The day after Djokovic sealed his fourth Wimbledon triumph, and thirteenth Grand Slam overall, Andy Murray fell to 839th in the ATP rankings. His rankings plummet is the result of a serious hip issue not a downturn in form and there were enough positives to be taken from his brief grass court comeback to give hope of success yet to be had for Murray. But it also serves as a stark, if not entirely fair, illustration of the gulf between him and his great rivals.
The beginning of the end
Despite the idea of the Big Four being fairly well-established by 2010, and the fact that Rafael Nadal dominated the year, that season is more responsible for the endurance of the Big Four as an idea than any other. Nadal and Federer won at the Slams, whilst Murray and Djokovic both reached finals, the Scot in Melbourne and the Serbian in New York. The Big Four also won 6 of the 9 Masters, with Murray truly establishing himself with titles in Toronto and Shanghai, beating Federer on both occasions.
There was, of course, still a clear hierarchy, with Federer and Nadal at the top and Djokovic and Murray beneath them. But Murray and Djokovic were increasingly often challenging the more illustrious half of the duo, and when in 2011 they found themselves the last two men left standing at the Australian Open, the moment of their breakthrough looked to have arrived. And it had for one of them. Djokovic dominated Murray in that final and went on to win his next 36 matches.
By the end of the year he was the world #1, the owner of four Grand Slam titles, having added Wimbledon and US Open crowns to his 2008 and 2011 wins in Melbourne. Murray, perhaps tellingly, was still ranked fourth in the world. Djokovic had elevated his level to walk alongside Federer and Nadal in a way that Murray had proven unable to. Indeed, whilst Djokovic’s record against them in 2011 was 10-1, Murray didn’t play Federer and lost to Nadal four times in five meetings.
Djokovic’s 13th Grand Slam win at Wimbledon came nearly 15 years to the day after Federer’s first. In that span, they have won 50 of the 61 Grand Slams. They also occupy first, second and fourth place on the list of most Grand Slam titles won by a male player. At Masters 1000-level their numbers are similarly impressive, with Nadal holding 32 titles, Djokovic 30 and Federer 27. Their nearest rival is Andre Agassi with 17.
Just one place behind him in fifth is Murray with 14 titles to his name. That is in addition to the three Grand Slams he has won, the 2012 US Open and the 2013 and 2016 Wimbledon titles. Extremely impressive statistics, and enough to take him to the year-end #1 ranking in 2016, surely the finest year of his career. But even then, the year he came closest to dominating the Tour as had Federer, Nadal and Djokovic in turn, he won only one Slam to Djokovic’s two.
Three All-Time Greats and a Hall of Famer
That Andy Murray is a great tennis player is beyond question. He will be a deserving inductee to the Hall of Fame when he retires. He is also a class above the likes of Stan Wawrinka, Marin Cilic, Juan Martin del Potro or earlier rivals such as Andy Roddick and Juan Carlos Ferrero. He has won big titles and competed at the highest level for longer and with greater consistency than any of his peers. Except for the three men that have denied him time-and-time again.
In their company the achievements of Murray pale where they shine brightly in comparison with all others he has competed against. It has been his curse to share an era with three of the greatest players of all-time and his privilege to so long be accounted their equal. But sadly for Murray, he never quite has been. It’s been nearly a decade since the idea of the Big Four was truly reflected in the achievements of its members. Now, after another triumph for one of the Great Three, perhaps it’s time we laid it to rest.