For Tennis' Two Great Rivals, There Are Now Bigger Challenges Than Each Other

Phil ConstableCorrespondent IJune 26, 2013

ROME, ITALY - MAY 19:  Rafael Nadal of Spain walks off the court at the net after his straight sets victory against Roger Federer of Switzerland in their final match during day eight of the Internazionali BNL d'Italia 2013 at the Foro Italico Tennis Centre  on May 19, 2013 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Last year’s tennis season seemed fairly standard. Rafael Nadal won the French Open, Roger Federer won Wimbledon. Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, the game's two best hard-court players, bookended the Grand Slam year with titles on the hard stuff. Djokovic, the world No. 1, won the year-ending finals tournament.

On the surface—and on their favourite surfaces—this was all very predictable. In fact, Murray winning his first title was probably the most noteworthy event; the other results had become second nature to the players and casual sports fans alike.

Yet it may have masked a more pronounced shift.

The current "fab four" have been proclaimed as the Mount Rushmore in a golden age in men’s tennis—and deservedly so. Of the seven men to have ever completed the career Grand Slam, two are competing against each other right now. Many also expect Djokovic to join that pantheon of greats at some point, which would mean three of the eight most well-rounded players of all time have all tussled against each other simultaneously.

And that doesn’t even take into consideration what Murray, getting better every year, could go on to achieve.

However, literally speaking, two of these men are no longer competing in the current Grand Slam with the paint on the baseline barely dry. Although these defeats are aberrational, they point to a deeper trend.

Nadal hasn’t won a Slam outside of Roland Garros since the 2010 U.S. Open, and Federer hasn’t won away from Wimbledon since the Australian Open of the same year.

The fact is that of this fab four, the two members of the career Grand Slam club are the least competitive of the group.

While Nadal clung on to the French Open earlier this year, he struggled early in the tournament and was pushed harder ever before in the final by Djokovic. Furthermore, no one can say with any degree of certainty that Nadal will even be in France to defend his title, such has become the brittleness of his body.

Federer, meanwhile, was thrown out of his second home today, losing on his favourite court in the tournament he’s dominated for the past decade. He’s a yard slower, another year removed from his peak and a year closer to retirement.

This Wimbledon has been unique due to its shock factor. The short term shock this tournament has provided will give way, however, to more lasting ramifications. Nadal is already out of the fab four in ranking terms and Federer is right behind him.

The golden era and age of the fab four may be over. And for the two icons who provided us with some of the most unforgettable sporting theatre of all time (both individually and against one another), bigger challenges now lie ahead.