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The ‘big four’ myth debunked: A statistical overview of the last 10 years

http://baselinebets.com/2014/07/08/the-big-four-myth-debunked-a-statistical-overview-of-the-last-10-years/

As Grigor Dimitrov and Milos Raonic lined up to take their places against Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer; the last two standing of the so called ‘big four’ in the semi-finals at SW19, there was a lot of discussion about if we were seeing the end of the domination created in this sport by the established order. Focus was drawn sharply on the subject following the surprise exits of world No.1 Rafael Nadal to Aussie teenager Nick Kyrgios, and that of defending champion Andy Murray to Dimitrov in consecutive rounds. With Djokovic also being pushed to the brink by Marin Cilic on the second Wednesday, there was a distinct possibility of just Federer being the sole defendant of the group as we headed into the last four. Needless to say, normal order was swiftly resumed; Djokovic and Federer prevailed, with the Serb returning to the grand slam winner’s circle by the tournaments end. The grand slam winners club remained a closed shop, there was to be no new addition to the group. But where do the supposed big four really stand in the face of an emerging generation ready to storm the top of the game?

Well, interestingly the statistics make a clear case that the big four has never materialised in the manner that has been suggested, for it being a myth perpetuated by the media, and those around the sport. What the numbers do show is that through the generation shift, the domination has been transferred to the best two players of those eras. The first instance being a Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal duopoly, subsequently followed by a Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic reign over the sport, of which we are still in the midst of. The statistics gives credence to this argument. First let’s go back to see how it all started.

The breakthrough of Roger Federer and a rivalry that defined the modern game

The Swiss superstar first registered his intent on the sport when picking up his maiden grand slam victory at the all England club in 2003. What followed was a stranglehold on the sport, over his contemporaries – Roddick, Safin, Nalbandian, Hewitt, Ferrero, and all emerging new talent, the like of which may possibly never be seen again in the future. By the end of 2009, through seven years, Federer amassed a haul of 15 grand slam titles. However, just 18 months into the beginnings of the Federer reign, an 18-year-old Rafael Nadal was already making his presence known. He helped Spain win the Davis Cup in December 2004. It would be the pre-cursor to the start of his grand slam winning trail the following year.

Nadal entered the duel with the Swiss in 2005. Whilst Federer was still the dominator in slams, it was Rafa who was able to continually deny him in Paris. From the start of that year to the end of 2009, between them both they shared 17 of 20 grand slams available; Federer – 11, Nadal – 6. Safin, Djokovic & Del Potro were the only other players during that time to register a single grand slam victory. It is safe to say it was an era dominated by the top two as the year-end ranking results confirm.

2010 – start of a new era, a different duopoly

2010 started with a career best year to date for Nadal. He swept his way to 3 major victories. Djokovic quickly followed this up the following year, managing the same feat; the springboard being helping Serbia clinch the Davis Cup in December 2010. Djokovic produced a 41 match unbeaten run to open 2011, one of the best streaks seen in the open era. The Spaniard and the Serb have since kept racking up the trophies & final appearances ever since, even with a 12 month cameo from an in-form Murray, who crashed this almost exclusive party, claiming his only two grand slam victories from the summer of 2012. However, the numbers serve to highlight the form of the top two. From the start of 2010 to the current date; Nadal & Djokovic have only failed to win 5 out of the available 19 grand slams. Whilst not statistically as overwhelming as the Federer-Nadal era, it is every bit as impressive considering the greater level of competition.

key marker points that pre-date the Nadal-Djokovic duopoly.
- Djokovic won his 1st Masters 1000 title in March 2007 at the Miami Open. He also went on to win the Masters event in Canada in August, prior to his US Open campaign.
– Djokovic made his first grand slam final appearance in the 2007 US Open final; defeated by Federer in straight sets
– Djokovic would win his maiden grand slam at the very next attempt in Australia 2008; beating Tsonga in four sets.
– Murray won his 1st Masters 1000 title in August 2008 at the Cincinnati event, prior to his US Open campaign. He also went on to claim the Masters event in Madrid in October.
– Murray made his first grand slam final appearance in the 2008 US Open final; defeated by Federer in straight sets.


The Nadal-Djokovic duopoly confirmed by H2H and performance at regular tour level competition

Both the overall career and from 2010 H2H statistics only serve to highlight the stranglehold the current top two currently exert over the sport. In career H2H’s Nadal holds a winning margin over the other three, but it is Djokovic that has him closely pegged. From 2010 onwards both Nadal & Djokovic have had the upper hand over Federer & Murray, but interestingly the Serb over the last four & a half years has bested Nadal, which is an indicator of just how much more balanced the Nadal-Djokovic reign is compared to the previous era; this being backed up by the grand slam victory numbers for the pair.

The Masters 1000 tour level events confirm the similarities of the current era to the previous Federer-Nadal reign. Djokovic & Nadal have dominated the series claiming 63% of the titles. Whilst there are still four to play this year, that figure is better than the 60% enjoyed by Federer & Nadal previously. An even more remarkable statistic is that from the Monte Carlo event in 2013 up to the same event this year, all 9 titles were held exclusively by Djokovic (5) & Nadal (4). Stan Wawrinka claimed his maiden 1000 title in the Principality to stop the run. However the top two went on to claim the next two – Madrid & Rome.

Three titans of the sport expose Murray’s weakness

Federer-Nadal-Djokovic have dominated through two eras with an unrelenting consistency that has spanned across all playing surfaces and differing court speeds. Where once surfaces varied greatly in speed, now there is less disparity between the four majors as has been the will of the governing bodies. With greater consistency across the board between all the surfaces; the clay courts could now be considered the truest indicator of performance, as it remains the most demanding surface. The competition level is increased, the competitive order skewed with a greater influx of specialists, which is not the case on the other two surfaces. It is in this situation where the elite have marked their difference. Nadal, Djokovic & Federer have all won multiple premier clay court events. Only the Serb is yet to win at Roland Garros of the three, to complete his grand slam set. But just like Federer, he remains the closest challenger to Nadal in today’s era. Of all Murray’s attributes, of which there are many; the red dirt highlights his biggest weakness – consistency. This is evident by his lack of success on this surface in a significant career to date. The Scot has never won a tour title on clay, and is yet to even register a final appearance on the crushed brick. Given that this surface represents at least a quarter of the events on the calendar, if not more, it indicates why Murray has never claimed the number one ranking, or even finished inside the top two at years end during his career so far. With it being almost a certainty that both Nadal and Djokovic will end this year in the top two, it will be the third time in four years that they have achieved this feat.

The future – the emergence of the next generation

As Federer has shown with his longevity, there is no accounting for talent and a drive to continually improve and be successful. With Rafa & Novak not yet hitting 30 for a couple of years, they are still sitting pretty to capitalise on their position of strength. As in 2012 for Nadal, injuries could be a factor for either of them in the coming years. Evidently, the next generation have arrived; Gulbis in Paris, Dimitrov & Raonic in London and also Kei Nishikori during the European clay court swing. Such has been the increase in mental & physical capacity required to compete at the top of the game, it has taken them a longer time to reach this level in comparison to today’s champions. Perhaps of greater significance though is how they have now started to displace some of their main competitors in the short term; long time residents of the worlds top ten who they are now in direct combat with – Murray, Ferrer, Del Potro, Gasquet & Tsonga. They now have a platform to build a challenge to rise to the top. We can only speculate when the Nadal-Djokovic era will end. Quite whether we will see domination like the current one today, in the next era remains to be seen, although the likelihood of a similar transition to that which we have witnessed seems remote.
 

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Re: The ‘big four’ myth debunked: A statistical overview of the last 10 years

So basically this article is saying there is a BIG 3 and excluding murray.
 

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Re: The ‘big four’ myth debunked: A statistical overview of the last 10 years

So basically this article is saying there is a BIG 3 and excluding murray.
Well, every sane person already knew that. It's just that Murray was so far ahead of the rest of the field, he looked more like a member of the big 3 than of the other guys
 

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Re: The ‘big four’ myth debunked: A statistical overview of the last 10 years

Murray has reached many GS finals before his first one... only stupid will discount him as part of Big 4... he probably the weakest of 4... but those 4 is way ahead of the pack... and every tournament they are expected to win even though they are not on their best... yes including Murray.

I would say they called big 4... because they are the most consistent 4... weaknest or strength of their game is irelevant just look at their results.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
Re: The ‘big four’ myth debunked: A statistical overview of the last 10 years

So basically this article is saying there is a BIG 3 and excluding murray.
The point I am trying to make is that we are currently witnessing a domination of the sport by two players - Nadal & Djokovic, something that we witnessed in the 2005-2009 period, where it was Federer & Nadal. However this current duoply is more balanced as the grand slam numbers testify, if anything whilst Nadal has been slightly more successful, Djokovic has actually been a lot more consistent. Consider this; if Djokovic or Nadal win the upcoming US open, it will be the 4th time in 5 years that they will have won 75% of the grand slams available between them.
 

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Re: The ‘big four’ myth debunked: A statistical overview of the last 10 years

Well, every sane person already knew that. It's just that Murray was so far ahead of the rest of the field, he looked more like a member of the big 3 than of the other guys
Personally I think it is more of shifting duopolies, from Nadal-Federer early to Nadal-Djokovic on big stages, with the 4 quite shuffling on Masters (although mostly Nadal-Federer-Djokovic in most areas). I think the true Big Four as a dominant force was around 2012 I think where the balanced seemed even IMO.
 

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Re: The ‘big four’ myth debunked: A statistical overview of the last 10 years

Djokovic is as Federer was . Always is in QF of GS.No one can say what future holds. As Wawrinka showed
not just in AO but before that in AO 2013 long 5sets match then US OPen2013 and AO 2014 Wawrinka finally
won vs Djokovic . Wimbeldon final was the finest performance of Djokovic for a long time and if Federer could challenge him without his FH then if i was Federer i would think - if i improve my game a bit and i am fit i will have chance to beat him. Djokovic knows that very well.
 

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Re: The ‘big four’ myth debunked: A statistical overview of the last 10 years

Big this, big that ... there are only big 2 no matter how you look at it. It's all about Djokovic/Nadal at the moment. They are clearly dominating the tour and it seems nobody can touch them.

I love Murray and I hope he'll be back but not so sure any more. We need some good competition but competition is nowhere to be found like it or not.
 

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Re: The ‘big four’ myth debunked: A statistical overview of the last 10 years

Hmmm, in the past 10 years Federer reached 32 out of 40 grand slam semifinals (35 in his entire career), Nadal reached 23, so did Djokovic, and Murray reached 14. Together this is 58 percent of all semifinal spots. Next placed would be Ferrer with 6 and Roddick with 5 (10 in his entire career), and Berdych with 4.

In the last 5 years, it's 12 (out of 20)-13-17-12, and a share of 68 percent.

Overall the talk of the big 4 doesn't seem that absurd to me.
 

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Re: The ‘big four’ myth debunked: A statistical overview of the last 10 years

the clay courts could now be considered the truest indicator of performance, as it remains the most demanding surface
Just wanted to isolate this particular bit (which might have gone unnoticed by some), so we can dwell on it for a second before considering the conclusions about performance this article might come to. Unless we've all suddenly subscribed to becoming Rafatards, it might be worth taking some of what this says with a grain of salt.

Obviously we have gone from a Federer-Nadal to a Nadal-Djokovic era. And obviously Murray is far behind the Big 3 in accomplishments and dominance. But Djokovic himself is far behind Federer and Nadal (7 slams, right now). And while the gap is tight enough and the bitterness between the fanbases is strong enough for there to be much debate about it, if we just go with slams there is a gap between Federer and Nadal too. But no one questions whether it's worthwhile grouping Federer and Nadal, or those two and Djokovic, when talking about dominance of an era, even though they aren't equally accomplished.

If you look at just Federer, you get a big chunk of dominance over the tour. Add in Nadal, you get a huge era of Fedal dominance. Add in Djokovic and you get even more. That might be enough dominance by a group for some (number 1 spot, year end top 2, most of the slams and masters), but the fact is Murray with his 2 slam titles and 7 finals total, 9 masters and various other stats like semifinals / quarterfinals, ranking streaks etc. brings more to the table than any other player does when considering adding another player to the group to get more dominance. After him there is no clear choice - Del Potro or Wawrinka for their slam title, maybe Ferrer for his high ranking in 2012-2014? No single player really adds a significant chunk of results to make much of a difference (Del Potro would be the best bet since he has a slam in the midst of their dominance), which is why no one really goes further than a Big Four. But it just depends on where you feel like cutting it off when considering dominance of an era. There's a Big One (Federer for now), a Big Two (Fedal), a Big Three (Fedalovic), then a Big Four, each player bringing less results than the one before but filling in the gaps in the dominance of the ones above them.


And in terms of eras, I would think of the timeline as something like:

-Federer (03-04)
-Federer / Nadal (05-07)
-Federer / Nadal > Djokovic / Murray (08-10)
-Nadal / Djokovic > Murray / Federer (11-13)
-Nadal / Djokovic...?

The "Big Four" era is the overlap of the Federer / Nadal and Nadal / Djokovic eras. We don't know for sure what comes next, though it certainly looks like continuation of Nadal / Djokovic. Murray looks to be on the way out, but then again Federer looked that way in 2013 but just made Wimbledon final and got #3 back. If it turns out that Federer stays at 3/4 for a long time where as Murray never gets back there then it might be that Murray is just a footnote rather than an "era-defining" player of any kind, like Del Potro or Wawrinka (right now) just with slightly more results, but at present I think he's worthy of a mention, particularly 2011-2013.
 

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Re: The ‘big four’ myth debunked: A statistical overview of the last 10 years

Well, every sane person already knew that. It's just that Murray was so far ahead of the rest of the field, he looked more like a member of the big 3 than of the other guys
Big 3.5
 

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Re: The ‘big four’ myth debunked: A statistical overview of the last 10 years

Big this, big that ... there are only big 2 no matter how you look at it. It's all about Djokovic/Nadal at the moment. They are clearly dominating the tour and it seems nobody can touch them.

I love Murray and I hope he'll be back but not so sure any more. We need some good competition but competition is nowhere to be found like it or not.
 

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Re: The ‘big four’ myth debunked: A statistical overview of the last 10 years

Big this, big that ... there are only big 2 no matter how you look at it. It's all about Djokovic/Nadal at the moment. They are clearly dominating the tour and it seems nobody can touch them.
I wouldn't go that far, considering Nadal only recently got touched by a 19 year old.

He is holding two slams though, so fair enough. Djokovic has been the most consistent player on tour for a while now, and even when losing those slam finals, seemed like the man to beat.
 

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Re: The ‘big four’ myth debunked: A statistical overview of the last 10 years

I wouldn't go that far, considering Nadal only recently got touched by a 19 year old.

He is holding two slams though, so fair enough. Djokovic has been the most consistent player on tour for a while now, and even when losing those slam finals, seemed like the man to beat.
well, I said 'it seems nobody can touch them', but it's just wording. You got my point. Just look at ranking points. Djokovic and Nadal have around 13000 each ........ huge gap, Fed around 6000 or so ... Murray is #10 ...

Yes, we can still call them 'big 4' based on their achievements etc. but it's very clear that this a two way race atm.
 

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Re: The ‘big four’ myth debunked: A statistical overview of the last 10 years

Hmmm, in the past 10 years Federer reached 32 out of 40 grand slam semifinals (35 in his entire career), Nadal reached 23, so did Djokovic, and Murray reached 14. Together this is 58 percent of all semifinal spots. Next placed would be Ferrer with 6 and Roddick with 5 (10 in his entire career), and Berdych with 4.

In the last 5 years, it's 12 (out of 20)-13-17-12, and a share of 68 percent.

Overall the talk of the big 4 doesn't seem that absurd to me.
With the 2005-2009 & 2010-2014 periods showing similar winning statistics for the top two at the highest level, with the emphasis being on winning; then clearly the big four are not equal. With such a disparity existing between Nadal-Djokovic & Federer-Murray, then it indicates that you have to go through Djokovic or Nadal to win a slam. only 2 of the last 19 slams have not featured those two, a similar stat to that of the Federer-Nadal era (2/20). The H2H only serves to prove a big two, which is highlighted by results on the biggest stage. If Federer & Murray hold an advantage over the remainder of top 10/20, then it is just superfluous.
 

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Re: The ‘big four’ myth debunked: A statistical overview of the last 10 years

Hmmm, in the past 10 years Federer reached 32 out of 40 grand slam semifinals (35 in his entire career), Nadal reached 23, so did Djokovic, and Murray reached 14. Together this is 58 percent of all semifinal spots. Next placed would be Ferrer with 6 and Roddick with 5 (10 in his entire career), and Berdych with 4.

In the last 5 years, it's 12 (out of 20)-13-17-12, and a share of 68 percent.

Overall the talk of the big 4 doesn't seem that absurd to me.
Tsonga has 5 GS semifinals.
 

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Re: The ‘big four’ myth debunked: A statistical overview of the last 10 years

lol, let's not pretend his slam actually counts
I'm sure it doesn't counts in your perfect magical world. :hug:
 
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