ATP's Fantastic Four: Long Road to the Top for the Game's Elite

Michael PettiferContributor ISeptember 20, 2011

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 03:  Novak Djokovic of Serbia celebrates after winning his final round Gentlemen's match against Rafael Nadal of Spain on Day Thirteen of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on July 3, 2011 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

We watch in awe as Novak Djokovic crunches backhands down the line and gasp when Rafael Nadal rips forehand winners from metres behind the baseline. We shake our heads as Roger Federer effortlessly produces shots that others would never dream of and applaud when Andy Murray tirelessly chases down what seem like lost causes.

Adjectives such as 'talented' and 'gifted' are often used when trying to understand and explain the brilliance produced by the top players today. It is true that they all have an abundance of talent and are all gifted athletes. However, what is often overlooked is much more important than either of those two things. 

The thousands of hours spent on practice courts, the sacrifices, the losses, the smashed rackets and the money spent, before they arrived in front of the television cameras, is often forgotten about or entirely unknown.

So, how did the top four players in the world get to where they are now?

Although each of the top four took slightly different routes, their basic development paths were the same. It is believed that the top four players would have spent approximately 10,000 hours on the practice court mastering their art before ever playing a match on the tour. A staggering £250,000 (approx) would have been spent on their progression from junior beginners to elite tennis players.

The top four were all introduced to tennis at the ages of three and four. They were quickly singled out as being exceptional, and were noted for being more competitive and more focused than their friends of the same age.

PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 05:  Rafael Nadal of Spain celebrates match point during the men's singles final match between Rafael Nadal of Spain and Roger Federer of Switzerland on day fifteen of the French Open at Roland Garros on June 5, 2011 in Paris, France.
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Murray's coach at the time described him as being "unbelievably competitive," when he started playing, while Djokovic was described as being "the greatest talent since Monica Seles," when spotted by Yugoslav legend, Jelena Gencic.

Tennis was not the only interest for these young stars. They all developed their hand-eye coordination and physical attributes across a range of different sports.

Roger Federer was no stranger to badminton and basketball, while Andy Murray was approached to play for Glasgow Rangers Football Club as a young teenager, but turned them down to focus on his tennis.

Like Murray, Nadal's time was also split between tennis and football—the Spaniard eventually having to choose between the two sports he loved. "I chose tennis. Football had to stop straight away," said the Mallorca native. The young Djokovic was introduced to skiing early on by his father, and was eventually, like Nadal, forced to make a choice.

As the players progressed to new levels, they out-grew their environment in many ways. Apart from Nadal, who was coached by his uncle in Mallorca, the other three players were forced to leave home to find coaches and players that were suited to their ambition and playing standard. 

At 15-years-old Murray left Scotland to train at the renowned Sanchez-Casal Academy in Spain. The 12-year-old Djokovic moved to the Pilic Academy in Germany, leaving his family in war-torn Serbia, and Federer moved to a Swiss academy at the age of 13.

At the academies they would train for hours a day on court, developing technique and learning strategy, as well as improving the mental and psychological aspects of their game. They were supported by the top coaches, dietitians, physical trainers, physiotherapists and psychologists during this important phase of their development.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 29: Roger Federer of Switzerland cries as he collects the trophy after victory in his Men's Singles Final match against Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus during day fourteen of the Australian Open at Melbourne Park January 29, 2006
Phil Walter/Getty Images

Competing was another major part of the players' development. All four competed in top junior tournaments before moving on to Satellite and Challenger events later in their teenage years.

At age 12, Murray won the Orange Bowl in Miami, beating a number of other top junior players to reveal himself as one of the players to watch out for. By the time Federer was 16-years-old he had achieved a no. 1 junior ranking by playing ITF events across the world. Nadal didn't hang around on the junior circuit for any longer than he had to. After winning a number of national and European junior titles, he turned professional at the age of 15. By the time he was 16, he was playing in the men's draw at the Wimbledon Championships.

Although they now make it look incredibly easy, the top four have had to fight against hundreds of 'talented' and 'gifted' players to get to where they are. The difference between them and those who didn't make it was in their determination, focus, competitiveness and refusal to ever give up.