Stanislas Wawrinka beating Rafael Nadal in the final of the 2014 Australian Open hopefully signals some sort of change in men’s tennis and ushers in some sort of new era of parity, which means that it’s not going to be about Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Roger Federer winning Grand Slam titles.
The last time someone outside the top won a Grand Slam title was in 2009, when Juan Martin Del Potro stunned Roger Federer at the final of the US Open. Since then, Federer has won two more Grand Slams, Andy Murray has won two as well, Novak Djokovic has won five and Rafael Nadal leads the 2010’s with seven Slam titles.
We can also trace this dominance, although one that involved fewer players, to before Del Potro won his only Grand Slam title. From 2004 to 2009, Gaston Gaudio (2004 French), Marat Safin (2005 Australian) and Novak Djokovic (2008 Australian) were the only players not named Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer to win Grand Slam titles. It’s been that way for almost a decade.
But things are changing, possibly. Federer has fallen to 8th in the ATP rankings. He still is a threat to make semifinals and possibly more, but it’s hard to see him going all the way, even at Wimbledon. It’s almost been two years since he won his 17th Grand Slam title (Wimbledon 2012), and it’s less and less likely that he’ll be adding to his all-time best tally.
Novak Djokovic peaked in 2011. He beat Rafael Nadal at every opportunity he had including Masters tournaments, but things have changed since that epic final in the 2012 Australian Open. His immense focus and physical conditioning seem to have slightly departed from him, but maybe we’re reading too much into his matchup problem with Wawrinka, who took him to five sets in the previous matches last year before finally overcoming Djokovic, which was bound to happen at some point.
Andy Murray? Yes, he’s won in Wimbledon and New York over the last 18 months, breaking the British drought in Major tournaments and specifically at Wimbledon. But he’s never been a threat in Paris, and when it comes to pure talent, he’s always been a step or two behind Nadal and Djokovic, and struggled against Federer despite the steep decline the Swiss star is in.
Nadal is also far from a safe bet. At his best he looks unbeatable, especially yon clay (where he is practically unbeatable). However, injuries (or the use of them as excuses) never really leave him alone, and except for the Roland Garros, it’s hard to see him as a guaranteed win going into any tournament.
Del Potro should have won more titles since 2009, but he’s a walking health issue. There are other players who are always close – Tsonga, Ferrer, Berdych. Wawrinka is the only one who has done it, suddenly looking like the complete package, at least early on this season, and someone who is ready to stir the pot and change the hierarchy once and for all. The top 4 have never looked this fragile as a group (Especially since two of them aren’t even in the top four anymore), and the chance of us seeing some diversity in the names who make Grand Slam finals and win big tournaments finally seems like a favorable one.