Have you been paying attention, America? In the midst of the NFL playoffs, the death of Joe Paterno and the NASCAR-style sprint that is the convoluted NBA schedule, my guess is you’re part of the other 99 percent, which is completely understandable.
Tennis doesn’t dip into its casual majority fanbase until, at the earliest, the French quarter of its Grand Slam marathon. The Australian Open is simply too early on the calendar, too out of place in our seasonal cycle and too easy to typecast as a poor man’s US Open due to its hard-court playing surface.
But for us one-percenters, the 2012 edition has shone brighter than an under-glorified winter stopgap on the slow track to the summer tennis solstice. Instead, it’s opened our collective eyes to the era-defining perspective tennis fans have been searching for since Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi hung up their sneaks.
Djokovic will face off against Murray and Federer will play Nadal for about the 2,000th time this decade.
They are the same four players that have made up the semi foursome in three of the last four Grand Slams and the same four players that, by some combination or another, have met in every Slam final since Wimbledon 2010, where Nadal defeated Thomas Berdych.
To put it simply, they’re The Beatles of tennis. Everyone else is more like Eddie and the Cruisers. Dating back to the 2005 Aussie Open, only one other player outside the "Core Four"—Juan Martin del Potro at the ’09 US Open—has won a major.
For a while, it was the Federer-Nadal era. They combined to win an incredible 25 of 28 majors between 2004 and 2010. But in 2011, Djokovic elevated himself from proverbial third wheel, Speaker of the House status, to tennis’ Oval Office.
He did so with perhaps the greatest individual year in tennis history that included three Grand Slams and a record-setting 43-match win streak to start the season.
As for the 24-year-old Murray, he’s had so many spellbinding close calls in the past few years that it’s hard not to envision a Djokovic-like breakout in the near future.
They’re tennis’ once- and future-ruling quartet. This tournament has solidified that for the time being. Now let’s see what each semifinalist must do to advance to the final in this latest chapter of the new "Core Four’s" emerging saga
Sorry, Yankees fans. Jorge Posada just retired.