Juan Martin Del Potro- 2009 US Open Champion
The comprehensive stranglehold Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, and Andy Murray (aka "the Big Four") have had on the tennis world over the last decade has been breathtaking to watch. These four men have separated themselves infinitely far apart from everyone else and have done so with truly sickening consistency.
Since the year 2005, only two other men outside of the Big Four have had the honor of having their names engraved on the winner’s trophy at one of the four majors (Marat Safin—2005 Australian Open—and Juan Martin del Potro—2009 U.S. Open).
In 2011 and 2012, every single Masters Series 1000 tournament has been claimed by a member of this exclusive group.
The statistics and streaks achieved by these four men could fill a scripture many times over and let’s not be mistaken, the ink has not run its course for the Big Four.
In the current stage men’s tennis is in, all roads to greatness run through the Big Four. Ascendancy and splendor in the tennis world is most commonly defined by winning Grand Slams. But these four champions have added their own definition to achieving such prominence. Greatness is not only defined by winning a major; it is also defined by beating these four men in the process. This has proven irrefutable because it is an almost certain reality that winning a Grand Slam requires victory over at least one of the top four players.
So this begs the glaringly obvious question: Can a Grand Slam be won by a player outside the Big Four in the near future? Can this impenetrable castle of unfettered dominance be toppled even if it only marks a temporary transfer of such desired power?
As history tells us, the answer is yes. One must look no further than the 2009 U.S. Open for the isolated narration of the brief dissemblance of supremacy. Juan Martin del Potro did the seemingly impossible and conquered the game’s two greatest champions as he defeated Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer in the semifinals and finals respectively.
It appeared to be a watershed moment in the tennis world. The godfathers of tennis had been supplanted by the idealized “kid with a dream.” And a dream scenario it was—one that many could only conceive possible in a fantasized version of existence.
The final questions to be asked are: How realistic is the dream is now? Which players are viable candidates to embark upon such an improbable leap of fate?
Juan Martin del Potro is undoubtedly the first choice—he’s already fulfilled the ultimate deed. If it wasn’t for the wrist complications he had to deal with in 2010, we might be dealing with a markedly altered tennis scene.
With that said, Del Potro unquestionably has the tools to maneuver his way back to the top of the pyramid. Harnessing cataclysmic force off the ground and a battering serve to boot, the Argentinian unleashes colossal blows and has the capacity to hit his opposition straight off the court.
Besides Del Potro, there are only two other candidates I believe have the potential of winning a major in the near future.
One is Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic. The 6'5" veteran has clean, beautifully developed groundstrokes and is able to achieve wonderful racket head acceleration and court penetration particularly on the forehand side. Berdych is no pushover on the serve either, and has found himself near the top of the ace count in the ATP over the past several years.
He has beaten Federer at Wimbledon, Murray at the French and Djokovic at Wimbledon. In addition, he pushed Nadal to four of the toughest sets of tennis I have ever witnessed in the 2012 Australian Open.
The final option for humanity against these non-human robots is Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Tsonga is a prime example of an all-court player, displaying acute adeptness from the back of the court and fine versatility at the net as well. Tsonga’s forehand is as powerful as they come and on top of his missile of a serve, his dual threat of explosiveness from the baseline and finishing capability moving forward attributes to his many successes.
As is such, Tsonga has beaten Federer at Wimbledon, Murray at the Australian Open, Djokovic at the Australian Open and Nadal at the Australian Open.
Scrutinizing each of these players with a fine-toothed comb makes it extremely clear that they all have similar elements within their games that allow them to be giant-killers.
1. Massive Serves and Forehands—Del Potro, Berdych and Tsonga arguably have the three biggest forehands in tennis now that Fernando Gonzalez has retired. Each man is capable of hitting through any court against any player. In supplement, they are all potent whether they choose to strike behind or within the baseline. In regards to the serve, they each put their height and strength to optimal use in concocting rocket serves. They all win tons of free points off aces, unreturnables and first strikes after returns as set up by effective serves.
2. Aggression—Andy Murray has a big forehand but for quite an unfortunate amount of time, he decided to proceed on the side of caution and it really ended up deterring his ultimate goal of winning a major. For Del Potro, Berdych and Tsonga, aggression has never been an issue. All three of these guys know they have incredible offensive weapons and have surely implemented them to their ultimate advantage thus far in their careers.
Which Player has the Best Chance at Winning a Major?
3. Belief—Our three candidates have all beaten every member of the Big Four. They know that each time they step on the court against the guardians of glory they do so with a fighting chance. And while it does not happen frequently, each one of these men know that on any given day they can step on the court and leave any member of the Big Four deflated and weakened by their artillery of weapons.
The only problem is that to win a major title, this “any given day” must in all probability occur not only once, but twice—maybe even three times.
Essentially it is the equivalent of doing what Lukas Rosol did to Nadal at Wimbledon, and doing it twice in the same tournament.
For our prospects, they must not let their authority wane after their first set or even the first two sets because, as all three of these men have learned, relinquishing their grip for even the slightest period of time provides the necessary smidgen of opportunity these protectors of power need to take back what they feel is rightly theirs. It must be a relentless onslaught of controlling tennis that refuses to stop until the enemy has been totally disposed of.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson once stated “When you strike a king, you must kill him.”