Only once in the past 32 Grand Slam tournaments has a man outside the “Big Four” of Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Roger Federer, and Rafael Nadal won a major tournament in men’s tennis. In economic terms, men’s tennis is an oligopoly – meaning it is dominated by a very small number of elite players. Djokovic has controlled the Australian Open as of late, Nadal has nearly monopolized Roland Garros since 2005, and the dominance of Roger Federer at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open has been equalized among Murray, Djokovic, Nadal (and Juan del Potro in 2009). Will we see the same trend develop throughout tennis as Federer continues to age and bright young stars like del Potro, Tomas Berdych, and David Ferrer propagate the scene?
Dropping the previously-injured Rafael Nadal to #5 in the ATP rankings as of April 8, the jury is still out on the Spanish-born Ferrer. While able to nab a couple tournaments in 2013, the ATP Heineken Open in Auckland and the ATP Copa Claro in Buenos Aires, Ferrer was blown out in each of the three times he faced one of the Big Four in 2013. Ferrer is known for being quick, great fitness, and utilizing dogged persistence in taking down his opponents. Over his last six grand slam appearances, Ferrer has reached the semi-final in four of those years and made it to the quarter-finals in the other two. He just can’t quite make it to the summit and compete for the final. And at the age of 30, the window of opportunity is only closing for Ferrer to seize a Grand Slam tournament. The wide-open U.S. Open gives him the best shot in 2013.
Was his second place finish at Wimbledon in 2010 a fluke? On a good day Berdych has the power and aggressiveness to make a deep run into a major tournament. His forehand is absolutely lethal down the lines. However he plays a high-risk style, often getting himself into trouble with clumps of unforced errors. Berdych probably has a better shot than Ferrer to find success in a Grand Slam tournament, as a result of his talent ceiling being a bit higher and Ferrer not being quite as powerful. But, Berdych’s style of play is not fitted to win at Roland Garros. With the Australian Open having already been taken by Djokovic, one has to think Wimbledon or the U.S. Open as being Berdych’s best chance in 2013.
Juan Martin del Potro
The youngest of the three men profiled in this piece, the Argentinian is also the only player outside the Big Four to have championed at a Grand Slam tournament, and he did that at the U.S. Open in 2009. He hasn’t eclipsed the quarter final of a Grand Slam since. Currently sitting at #7 in the world, del Potro beat Novak Djokovic in the bronze medal match at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Injuries have plagued the powerful del Potro, along with inconsistent play. He’s certainly got the ability – size, speed, strength – for another run at a Grand Slam title. He’s got the best shot at breaching the Big Four, but it will obviously be an enormous mountain to climb to do so.
The field is also full of other qualified competitors that are fully capable of making some noise. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is only slightly behind del Potro, and this is for the simple fact that del Potro has won a Grand Slam before. You’ll see a complete profile on Tsonga soon, hence you don’t see him profiled in this piece. Assuming del Potro and Nadal are fully healed and approach top form, with Federer being rested and Djokovic and Murray continuing stellar play, and considering the talent available in the field, it should all culminate in one heck of a summer to follow.