A couple of years ago there was a festival of heavy metal music featuring the "Big Four": Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax.
That's no Big Four. That's Metallica and everybody else.
What does this little exposition have to do with tennis? It stems from commentators saying that tennis’ Big Four has returned, which technically it has, if only on paper.
Just like Metallica, though, it’s Novak Djokovic and everybody else. The Big Four, to quoth the raven, is ultimately nevermore.
Right now Djoker has more in common with Serena Williams than anyone else: a single player standing above all others. Every tournament they enter, no matter the surface, is theirs to lose. Just ask Vegas.
So people will point to Nadal as perhaps the one player who can still threaten Djokovic, and there's a case for that. Looking at their head-to-head record in Grand Slams, Nadal does look like the superior player. Nadal has the 9-3 advantage, with six of those wins coming at the French Open.
There’s probably an even smaller contingent who, still delightfully inebriated on the 2014 Wimbledon final, think the 33-year-old Federer can also threaten Djokovic. Since 2011, Djokovic is 3-2 in Grand Slams against Federer.
As for Murray, it's been lopsided, with Djokovic winning fives times to Murray's two.
If we’re being honest with ourselves, this is Djoker’s world.
Nadal, though possessing the career edge head-to-head and just a year older than Djokovic, has a body that is older than his 28 years or Djokovich's 27. Injuries to his knees and wrist make Nadal a liability on surfaces harder than Parisian clay.
The Serb is six years younger than Federer, and his body is much healthier than Nadal's, who is only one year his senior. While the ATP is a little less top-heavy these days, there aren't exactly a lot of younger players nipping at his heels. He should have, at minimum, three more years to challenge for Slams.
There was a time when Federer—about the same age as Djokovic is now—rattled off 23 straight trips to the semifinals or later in Grand Slams. It was a level of dominance lost to history until now.
Djokovic is primed to go on that kind of run, maybe even at the French, where Nadal has owned him.
His rivals in this Big Four are more likely to lose in the earlier rounds of Grand Slams. We saw this with Federer in the third round at the Australian Open. Nadal, handed an easy draw in the Melbourne, exited in the quarterfinals. Murray, despite reaching the final and battling Djokovic for two sets, doesn’t have the mental fortitude to keep pace at the most elite of levels, something that gives Djokovic a significant edge over his peers.
Matt Trollope of AusOpen.com wrote of Djokovic:
In the semis, Wawrinka simply couldn’t stay with the streaking Serb, falling to a 6-0 defeat in the fifth set. Ditto Murray, who after winning the second set and breaking serve to move ahead 2-0 in the third, lost 12 of the next 13 games—and the last nine straight—and wilted while the top seed recovered from a physically shaky patch of play and began to relax and swing freely.
The younger players on tour, like 2014 U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic, Milos Raonic, Nick Kyrgios, Kei Nishikori, Grigor Dimitrov, even the 2014 Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka, aren’t even in the same class as Djoker. Not yet. And probably not for the next three years.
The past few years it's been easy to overlook Djoker's rise to greatness. The shadow cast by Federer and Nadal’s 31 Grand Slams did that. Now that Djokovic has eight majors, Nadal’s body is fragile and Federer is turning 34 later this year, Djoker truly stands alone, above the rest.
Big Four? It’s dead. This is Highlander territory. There can only be one, and his name is Novak.