Stanislas Wawrinka's 2014 Australian Open title is an important breakthrough for men's tennis. The strong, rugged everyman hero may be credited as the one who single-handedly hammered large cracks into the foundation of the Federer-Nadal-Djokovic hegemony. He is Thor, gripping his hammer to resist immortal legends and provide inspiration for emerging heroes.
Wawrinka's victory promises the second-tier ATP contenders that hard work and dedication will eventually be rewarded. It emphasizes that confidence and belief need not waver in the tireless pursuit of Grand Slam dreams.
Grand Slam wins are colorful pictures inside the black and white pages of tennis history. Future tennis fans will one day flip through early 21st century dynasties and see Wawrinka's 2014 photo.
He has already expanded the field of contenders, but will this lead to a new era in men's tennis?
Transitional Period or New Era?
Between 1985 and 1989, Ivan Lendl, Boris Becker, Mats Wilander and Stefan Edberg won 17 of the 19 Grand Slam titles (there was no Australian Open competition in 1986).
Then followed a solid three-year transitional period that featured a competitive blend of champions:
There were still the seasoned champions Lendl, Edberg and Becker (Wilander had burned out at age 25). They had slowed down but would combine for six more Grand Slam titles.
There were new champions arriving in Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and Jim Courier.
There were one-hit wonders like Andres Gomez and Michael Stich.
There were young perennial contenders featuring Goran Ivanisevic, Thomas Muster, Richard Krajicek and Patrick Rafter, all of whom would be late-bloomer Grand Slam champions.
There were even the aged lions John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors who added nostalgia and connected generations of fans.
All of this added up to an exciting, expanded bubble of great competition spanning roughly 1990 until Wimbledon 1993 when Pete Sampras took over the sport.
History never repeats itself the same way, but there are templates that re-emerge in new forms. After a period of great dominance there inevitably follows an expansive-transitional period where many of the second-tier contenders pick off a major or two.
Many saw the post-Sampras prime and pre-Federer era (1998-2003) as a transitional period. It still featured intermittent titles from veterans Sampras and Agassi, but it included young champions in Kuerten, Hewitt and Safin. There were several other one-hit wonders who won majors.
In 2014, Wawrinka's Australian Open victory may have opened up the ATP field for the latest transitional period, something Bleacher Report tennis readers discussed in a December 2013 article.
This does not mean Federer, Nadal and Djokovic will not combine for several more majors, but we will likely see others crash the party.
Who Else Will Soon Join the Grand Slam Circle?
Andy Murray cannot be forgotten in this discussion. While many tennis fans naturally link him with the Federer-Nadal-Djokovic triumvirate, Murray's 2012-2013 breakthrough might be seen as part of this new transitional period. If he goes on and wins three or four more Grand Slam titles and his Big Three rivals fade quickly, Murray will be seen as a cusper—someone who spanned generations.
If Nadal and Djokovic keep thriving for a few years and Murray gets shut out, he might be kept as an outlier in the Big Three era.
Other potential winners could include current second-tier stars like Tomas Berdych, David Ferrer, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Juan Martin del Potro (despite his 2009 U.S. Open victory, he has not otherwise dented the Big Three era).
Will they be galvanized by Wawrinka's title? It's plausible to expect that their conditioning and hard work will improve. Maybe their hibernating spirits will awaken with greater confidence.
In addition, youngsters like Grigor Dimitrov, Jerzy Janowicz and Milos Raonic will look to come of age that much quicker. They might find an extra edge and mental fortitude to win now. Their coaches should be able to inspire a few harder workouts and film sessions. Belief is a powerful motivator.
Wawrinka may or may not have opened Pandora's Box, and the Big Three are sure to win more titles. But the field is chomping at the bit, and it's not so impossible to believe that another champion or two could emerge in 2014.