The Third-Best Player In Tennis: Part Two of a Six-Part Series

jonathan staub@JStaubSportTalkCorrespondent IFebruary 18, 2009

Since Wimbledon of 2003, there have been 23 majors played on the ATP Tour.


Only four times in those 23 contests has a winner not been named Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal.


Only once in the last 16 majors has someone other than Federer or Nadal won a major tournament. (That was the 2008 Australian Open where Novak Djokovic defeated Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.)


There is not much question as to who the top two players on tour are.


After Rafael Nadal’s five-set win at this year’s Australian Open, it seems clear that he has supplanted Federer as the unquestioned number-one player in the world.


Federer, however, is easily the clear-cut number two, and on any given night is capable of reclaiming his number-one spot.


With these two as the clear cut top two players in the world, the question is who has the best chance to challenge these two and win one of the years remaining majors.


On any given day, a relative unknown can catch fire and find himself advancing deep into a tournament. Picking out this unknown is about as likely as Nadal not reaching the French Open Final; it’s just not going to happen.


With that in mind, I will take a look at the three individuals who, if not for Federer and Nadal, would most likely be multiple major winners and are currently vying for recognition as the third best player in the world.


We will start with the last individual asides from Federer or Nadal to win a major.



Novak Djokovic – current ATP ranking: three


Novak Djokovic was the winner of the 2008 Australian Open. On his memorable run to the title he upset the defending champion, and number one player in the world, Roger Federer.


Djokovic became the first player representing Serbia to win a Grand Slam singles title. He also became the youngest player in the open era to reach the semi-finals of all four majors.


Djokovic won the 2008 Tennis Masters Cup as well as a Bronze Medal in the 2008 Olympic Games.


He also has a career record of 191-71, with 11 career titles highlighted by the 2008 Australian Open Championship.


Djokovic has a game similar to that of Roger Federer. He is an all-court player with dominating ground strokes. He has a powerful, deep, and well-angled forehand that is hit with a lot of topspin. He also has a strong serve which wins him many points throughout a match.


At only 21 years of age, Djokovic’s best days are fast coming on the horizon. The time is now for him to make a considerable impact on the sport. He has shown he can compete with, and beat the big boys.


There are two major questions however that Novak must answer. First is whether or not he can compete with the big two on a regular and consistent basis.


The second question is in regards to his toughness. Does he have the mental toughness to compete on the highest level. This was never even a thought until just this last Australian Open. Retiring to Andy Roddick, due in large part to the heat, Djokovic sacrificed his title.


If he is unable to handle the weather in a big time match, how will he ever handle serving at match point in the fifth set of Wimbledon with Roger Federer staring at him across the net?



Andy Roddick – current ATP ranking: six


Roger Federer won the 2003 Wimbledon. It was his first Grand Slam title.


Andy Roddick won the 2003 U.S. Open. It was his first Grand Slam title.


Since then Roger Federer has won 12 more Grand Slam Titles and has gained recognition as one of, if not the, most dominant player in the history of the game.


Since 2003 Andy Roddick has been embarrassed, beaten, and down right abused by Federer every time they have met in a Grand Slam match.


It is safe to say that Federer has gotten the better of the deal since 2003. So what hope is there for Roddick? Is there any? If there is, it is in knowing that what Federer is to Roddick, Nadal is to Federer.


Why is this important? Nadal and Roddick share a similar game. They overpower their opponents with scintillating serves, ferocious forehands, and blistering backhands. They are tenacious in their pursuit of every shot and if Roddick, who possesses the most powerful game on tour, can learn to harness his strength he still has a few major wins in him.


Roddick’s big serve and his big forehand are no secret. It is also no secret that Federer is growing old, in tennis years at least, and may have slowed a step. Roddick is no spring chicken at 26, but he is far from done. As long as he continues to unravel for the big serve he will be a player well into his 30s.


Roddick has two major flaws that have halted his success. Typically if a person can learn to overcome their flaws, or at least play within them, they can overcome them to experience a triumph.


The problem for Roddick is that both of his flaws are beyond his control. His major flaw is that he always seems to run into Roger Federer. His career record against the Swiss star is a measly two wins and 16 losses.


Roddick’s other major flaw ties into his frustration with his inability to beat Federer. Roddick’s temper typically gets the best of him and at times if he’s no yelling at umpires, he loses the will to give 100 percent.


Anger is a hard emotion to overcome, especially when it constantly gets the best of you. If Roddick can learn to harness his power like Nadal, and utilize his temper like McEnroe, he could become far more dangerous at the later stages of his career than he ever was at the beginning.


With a career record of 471 wins and 151 losses there is no questioning his talent. The only question is will he ever reach his full potential.



Andy Murray – current ATP ranking: four


Andy Murray has not won a Grand Slam Title like Roddick or Djokovic, but he has slowly begun to establish himself as the next challenger to the Nadal/Federer empire.


At 21 years of age his play has improved every year he has been on tour. He is very strong on grass and hard court surfaces. He has recently been working on his clay game and works with a group of fitness experts to help give him the best shot at winning.


So far for Murray the pinnacle of his career came last year at the U.S. Open where he lost in the finals to Federer in straight sets. That is not to ignore this fact, he beat Nadal in the semi’s to get there.


Murray has shown on numerous occasions he can play with best players in the world, and has not even come close to reaching his peak yet. His career record right now stands at 168 wins and 66 losses.


Murrayhas beat the world number four Nikolay Davydenko, he has beaten Nadal twice, he has beaten Djokovic twice, Federer once, and Roddick once. His potential is clear. Whether or not he lives up to it, is up to him.





It is hard to try and establish which one of these three individuals has the best chance for success. No one in the sport of tennis outside of Nadal and Federer has really accomplished that match over the past six years.


The world number four, Nikolay Davydenko, has not even reached a Grand Slam Final. That is the only thing these three athletes mentioned do have in common.


Roddick is a long way removed from his U.S. Open Title, and Djokovic has a lot of work to do to restore his reputation since retiring in this year’s Aussie Open due to the heat.


When it comes down to it there is one amongst these three that stands out as the heir apparent to challenge the throne.


Andy Murray, the worlds number four ranked player, is in actuality, the third best player in the world.


Murray has the best chance out of anyone not named Federer or Nadal to claim one of the year’s final three Grand Slams. His game has gotten better every year and he has yet to truly hit his peak.


It is hard to say where Djokovic will go from here. He has already won one Grand Slam, but he has not made any lasting impact since.


As for Roddick, I almost crowned him as the number three. His recent play has shown that he has not slowed down, rather, he has improved with age. Where he may have learned to harness his temper, he still has no answers for Roger Federer. It is unlikely that he will be able to win any Grand Slam without having to defeat the Swiss star.


Murray on the other hand is riding high off his finals appearance in last years U.S. Open. He works diligently with his coaches on improving his game. His conditioning is second to none, and while he is improving on clay, it is Wimbledon where he will look to make his mark on the tennis world.


He is playing great tennis and has already shown he can beat the best on tour. He is still hungry for his first Grand Slam and will be playing with everything to gain, and nothing to lose. This is what makes him more dangerous than either Roddick or Djokovic. He is still making a name for himself.


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