WE often hear stories of cricket in the 70s, 80s and the 90s from our forefathers and how we were unlucky to have missed those times when the Windies dominated, or when other teams started their ascend to try to be beat them and be the best. Even in football, they say, the 70s and the 80s were the golden years and the most followed sport on earth has by and large been corroded by politics. But one sport which we were lucky to have witnessed in its golden age was: Tennis.
When the world rolled on to the 21st century, Tennis witnessed a fundamental transformation. Serve and rally gave way for baseline tennis. Highly tensile rackets and growing importance of athleticism introduced an aspect of power in the game. The new era of tennis was born.
Roger Federer, caught in the transition period, gave an excellent account of his genius-like ability to adopt when he changed his game from serve and rally to baseline tennis. The mercurial Swiss was always praised for his talent, but was often criticised for his inability to do justice to the same.
But when the transition period ended, Roger Federer firmly established himself as the supreme player above all, making others look like amateurs with his effortless tennis and otherworldly shotmaking. But even he could not stay at the top forever. Then came along Rafael Nadal, the hulk-like Spaniard who had a style in complete contrast to Federer. His whip like forehand and his ability to play long grueling rallies to wear out his opponents finally broke Federer's game. He was the ideal anti-Federer. What nobody else could do (defeat Federer), he began doing it on regular basis. His head-to-head with Federer stands at 23-11. When tennis fans all over the globe thought this was the most epic rivalry that anyone could wish for, they were in for a surprise when the two most talented upcoming players started challenging Nadal and Federer: Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray.
Nadal V Federer French Open 2008
They formed the Big Four. While Nadal was the anti-Federer, Djokovic was the anti-Nadal (though the head-to-head is quite narrow between these two). Murray, talented but temperamental, was always up there to knock anybody off on his day. These four players together have won 45 of the last 48 grand slams between them. Recently, when Djokovic finally won the French Open by defeating Murray, he said that rivalry within the Big Four has made him a better player and he would not have been what he was today if he didn't have to face the likes of Federer and Nadal early in his career.
Djokovic V Nadal Australian Open 2012
Be it 2008 Wimbledon final, when Nadal defeated Federer and dethroned him as the best player or the 2012 Australian Open final when Djokovic came out on top after beating Nadal in over 5 hours or when Andy Murray finally won Wimbledon for Britain after a gap of 70 years (last was Fred Perry) defeating Djokovic, each match was the best in its own right and was a spectacle to behold. There were many such matches in the last 13 years which we have been fortunate enough to witness.
No era in tennis has witnessed such a fierce competitiveness between the top players with different styles, upbringings and backgrounds. No era has seen such domination when just 4 players have completely overshadowed the others. Starting from 2003, when Federer won his first grand slam, to the recently concluded French Open, the big four still rule the arena. While Federer is no longer invincible and Nadal seems to be on the verge of succumbing to his injuries, it has been a great pleasure for all those who were fortunate enough to witness their uprising and their domination in tennis. What will follow when they finally retire is anyone's guess, but, chances are few that anyone could emulate what these four achieved.
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