THE BIG FOUR IN MEN'S TENNIS
Rafael Nadal, 25, 6-1, score Sk = 4.42. A two-time past Wimbledon champion and winner of four of the last five Slams (Garros 10, Wimbledon 10, U.S. Open 10, and Garros 11), Nadal has the top score in our First Indicator. He also leads in the Third Indicator, "Elite Wins vs. Total Losses," where he shows 25 match victories in 2010-2011 over our nine designated elite players compared with 17 losses overall during the period, a ratio of 1.47. Rafa is second to Djokovic in 2011 year-to-date ranking points, our Second Indicator, and second to Federer in our Fifth, Wimbledon Achievement, while showing career grass-court W-L record of 42-9.
Rafa's career has evolved as if tailored for historic greatness. Arriving on the scene as a powerful and athletic teenaged baseliner and then winning Garros in his first several tries, Rafa veered away from the pattern seen among past great Spanish clay-courters. Instead of turning away from the grass-court game, Rafa instead expanded his techniques and tactics toward the objective of excelling on fast courts. His improved serve, sliced backhand, and new inclination and ability in attacking helped produce his Wimbledon crowns in 2008 and 2010. Seemingly at full health now, and seemingly resolved to mix in large doses of aggressive play, it is difficult to see anyone outside the Big Four seriously threatening him in best-of-five-set action. Predicted Wimbledon 11 finish: Champion.
Novak Djokovic, 24, 6-2, Sk = 4.02. Djokovic won his first seven tournaments of 2011, including Australian Open and the Master's Series events at Indian Wells, Miami, Madrid, and Rome, before losing to Federer at Garros. During his splendid run, Nole's strengths in both attacking and defensive play were unmatched by any other player, where his most important margin of superiority was probably in his movement and countering ability against an opponent's forceful play. Djokovic also scored well last year, finishing as runner-up to Nadal at U.S. Open 10, where he beat Federer in five, and ending the year as World #3.
Novak is the comfortable leader in our Second Indicator, 2011 ranking points, reflecting his 41 consecutive early-year victories. He is second to Nadal in the First and Third Indicators, where in the latter category his 14 Elite Wins compares with 14 Total Losses in 2010-2011 to produce a ratio of 1.00. As to our Fourth Indicator, "Pattern of Improvement," Djokovic's career has obviously turned upward, though the extent of his improvement is not fully reflected in the score produced by our formula, as he starts from a pre-2011 ranking of #2.
Novak ranks behind the other members of the Big Four in his past achievement at Wimbledon, our Fifth Indicator. But compared with most opponents of his tennis generation, Novak is well experienced in grass-court play. He shows a 31-11 career W-L record on that surface, having attained the semis last year, losing to Berdych. His preparation for this year's Wimbledon included an appearance on grass this week at Boodles Tennis Challenge in Buckinghamshire, where he defeated Gilles Simon by comfortable scores. Djokovic's back-court-oriented style is not ideally suited to grass-court play, and his serving, although excellent, is hardly his strongest asset, as would seem preferable on grass. Predicted finish: Semi-finalist.
Roger Federer, 29, 6-1, Sk = 3.17. Five years older than his principal rivals, Federer showed at Garros 11 his determination to add to his sixteen Slam conquests. In his severe testing of Nadal at Garros, Roger began with all weapons blazing, very nearly capturing the first set and then sustaining his attacking play to force a fourth set. If his recent clay-court improvement over 2010 at Garros can be duplicated on grass at Wimbledon, where he was runner-up to Nadal last year, another triumph for Roger at the scene of his most storied successes is entirely plausible. He did not compete in the grass-court tune-up this year at Halle, citing injury.
Roger ranks behind the aforementioned two leaders in our first two Indicators, and also in the Third Indicator, where his 17 Elite Wins compare with 21 Total Losses for a ratio of 0.81. He leads in the Fifth Indicator, Wimbledon Achievement, and shows a splendid W-L tally of 96-14 careerwise on grass. Roger's superb offensive skills -- especially in serving, forehand, and at net -- improve his chances against the other Big Four members more at Wimbledon than at the other Slams. His actually defeating them there will require sustaining his absolute best tennis. Predicted finish: Runner-up.
Andy Murray, 24, 6-3, Sk = 2.71. Murray's mix of easy power in serving and stroking, along with his superb mobility and counter-punching skills, are readily transferred to the courts of turf, as Andy showed in his demolition of Andy Roddick and his split-set final-round victory over Tsonga at Queen's 2011. Andy stands inside the first four in most indicators, though in all cases behind the other Big Four members. He ranks only seventh in our Third Indicator, where his eight Elite Wins compare with 26 Total Losses for a ratio of 0.31.
As home-nation representative, Andy will receive strong support from the gallery at Wimbledon, though the extra pressure of his situation may prove a disadvantage. His past grass-court W-L record, at 44-11, is good, ahead of Djokovic's. He reached the Wimbledon quarters in 2008, the semis in 2009 and 2010. His recent triumph at Queen's was his second (he also won in 2009) and seems auspicious. The general view is that Andy should sometimes play more aggressively. That recommendation would seem most applicable at Wimbledon. Predicted finish: Semi-finalist.