Could anyone foresee Federer`s utter domination over this 4 year period?
No. Federer was always regarded as the prime talent of his generation, but he was also known for being unstable. A lot of people thought he would be #1 and win many slams, but I don't think anyone could have predicted this kind of domination. Generally, the consensus during 1998-2003 was that the men's game had gotten so deep, that complete domination would be impossible. It took a godlike player to prove that prediction wrong.
How did FED improve so much?
Godlike talent combined with the sudden control of his own mind, that he gained. There have been quite a few extremely gifted players, who didn't fulfill their promises due to their mind not being in its right place. Rios and Safin are prime examples of this. Federer combines the amazing talent of a Rios or McEnroe with the work ethic of a Llendl or Muster and the mental strength and focus a Sampras or Borg (well, perhaps not quite, but you get the idea).
Why did the other New Balls fail to improve/get worse?
JCF ran into injury hell. The rest of them took such a beating by Federer, that I think their downfall was more or less created by him. Had Federer not been in the mix, I think all of those players would have gone on to win several further slam titles.
thanks for your thoughts
yeah i was one of those who thought the depth in men`s tennis would prevent Federesque domination from ever happening
especially considering Safin, Hewitt, Ferrero & Roddick were all young slam winners & @ around the same time as Federer won his 1st major->> just seemed highly unlikely that all of his rivals failed to maintain their momentum whilst Roger`s transformation into one of the most dominant sportsman ever took place
it`s still crazy to think that in the last 4-years the combined forces of Safin/Hewitt/Ferrero/Roddick have only combined for one lone victory [Safin`s defeat over Roger @ AO 2005 SF]
i`d still like to see a renaissance from one of FED`s former rivals, but as the years pass by it`s becoming less & less likely that the other former New Balls will ever win another slam between them