In this modern era of tennis (often called the Golden Era), most players outside of the Big Four can be all but counted out before each Slam even starts. It would take a lot for a less dominant player to win a major, but that doesn’t mean there is no chance of it happening.
Sooner or later, somebody ranked No. 5 or lower will earn a Slam title. When that will be remains a mystery; it could be a matter of years before that happens, or it may be as soon as this season or the next.
Here’s a look at the most likely non-Big Four member to win each of the next five Slams.
With wins over the likes of Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, American John Isner has shown the tennis world that he is capable of a lot when at the top of his game. The difficult part is maintaining that caliber of play for two weeks in order to claim a major title.
If he is going to win one, 2012 is his best chance to do it. Big performances early in the season, especially in Davis Cup and Indian Wells play, proved that he is a worthy competitor among strong competition, and he needs to capitalize on those successes before the season is out.
The courts of Flushing Meadows are the optimal place for this kind of magic to happen. The American crowds of New York can be quite overwhelming with their patriotic support, and they are certainly desperate for a male American champion. With the crowd on his back, big things can happen for Isner in this year’s US Open.
21-year-old Milos Raonic is one of the biggest names when it comes to the promising rising stars of the sport, and for good reason; his career, which began in 2008, has already seen three singles titles and two other finals appearances, all on hard court.
With that in mind, it is easy to jump to the conclusion that the hard courts are the Canadian’s best surface. He gives us further evidence by boasting a 17-3 record on the surface in 2012 so far.
We don’t know when Raonic will have his seemingly inevitable breakout Slam performance, but it will likely happen in one of the hard court majors. When the campaign in Melbourne rolls around this January, watch out for the big-serving young gun to make a splash.
This will be the most difficult major for any non-Big Four member to win because dethroning Rafa at Roland Garros seems like an impossible task. If somebody’s going to do it, though, it will likely be a veteran of the game.
The most probable candidate here is Spaniard David Ferrer. At the age of 30, he is definitely on the back end of his career, but his body and performances don’t show it. In fact, he played some of his best French Open tennis this season by reaching the semifinals easily before losing in straight sets to the king himself.
Ferrer’s experience and strong clay-court performances provide him with a better chance than anybody else outside the Big Four to take the 2013 French Open title. It certainly isn’t likely, but based on what he has shown, I wouldn’t put it past this man.
In the past few seasons, Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has been considered a threatening dark horse for each Slam that he has entered. At this point, he is definitely hungry to break through and win his first major title.
Based on his track record, Wimbledon seems like the most probable place for him to do it. Having reached the semifinals there for two straight years, it’s clear that he feels very comfortable on the grass courts of London.
With enough determination (and possibly luck of the draw), Tsonga may very well have what it takes to make that extra push to the title at Wimbledon next year.
If Isner doesn't win the 2012 US Open, his career will likely begin to spiral downwards, since he will have little to show for a solid season. In this case, somebody else outside of the Big Four will have a better chance of winning the title in 2013.
It’s tough to predict when it’s more than a year away, but as of now, Juan Martin Del Potro seems to have the best chance. What he did on those courts in 2009 showed his potential as a great champion, but then injury took hold of him. Now that he’s back, he may once again come out on top at any time.
DelPo will be an eternal crowd favorite in New York City because of his historic cinderella story, and I wouldn’t be too surprised to see him do it again someday soon.