With Juan Martin Del Potro's stunning victory over Roger Federer, the Grand Slam season of 2009 has come to an emphatic end. What a season it has been!
Rafael Nadal claimed the Australian Open crown for the first time, showing that he can be successful on all surfaces. Federer finally lifted the Coupe des Mousquetaires, completing the Career Grand Slam.
He followed that up with his sixth Wimbledon trophy, surpassing Pete Sampras' all-time mark of 14 Grand Slam titles. Now Del Potro captured his maiden Grand Slam title, ending a five-year Grand Slam title drought and a 32-year U.S. Open title drought for South America.
They do not call U.S. Open the toughest Grand Slam for nothing. Comparing to other Grand Slams, especially French Open and Australian Open, you rarely see surprise titlists, or even finalists, at U.S. Open. Most U.S. Open winners have been ranked No. 1 in their careers, and they often also find success at other Grand Slams.
Moreover, a successful run at U.S. Open usually boosts a player's status in the men's tour tremendously, which has been ever so clear in the past few years.
Del Potro's incredible title run at this year's U.S. Open, being the first one in history to overcome both Nadal and Federer in a Grand Slam, has not only lifted him to No. 5, but also marked the beginning of the era of "Fab Five."
The following is a list of the world's top six players, with some basic information:
1. Roger Federer, Age: 28, Turned pro: 1998
ATP ranking points: 11240
Grand Slam ranking points: 6400 [F, 1200; W, 2000; W, 2000; F, 1200]
2. Rafael Nadal, Age: 23, Turned pro: 2001
ATP ranking points: 8845
Grand Slam ranking points: 2900 [W, 2000; R16, 180; -, 0; S, 720]
3. Andy Murray, Age: 22, Turned pro: 2005
ATP ranking points: 8390
Grand Slam ranking points: 1440 [R16, 180; Q, 360; S, 720; R16, 180]
4. Novak Djokovic, Age: 22, Turned pro: 2003
ATP ranking points: 7480
Grand Slam ranking points: 1530 [Q, 360; R32, 90; Q, 360; S, 720]
5. Juan Martin Del Potro, Age: 21 (almost), Turned pro: 2005
ATP ranking points: 6825
Grand Slam ranking points: 3125 [Q, 360; S, 720; R64, 45; W, 2000]
6. Andy Roddick, Age: 27, Turned pro: 2000
ATP ranking points: 5310
Grand Slam ranking points: 2190 [S, 720; R16, 180; F, 1200; R32, 90]
While Roddick's Grand Slam results this yeas are better than Djokovic's and Murray's, his inability to capture his second Grand Slam title in the past six years has shown that he does not belong to the future tennis elite class.
It will become more and more difficult for him to keep up with the four young guns above him. Oddly, he is only one of two one-slam-wonders in the open era who won U.S. Open, the other being Manuel Orantes (1975).
With Federer leading the way and the gang of four youngsters following closely, the future of men's tennis looks very bright indeed.
Now, let us go down the memory lane and briefly review what has happened in the men's tour for the past four odd years.
The Era of "Duopoly"
With Federer's Small Slam year in 2004, the men's tour seemed quickly to become an one-man show. However, that was not to be due to the presence of Nadal.
Nadal already got Federer's attention in 2004, winning their first career meeting in AMS Masters Miami. But his breakthrough came in 2005. He was ranked No. 56 before the Australian Open, and rose to No. 3 after winning French Open in his first attempt there. After winning three consecutive post-Wimbledon tournaments, he rose to No. 2 on July 25, a position he would maintain for a record 160 consecutive weeks.
In 2005, both Nadal and Federer won 11 singles titles and four AMS Masters titles, marking the beginning of the era of "Duopoly."
Here is a look at the ATP rankings on Sept. 12, 2005:
1. Federer: 6975
2. Nadal: 4360
3. Safin: 3255
4. Roddick: 3125
80. Djokovic: 492
111. Murray: 396
211. Del Potro: 181
The Era of "Big Three"
In 2006 and 2007, Federer and Nadal completely dominated in Grand Slams, with Federer winning in six of them and Nadal prevailing in the other two.
At the same time, a certain Serbian named Djokovic started to emerge on the men's tour. Already approaching the top 10 status in the earlier part of 2007, he made his first major breakthrough in that year's Wimbledon, reaching the semi-finals (l. to Nadal). Consequently, he rose to No. 3 for the first time on July 9.
However, it was his effort in that year's U.S. Open, where he reached a Grand Slam final for the first time (l. to Federer), that separated him from the rest of the pack. It marked the beginning of the era of "Big Three."
Here is a look at the ATP rankings on Sept. 10, 2007:
1. Federer: 7605
2. Nadal: 5385
3. Djokovic: 4295
4. Davydenko: 3255
5. Roddick: 2540
19. Murray: 1345
50. Del Potro: 650
The Era of "Elite Four"
Djokovic backed up his "Big Three" status by winning his maiden Grand Slam crown at Australian Open 2008, defeating Federer in the semi-finals.
Murray's career trajectory in 2008 was very similar to Djokovic's in 2007. With his rankings oscillating between No. 9 and No. 22 in the earlier part of 2008, Murray made his first major breakthrough in that year's Wimbledon, reaching the quarter-finals (l. to Nadal).
Consequently, he cracked the top 10 for the third time, but this time he stayed there.
Similarly, it was his effort in that year's U.S. Open, where he reached his first Grand Slam final (l. to Federer), that signaled the arrival of Andy Murray. He rose to No. 4 afterwards, thus marking the beginning of the era of "Elite Four."
Here is a look at the ATP rankings on Sept. 8, 2008:
13.Del Potro: 1518
While it is yet to be seen whether Murray will win a Grand Slam title, one cannot overlook his achievement so far in 2009. After more than four-and-a-half years, the deadlock of Federer-Nadal as the top two ranked players in the world was finally broken by the Scot, something Djokovic failed on numerous occasions.
Being the only member of the "Fab Five" without a Grand Slam title, Murray will be eager to prove himself next year. But the work starts now.
And finally, let us give another round of applause to the 2009 United States Open Champion, Juan Martin Del Potro! As the youngest member of the "Fab Five", he may well be the future of men's tennis.