mind suggesting that once he’s captured tennis’s greatest prize, there’s nowhere left for him to go.
Djokovic is currently the biggest of the Big Four. Most experts agree he is much more likely than the other three to win further Grand Slams.
So how do the odds line up right now for the next Grand Slam, the 2015 Australian Open?
Unibet have Djokovic as favourite to win at 2.40, followed by Nadal at 4.50, Murray at 6.50, and Federer at 8.00. (So far, so Big Four.)
What’s most interesting, however, are the following five names. Wawrinka is next favourite at 12.00, followed by Cilic, Dimitrov and Nishikori at 17.00. Then there’s Raonic at 21.00.