Roger Federer Faces Uphill Battle to Remain Among Tennis' Big 4

Alex EspinozaCorrespondent IIIJanuary 27, 2014

Roger Federer of  Switzerland walks off the Rod Laver Arena after his semifinal loss to Rafael Nadal of Spain during their semifinal at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, Jan. 24, 2014.(AP Photo/Andrew Brownbill)
Andrew Brownbill/Associated Press

Time waits for no man, and Roger Federer's spot among tennis' elite seems like it's slipping away.

There's a lot of discussion about the big four in men's tennis. For the second half of the 2000s, Federer's rivalry with Rafael Nadal took hold of the sport. But by early 2011, Nadal even recognized that the two-player "monopoly" on the game was no longer, per Kate Flory of

Nadal singled out Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray as the biggest threats to he and Federer, telling Flory, “You have to have a little bit of patience and see how things are going to work out. By that, I don’t mean that there won’t be a change because the other two – Djokovic and Murray – are very good."

Nadal has proved to be prophetic, as Djokovic (four) and Murray (two) have gone on to win six combined Grand Slam titles since then. Meanwhile, Federer's triumph at the 2012 Wimbledon stands as his only Grand Slam title in four years. In all, that's 34 of the past 36 majors won by Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray.

That's not to say Federer can't win another major championship at the age of 32 or beyond. Despite the physical setbacks he endured in 2013, Federer looked to be in good form before losing to Nadal in the Australian Open semifinals recently.

Federer was able to move around well, hit his spots and give Nadal a good match, but the Spaniard is simply too tough.

The latest rankings shed a more accurate picture of how the hierarchy of tennis shakes out.

ATP Men's Singles Rankings (Jan. 27)
1Rafael Nadal27Spain14,330
2Novak Djokovic26Serbia10,620
3Stanislas Wawrinka28Switzerland5,710
4Juan Martin Del Potro25Argentina5,370
5David Ferrer31Spain5,280
6Andy Murray26Great Britain4,720
7Tomas Berdych28Czech Republic4,540
8Roger Federer32Switzerland4,355
9Richard Gasquet27France3,050
10Jo-Wilfried Tsonga28France2,885

In essence, there is no more big four. It's Nadal and Djokovic at the top, and then the rest.

To this point of Federer's career, he's already established himself as one of the greatest of all time. The 17 Grand Slam titles in 24 finals appearances. The 77 career tournament wins, tied for third most in the Open Era with John McEnroe. The class and the way he carried himself through it all.

There's no shame in being in the second tier of the world's tennis players, but I think that's where Federer finds himself. In fact, Federer might not even be the best player from Switzerland right now. Fellow countryman Stanislas Wawrinka jumped to No. 3 in the ATP world rankings after beating an injured Nadal in the Australian Open final on Sunday.

Everyone's body wears down eventually, and Federer's showed major signs last season with back issues. He also reached the semifinals of the 2013 Australian Open, his best showing in any Grand Slam, but would only win one title at the Gerry Weber Open by the end of the season.

As 2014 wears on, it wouldn't be unexpected if Federer's body continues to show signs of fatigue, and this might have been his best shot at a Grand Slam all year.

At 32, he's the oldest of any player currently in the top 10, which features an average age of 27.8 years. Still, he's a rare talent and if anyone can have a big comeback and capture a major title, it's Federer.

It won't be easy, though. Ultimately, a player of Federer's caliber is judged by Grand Slams, and with the new wave of talent establishing itself, it appears his window has closed.