Big Three (tennis)

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The Big Three is a common tennis term referring to Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.[1][2] From the 2003 Wimbledon up to and including the 2021 Wimbledon, the trio have dominated men's singles, winning 60 of the 72 (83%) Grand Slam titles, with all of them having a shared all-time record 20 titles each.[3][4] Combined, they have won 12 US Open titles and 16 titles each in the Australian Open, French Open, and Wimbledon. All three of them have won more than 80 ATP titles each. Both Djokovic and Federer have been ranked No. 1 for more than 300 weeks while Nadal has been ranked No. 1 for more than 200 weeks.

They won 18 consecutive majors from the 2005 French Open to Wimbledon in 2009, 11 from the 2010 Australian Open to Wimbledon in 2012, and 13 from the 2017 Australian Open to the 2020 Australian Open. One among the Big Three was ATP Year-End No. 1 for every year from 2004 to 2020 except for 2016 (16 of 17). They have occupied the top three positions of the year-end singles ATP Rankings eight times, in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2014, 2018 and 2019.[5]

The Big Three
Prize moneyUS$ 407 million
Singles
Career record3246–678 (82.7%)[a]
Career titles276
Highest rankingNo. 1 (2 Feb 2004F, 18 Aug 2008N, 4 Jul 2011D)
Current rankingNo. 1 (3 Feb 2020D)[6]
Grand Slam Singles results
Australian OpenW (2004F, 2006F, 2007F, 2008D, 2009N, 2010F, 2011D, 2012D, 2013D, 2015D, 2016D, 2017F, 2018F, 2019D, 2020D, 2021D)
French OpenW (2005N, 2006N, 2007N, 2008N, 2009F, 2010N, 2011N, 2012N, 2013N, 2014N, 2016D, 2017N, 2018N, 2019N, 2020N, 2021D)
WimbledonW (2003F, 2004F, 2005F, 2006F, 2007F, 2008N, 2009F, 2010N, 2011D, 2012F, 2014D, 2015D, 2017F, 2018D, 2019D, 2021D)
US OpenW (2004F, 2005F, 2006F, 2007F, 2008F, 2010N, 2011D, 2013N, 2015D, 2017N, 2018D, 2019N)
Other tournaments
Tour FinalsW (2003F, 2004F, 2006F, 2007F, 2008D, 2010F, 2011F, 2012D, 2013D, 2014D, 2015D)
Olympic GamesW (2008N)
Doubles
Career record327–239 (57.8%)
Career titles20
Grand Slam Doubles results
Australian Open3R (2003F, 2004N, 2005N)
French Open1R (2000F, 2006D)
WimbledonQF (2000F)
US OpenSF (2004N)
Other doubles tournaments
Olympic GamesW (2008F, 2016N)
Team competitions
Davis CupW (2004N, 2008N, 2009N, 2010D, 2011N, 2014F, 2019N)
Hopman CupW (2001F, 2018F, 2019F)
Medal record
Olympic Games – Tennis
Gold medal – first place 2008 Beijing SinglesN
Gold medal – first place 2008 Beijing DoublesF
Gold medal – first place 2016 Rio de Janeiro DoublesN
Silver medal – second place 2012 London SinglesF
Bronze medal – third place 2008 Beijing SinglesD
Last updated on: 26 July 2021.

The Big Four was used to describe the larger quartet of Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, and Andy Murray from about 2008 to 2017, though the term is occasionally still used in the present.[7][8][9] They have collectively dominated the sport since 2004 in terms of ranking and tournament victories, including Grand Slam tournaments and ATP Masters events, as well as the ATP Finals championship, the ATP Tour 500 series and the Olympic Games. They have been a critical part of what has, since 2006, been labelled a new "Golden Era" in tennis.[10][11][12][13]

Federer was the first to come to prominence after winning Wimbledon in 2003, and became the world No. 1 after winning the Australian Open in 2004. Nadal followed in 2005 with a French Open triumph that included a win over Federer,[14] and the duo occupied the top two places in the ATP rankings from July 2005 to August 2009. Djokovic, from 2007, then Murray, from late 2008, increasingly challenged Federer and Nadal's dominance with seasonal consistency. By 2011, Nadal declared that his and Federer's period of joint dominance had ended, owing to the ascent of other players, namely Djokovic and later Murray.[15] Djokovic has been a dominant player since the beginning of 2011, gradually approaching or surpassing Federer and Nadal's career achievements.[16] Despite occasional injury breaks by individual members of the Big Three, they have maintained their collective dominance at the majors through to the present day. The emergence of other players has tempered their dominance at the ATP Finals and ATP Masters tournaments since 2017.

The Big Four regularly held the top four places in the year-end rankings between 2008 and 2013 and were ranked year-end world top four consecutively from 2008 to 2012, the longest span of dominance for any quartet of players in tennis history. From 2007 to 2019, the year-end top three rankings were held by members of the Big Four ten times. The years they did not (2013, 2016 and 2017) were mainly due to injuries to two of them. They held the top two spots continuously from 25 July 2005 to 14 March 2021, as well as the top ranking from 2 February 2004 to the present, meaning that no player outside the Big Four has been ranked world No. 1 in 17 years or was top 2 for nearly 16 years (Daniil Medvedev became world No. 2 on 15 March 2021, ending their streak at the top 2). All four have reached a career-high No. 1: Djokovic (the current No. 1) has been world No. 1 for a record 331 weeks, Federer for 310 weeks, Nadal for 209 weeks, and Murray for 41 weeks. Djokovic has been year-end No. 1 on a shared record six occasions, with Federer and Nadal five times each and Murray once.

Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic have completed a Career Grand Slam by winning each of the four Majors at least once. Nadal has also won a gold medal at the 2008 Summer Olympics for a Career Golden Slam, while Djokovic has won each Grand Slam at least twice for a Double Career Grand Slam. In the three Olympic Games between 2008 and 2016, the Big Four won five gold medals (Murray and Nadal with two each in singles and/or doubles, Federer with one in doubles), two silver medals (Murray and Federer) and a bronze medal (Djokovic).

Furthermore, at ATP Masters tournaments, the Big Three are the top three players with the most titles. Djokovic and Nadal co-lead with a record 36 titles each, followed by Federer with 28. Djokovic achieved the Career Golden Masters by winning each of the nine Masters events, a feat he has completed twice.[17] In the ATP Finals championship, the Big Three won 11 out of 13 from 2003 to 2015, with Federer winning six and Djokovic winning five. The three of them have also played vital roles in leading their countries to victory in the Davis Cup. Djokovic and Federer helped Serbia (2010) and Switzerland (2014), respectively, win the competition for the first time, while Nadal has helped Spain win five Davis Cup titles.

In addition to all of these achievements, the Big Three hold many records for having won the most titles at individual tournaments, shared or otherwise, including the four Majors overall, Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon in each; the ATP Finals, the ATP Masters overall, each of the nine ATP Masters events and the ATP 500 series overall.

History[edit]

Federer and Nadal era[edit]

2003 Wimbledon–2004: Federer dominance[edit]

The early 2000s were seen as a time of transition in tennis, with older players retiring and a few players breaking through at the very top of the game.[18][19] Roger Federer first played on the ATP Tour aged 17 in 1998,[20] finishing his first full ATP season the following year before finishing 2002 ranked sixth in the world. His breakthrough came in 2003 when he won his first Grand Slam tournament (or major) at Wimbledon,[21] won the ATP Finals, and finished the year as world number 2 behind Andy Roddick. Federer captured three of the four majors in 2004, losing only at the French Open and finished the year as number one.

Rafael Nadal had won his first ATP Tour match aged 15 in April 2002,[22] and he defeated Federer in their first meeting in 2004 at Miami.[23]

2005–2007: Continued Federer dominance, Nadal dominates clay[edit]

In the following three years (2005–2007), Federer almost dominated the tennis scene entirely. Between 2005 Wimbledon and 2007 US Open, Federer captured eight of ten majors with a record of 67–2 in those tournaments.

2005 was Nadal's breakthrough year, in which he won 24 consecutive matches on clay, including his first French Open title, beating Federer in the semi-finals,[24] and he finished the year as world number two, while Federer remained number one for a second straight year.

The period between 2005 and 2007 was subsequently dominated by Federer and Nadal. They won 11 consecutive majors between them, meeting in every French Open and Wimbledon final from 2006 to 2008. Nadal won three consecutive French Open titles. From 2005 to 2010, they ended every year as the world's top two players.

Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray were born a week apart, played each other as juniors[25] and made their Grand Slam tournament debuts in 2005. Djokovic made his ATP Tour debut in 2004, while Murray's was in 2005, a time when many bright youngsters joined the Tour.[26] They both reached the world top 100 in 2005, and top 20 in 2006.[25] Djokovic, however, began to excel ahead of Murray,[27] reaching one major final and two semi-finals in 2007 and began to challenge Federer and Nadal regularly. He also won two Masters titles and five titles in total,[28] finishing the year ranked number three in the world. Murray, who was forced out of the French Open and Wimbledon by injury,[29][30] ended 2007 ranked 11th.[31]

Big Four era[edit]

2008–2010: Federer and Nadal dominance, Djokovic and Murray challenge[edit]

Big Four member Andy Murray in Tokyo, 2011

Between 2008 and 2010, Djokovic and later Murray attempted to end the duopoly of Federer and Nadal at the summit of tennis. They did not break it but emerged ahead of the rest of the tour. At the 2008 Australian Open, Djokovic defeated Federer in the semifinals, reaching his first Australian Open final and ending Federer's streak of ten consecutive Major finals, continuing his fine form at the end of the 2007 season which saw him reach his first major final.[32] Djokovic went on to defeat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (who had eliminated Nadal in the semifinal)[33] to win his first Major. Following his Australian Open win, Djokovic emerged as a clear world number three during the year,[34] holding the ranking throughout 2008. Meanwhile, Murray continued to rise in the rankings, reaching his first Major quarterfinal at Wimbledon, losing to Nadal.[35] He also won his first two Masters titles.

Federer and Nadal remained the lead rivalry, and the pair met in the finals of both the French Open and Wimbledon. Nadal won both, with the latter described as one of the greatest tennis matches of all time.[36][37][38] In August 2008, after winning the 2008 Summer Olympics gold medal, Nadal passed Federer to become world No. 1, after Federer had been at the top for a record 237 consecutive weeks.

The year's final Major, the US Open, saw all four players reach the semifinals of the same Major for the first time. Federer defeated Djokovic in the semifinals, while Murray reached his first Grand Slam final after upsetting the top-ranked Nadal in four sets.[39] Federer then defeated Murray in the final to win his fifth consecutive US Open title and his 13th Major title overall. Following the US Open, Murray entered the top four in the ATP rankings for the first time and all four players qualified for the 2008 Tennis Masters Cup, which Djokovic won.[40] Despite having to withdraw from this event through injury, Nadal ended the year ranked world No. 1, ahead of Federer and Djokovic.

In 2009, the quartet held the top four places in the rankings for a whole calendar year for the first time. This also prompted the first uses of the term 'Big Four' to refer to the players,[41] although results saw Nadal and Federer generally remain clear leaders ahead of Djokovic and Murray, who themselves were still regarded ahead of the rest of the tour. At the Australian Open, Nadal won his first Australian Open title in another five-setter, obtaining a third consecutive Major final victory over Federer, while Murray and Djokovic were eliminated earlier on.[42] Nadal continued to dominate early in the season; however, he lost to Federer in the Madrid Open final. Nadal entered the French Open as the favourite but lost to Robin Söderling in the fourth round, allowing Federer to win his first French Open title defeating Söderling in the final.[43] Federer subsequently passed the record for the most Grand Slam tournament singles titles, taking his 14th Grand Slam singles title at the French Open, thus completing the Career Grand Slam after Nadal had prevented him from achieving this feat at the previous four French Open tournaments,[44] and the 15th title at Wimbledon respectively.[45] Federer finished the season having reached all four Major finals for the third time in his career following 2006 and 2007. Following Nadal's injuries, Murray and Djokovic made up further grounds in the rankings, although neither of them made a Major final in 2009. Their consistency at Masters level tournaments kept them in the top four of the rankings, with Murray reaching world No. 2 in August, and ending the 211-week reign of Federer and Nadal as the top two players of the world in the process.[46] His reign as the world No. 2 did not last as he was upset in the fourth round of the US Open by Marin Čilić. There, Djokovic reached his first Grand Slam singles semifinal of 2009, losing in straight sets to Federer[47] while Nadal was defeated by the eventual winner Juan Martín del Potro in the semifinal.[48] del Potro beat Federer in the final. Between 2005 Australian Open and 2014 Australian Open, this was the only Grand Slam event not won by a member of the Big Four. (Since then, Wawrinka has won the 2014 Australian Open, 2015 French Open and 2016 US Open while Čilić won the 2014 US Open and Dominic Thiem won the 2020 US Open).

At the end of 2009 Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray finished as the ATP's top four players for the second consecutive year with only Nadal and Federer changing positions from the 2008 final rankings list.

During the 2010 season, the Big Four began to dominate the Tour as a group for the first time.[49] The Big Four provided six of the eight Grand Slam tournament finalist spots and won 16 tournaments combined in the season (compared to six for the other four competitors at the 2010 ATP Finals).[49] At the start of the year, Federer continued his dominance as the world number one by winning the Australian Open, defeating Murray in the final, but his run of 23 consecutive Grand Slam semifinals came to an end at the French Open that year when he lost to Robin Söderling in four sets. He then lost to Tomáš Berdych at Wimbledon, ending his run of seven consecutive Wimbledon finals. Nadal dominated the clay-court season again, winning all three clay-court Masters events and the French Open.[50] Nadal also won at Wimbledon.

At the US Open, Djokovic beat Federer to reach his third Major final, although Nadal won once again to complete his Career Grand Slam. With this win, Nadal became the first player to win three Majors on three different surfaces in a single calendar year (Djokovic later achieved this feat in 2021). In November, Söderling (who has reached the French Open final) briefly passed Murray to reach fourth place in the ATP rankings, threatening to break the Big Four's run of filling the end-of-year rankings. However, all of the Big Four reached the 2010 ATP Finals semifinals with Federer defeating Nadal in three sets in the final, leading to them achieving their third successive season in the top four positions. Djokovic and Murray were third and fourth respectively, both reaching one Grand Slam final apiece.[51]

2011–2013: Big four dominance[edit]

The 2011 season was dominated by Novak Djokovic. He won ten titles in total, including three Grand Slam tournaments (only the fifth man in the Open Era to do so) and five Masters titles (a then-record), enjoyed a 41-match winning streak (ended by Federer in the semifinals of the 2011 French Open), amassed a record in prize money, and ascended to world No. 1 in for the first time in July. The season was described by many experts and former players as one of the best tennis seasons for a singles player seen in history, with Tennis Magazine describing it as the third-best tennis season ever, behind Federer's 2006 season, and Rod Laver's in 1969.[52] Pete Sampras described it as "one of the best achievements in all of sport."[53]

Djokovic's dominance contributed to overall control by the Big Four.[54] They all reached the semifinals at two of the year's Grand Slam events, and amongst them won every Masters tournament. Nadal was clear in second place behind Djokovic, winning Roland Garros and losing in both the Wimbledon and the US Open final. Nadal ended the season with a 0–6 losing record against Djokovic: every match they played was a championship final.[55]

By his standards, Federer had a weak season. He failed to win a Grand Slam title for the first time since 2002, losing to Nadal for the fourth time in a French Open final, and sixth time overall in major finals. He dropped to world No. 4 in November, the first time he had been ranked outside the top three since 2002.[56] Federer's drop was caused by Murray's remarkable run of form in Asia in October, winning three successive titles. However, Federer rallied, winning his three final tournaments, including the ATP Finals, which was enough to secure an end-of-season ranking of No. 3. Murray, meanwhile, was making significant improvements to his game and made the semifinals of all four Grand Slam tournaments, with his best result a defeat in the Australian Open final against Djokovic. Murray ended the year with two Masters titles for the fourth consecutive year, and five titles in total.[57]

The dominance of the Big Four continued in 2012. Each player won one Grand Slam tournament: Djokovic won in Australia, Nadal in France, Federer at Wimbledon and Murray (who hired former world number 1 Ivan Lendl as his head coach earlier in the year[58]) with his first Grand Slam title at the US Open. This win, combined with winning the gold medal in the Olympic Games men's singles on Wimbledon's Centre Court with consecutive semifinal and final victories against Djokovic and Federer – increased confidence of Murray's position as a member of the Big Four: his end-of-season ranking of third was his best yet.[59][60] Djokovic entered the season as the world number one and remained there until July 2012, when he was overtaken by Federer, who reclaimed the top spot for the first time since June 2010. Federer subsequently overtook Sampras' record of 286 weeks at the top, and extended the record to 302 later in 2012.[61] Federer relinquished his world No. 1 ranking on 5 November, with Djokovic reclaiming the top spot and ending the year there for the second consecutive year. Djokovic was the only player to make at least the semifinals in all four Grand Slam events, defeating Nadal at the Australian Open final in what is considered one of the greatest tennis matches of all time, and was the losing finalist at Roland Garros and the US Open. Both he and Federer won three Masters tournaments, seeing them dominate the season. Federer was also the silver medalist at the Olympics, where Djokovic finished fourth. Nadal, meanwhile, had his season cut short by an injury. Having won two clay-court Masters tournaments and Roland Garros, he was eliminated in the second round at Wimbledon – his first defeat at such an early stage in a Grand Slam tournament since 2005. He later revealed that he had been injured going into the tournament,[62] and he did not compete for the rest of the season, but still ended the year as world No. 4.

The 2013 season continued similarly, with Djokovic, Federer and Murray occupying three of the four semifinal slots at the Australian Open, with Nadal still suffering from an injury. Murray beat Federer in a five-set match in the semifinal, meaning all four members of the Big Four had beaten each other at least once in a Grand Slam event, but lost to Djokovic in the final in four sets. As a result, Djokovic became the third man to win four Australian Open titles and the first to win three consecutively in the open era; and Murray became the first man to reach the final of the next Grand Slam event after winning his maiden title.[63][64] Nadal returned for the clay-court season, winning five events before becoming the only male player to win a major eight times by winning the French Open, defeating Djokovic in the semifinals.[65] However, Djokovic did end Nadal's eight-year winning streak at the Monte-Carlo Masters.[66] Nadal and Federer lost early at Wimbledon, thus ending Federer's 36 consecutive Grand Slam tournament quarterfinal appearance record.[67][68] Murray defeated Djokovic in the final to become the first British man to win the tournament in 77 years, extending his winning streak on grass to 18 matches.[69] Nadal won the US Open, defeating Djokovic in the final in four sets, for the second time. With his US Open win, he completed the "Summer Slam" (winning the Canada Masters, Cincinnati Masters, and the US Open all in the same season), a feat only matched in the Open Era by Patrick Rafter in 1998 and Andy Roddick in 2003. His hard court winning streak of 26 came to an end at the Beijing Open where he lost to Djokovic in the final.[70]

Overall, the 2013 season was about Nadal and Djokovic. Nadal won two Majors and five Masters events. He was also runner-up at the ATP Finals. Nadal made the finals in all eight clay-court tournaments he played in 2013, winning six. In addition, Nadal made the semifinals in all eight hard-court tournaments in 2013, winning four titles. Djokovic won one Major, and reached two finals and a semifinal, and finished the year on a 22-match winning streak, winning the ATP Finals.[71] The 2013 head-to-head record of Nadal and Djokovic was tied at 3–3. A back injury ended Murray's season prematurely,[72] and he finished fourth in the rankings but was the only player besides Nadal and Djokovic to win a Grand Slam event or Masters title, at Wimbledon and Miami respectively. Federer suffered his worst season in more than a decade. He reached just one Major semifinal, failed to win a single Masters crown and finished the year sixth in the rankings with one title to his name, even if he too suffered from a recurring back injury throughout the season.[73]

2014: Dominance in majors halted[edit]

As 2013 came to a close, Federer's fall in the rankings prompted many sources to debate whether the dominance of the Big Four had ended.[74][75][76][77][78][79][80][81][82] This debate intensified after the Australian Open, which saw Stan Wawrinka defeat Djokovic in the quarterfinal and Nadal in the final to win his first Slam title, marking just the second time since 2005 and the first since 2009 that a player outside the Big Four had won a major title.[83] Murray and Federer fell to sixth and eighth in the rankings respectively,[84] and after the tournament, several players expressed the opinion that they were now capable of challenging the Big Four.[85][86][87][88] However, the first two Masters titles of the year in Indian Wells and Miami only had Big Four finalists, with Djokovic winning his third and fourth consecutive Masters titles with victories over Federer and Nadal respectively.[89][90] Nadal struggled early in the clay season at his traditional favorite tournaments of Monte-Carlo and Barcelona. A third loss, to Djokovic in the final of the Rome Masters, was the first time Nadal had lost more than two matches on clay in a season for a decade.[91] He did, however, win the Madrid Masters after Nishikori injured his back whilst leading Nadal 6–2, 4–3 in that final.[92] Nadal went on to defend his French Open title, defeating Murray in the semifinal and Djokovic in the final.

Following his back surgery at the end of 2013, Murray struggled to return to form in the first half of the year, reaching only two semifinals and losing to Grigor Dimitrov in straight sets in the quarterfinals while attempting to defend his Wimbledon title, a defeat which saw him fall to No. 10 in the world rankings.[93] This, and Nadal's loss to Nick Kyrgios in the fourth round, his third consecutive early-round loss at Wimbledon, led former players and experts, including Jimmy Connors, to express the opinion that the "aura" around the Big Four had faded.[94] Milos Raonic, who reached the semifinals at Wimbledon, suggested a "human side" was visible in the Big Four, which was giving players belief when facing them.[95] However, Djokovic defeated Dimitrov and Federer beat Raonic to make it an all-Big Four final, the 24th they have contested. Djokovic defeated Federer in five sets to claim his second Wimbledon title,[96] a result that left Djokovic, Nadal and Federer occupying the top three places in the rankings.

Federer continued his return to form reaching the finals of Toronto and winning his first Masters title since 2012 in Cincinnati.[97] Later, he also won the Shanghai Masters, and returned to No. 2 in the rankings, overtaking Nadal, whose season had been curtailed by a wrist injury.[98] The US Open 2014 saw the Big Four's collective grip on the major titles slip still further, however, as Kei Nishikori and Marin Čilić beat Djokovic and Federer in the semifinals respectively to contest the first Slam final featuring none of the Big Four since the 2005 Australian Open, and the first time since 2003 that multiple first-time Grand Slam tournament winners have been crowned in a single season. Following the tournament, Murray dropped to 11th in the rankings, his first time outside the top ten since 2008. The tournament further signalled the decline of the Big Four's dominance.[99] Towards the end of the year, Murray managed to return to form, winning three titles in Shenzhen, Vienna and Valencia, allowing him to return to the top ten in the rankings[100] and qualify for the Tour Finals, but he bowed out at the group stages following a defeat by Federer, in which he won just a single game. Indeed, throughout the year, Murray failed to register a single victory against another member of the Big Four in nine meetings.

At the Tour finals, Federer and Djokovic both reached the final, but Federer withdrew citing injury following a semifinal win over Wawrinka.[101] Federer recovered to win the Davis Cup as part of the Switzerland team for his, and the country's, first triumph in the competition, leading many people to say that his tennis career was now complete.[102] Collectively, the Big Four won 19 titles in 2014, but two Slam titles and two Masters titles went to other players. In the end-of-year rankings, Djokovic, Federer and Nadal held the top three spots, with Murray in sixth.

2015–2016: Djokovic domination, Murray and Federer challenge[edit]

Following Murray's strong end to 2014 and reaching the final of the 2015 Australian Open, he moved into the top four in the ATP rankings for the first time in over a year, meaning that the Big Four held the top four places in the rankings for the first time since early 2013, slowing the idea of the regression of the quartet.[103][104][105][106] Djokovic won the title, as well as the first three Masters titles of the year in Indian Wells, Miami and Monte-Carlo.[107][108] In Madrid, Murray defeated Nadal in straight sets.[109] This was also the first time he had beaten another member of the Big Four in a Tour match since Wimbledon 2013, ending a streak of 12 losses against the other members. The defeat saw Nadal slip to seventh in the rankings, his first time outside the top five in more than a decade.[110] Djokovic defeated Federer in the Rome final. Nadal suffered his worst European clay-court season in a decade, failing to win a single title and appearing in just one final, whereas Djokovic and Murray entered the second Grand Slam event of the year unbeaten on clay. Djokovic defeated Nadal for the first time at the French Open in a straight-sets quarterfinal. This was only Nadal's second defeat at the French Open, seeing him drop to No. 10 in the rankings.[111] Djokovic emerged victorious over Murray in a five-set match that was spread over two days[112] but succumbed to Wawrinka in the final in four sets.[113]

Federer beat Murray in straight sets in the semifinals of Wimbledon.[114] Djokovic claimed the other spot in the final, to set up a rematch of the previous year's final, and defeated Federer in four sets to win his second major of the year, denying Federer a record eighth Wimbledon title for the second year in a row.[115] Murray and Federer shared the two North American hard-court Masters titles, at Montreal and Cincinnati respectively, with Djokovic being the losing finalist on both occasions.[116][117] The US Open final was contested by Djokovic and Federer. Djokovic won in four sets, giving him a third slam title of the season.[118]

Djokovic then continued to dominate throughout the remainder of the year, winning in Beijing, Shanghai, Paris and at the ATP Finals. Overall, Djokovic's 2015 season was one of the greatest in the history of the game, with him winning 11 titles (the most since Federer won 12 in 2006) including, for the second time, three majors. He also became the only man in the Open Era besides Federer and Rod Laver to reach all four major finals in the same year. He was dominant even against his fellow Big Four rivals, going 15–4 against them throughout the year. Federer was the most competitive against Djokovic, winning three of their eight matches, which made up half of Djokovic's total defeats in 2015. Nadal and Murray both struggled against the Serb, with Nadal losing all four of his encounters in straight sets, and Murray winning only one of his seven encounters, in Montreal. However, Murray did lead Great Britain to Davis Cup victory in 2015, winning all eight singles rubbers and becoming the final member of the quartet to win the Davis Cup. Murray did finish at his career-highest year-end ranking of two even if he won fewer titles, reached fewer finals and had less success versus Djokovic when compared with Federer in the number three ranking.

In 2016, Djokovic collected his sixth Australian Open title in a straight-sets victory over Murray. He followed up this solid run of form with a record-setting fifth Indian Wells and record-equaling sixth Miami masters titles. Nadal won Monte Carlo for a record ninth time. Murray and Djokovic played in the finals of Madrid and Rome and split the titles. At the 2016 French Open, Murray reached his first Paris final to complete his set of Grand Slam singles finals, but Djokovic beat him in the final to become the third Big Four member after Federer and Nadal to complete a Career Grand Slam, and the first player since Rod Laver in 1969 to hold all four Grand Slam titles at the same time.

In the Wimbledon final, Murray beat Raonic in straight sets to win his second Wimbledon title, and third major title overall. Murray's victory marked the first time since the 2010 French Open that a member of the Big Four had won a Grand Slam singles title without having to defeat one of the other three members. Federer withdrew from the remainder of the 2016 season due to a knee injury, missing the Olympics and US Open.[119]

In the Olympics, Djokovic was knocked out of the men's singles in the opening round by Juan Martín del Potro, in a repeat of the bronze medal match from four years earlier.[120] Del Potro went on to defeat Nadal in an epic semifinal to set up a final meeting with Murray.[121] Murray ultimately won the final in four sets, becoming the first male player to win the singles gold medal twice. Nadal lost the bronze medal match to Kei Nishikori but won gold in the men's doubles event.[121] Djokovic won Toronto with Murray losing in the finals of Cincinnati. At the US Open, Djokovic reached the final but was defeated once again by Stan Wawrinka in a Grand Slam singles final.

Murray dominated the rest of the year. He won titles in Beijing, Shanghai, Vienna and Paris. As a result, upon reaching the Paris final, Murray gained the number-one ranking, ending Djokovic's 122 consecutive weeks at the top. This meant that all of the Big Four had reached world number one at some point. Following an early loss at Shanghai, Nadal announced that he would skip the remainder of the 2016 season to recover fully from the wrist injury that troubled him earlier in the year. Thus, for the first time since 2001, neither Nadal nor Federer would be present at the year-end championships. At the ATP Finals, Murray beat Djokovic 6–3 6–4, claiming the title and the No. 1 spot at the end of the year and ending 2016 on a 24-match winning streak, the longest of his career. He became the second player after Andre Agassi to win a Grand Slam singles tournament, ATP Finals, Olympic and Masters titles, and the first to do so in the same calendar year. 2016 marked the first year since 2003 that neither Federer, Nadal or Djokovic finished the year as world number 1. Despite his struggles with form throughout the second half of the year, Djokovic still ended 2016 as world number two. Having suffered from injury-plagued seasons, Nadal and Federer ended the year at number nine and 16 respectively. For Nadal, it was his lowest end-of-year ranking since 2004, while Federer's fall in the rankings meant that November 2016 marked his first time outside the top ten since October 2002.

Big Three solidified[edit]

2017–2018 French Open: Federer and Nadal return, Djokovic and Murray sidelined[edit]

At the Australian Open, Djokovic and Murray both suffered defeats prior the quarter-finals. Nadal and Federer, meanwhile, both reached another Australian Open final. For Nadal, it was the first time he had reached this stage since winning the 2014 French Open. Both came through tough five-set semi-final matches to make the final. In the Australian Open final, a second consecutive five-set match for both players, Federer triumphed over Nadal, winning his 18th Grand Slam title. Federer went on to win a record-equalling fifth Indian Wells title, gaining another victory over Nadal in the fourth round. Federer and Nadal once again met in the 2017 Miami Open final, where Federer defeated Nadal, completing a sweep of Australian Open, Indian Wells, and Miami Open titles.

As the 2017 clay court swing commenced, Federer skipped the entire clay season to rest and focus on the grass and hard-court seasons, as well as to prolong his career. Nadal claimed the Monte-Carlo Masters title, which saw him historically become the first male player to win a single tournament ten times and simultaneously establish a new record for most clay-court titles at 50, surpassing Guillermo Vilas' 49. Nadal also won in Madrid with Djokovic falling to Alexander Zverev in the Rome final. Nadal breezed through to the French Open final without dropping a set for the third time, defeating Wawrinka in the final. This win also ended a three-year drought of slam titles for the Spaniard, his last title coming at the French Open in 2014. Following the win, Nadal returned to world No. 2, his highest ranking since October 2014. Djokovic, who lost in the quarter-finals, fell to world No. 4, his lowest ranking since October 2009 and his first time outside the top two of the rankings since March 2011.

At Wimbledon, the quartet formed the top four seeds at a Grand Slam tournament for the first time since 2014.[122] Nadal, Murray and Djokovic all lost before the semi-finals. Federer, however, won the title without dropping a set by beating Marin Čilić in the final. Federer's victory was a record-breaking eleventh Wimbledon final and eighth title win. This led to the "Big Four" being the ATP top four again.[123] Djokovic announced in late July that he would be skipping the rest of the 2017 season to recover from his elbow injury,[124] and Murray would not play another tournament in 2017 as well due to a hip injury.[125] Federer reached the final of the Montreal Masters but sustained a severe back injury in the final, which essentially took him out of contention for the US Open and the No. 1 ranking. Although Nadal did not reach the semi-finals of either North American Masters events, he managed to reach No. 1 over the inactive Murray. Nadal then defeated Kevin Anderson in the US Open final. This was the fourth time that Nadal and Federer had won all four majors in the same year, following their sweeps in 2006, 2007, and 2010. Additionally, on 11 September 2017, Nadal and Federer were ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, which was the first time since 20 March 2011 that they held the top two spots in the ATP rankings.

Federer returned to Shanghai, and won his second title there, defeating Nadal in straight sets in the final. This was his fourth win out of four meetings with Nadal in 2017, as well as his fifth consecutive. In 2017, Nadal had his best year since 2013, winning two majors and four other titles. Federer finished the year at world No. 2 behind Nadal and overall had his best year since 2007, having his highest number of titles won since that year, winning two majors for the first time since 2009, and ending the year with a winning percentage of 91%, his highest since 2006. Djokovic and Murray both finished with their lowest year-end rankings since 2006, at No. 12 and 16 respectively.

At the start of 2018, Murray underwent hip surgery for the injury that had kept him off the Tour since the previous summer. Djokovic and Nadal lost early at the Australian Open. Federer, however, went on to win the tournament in a five-set final against Čilić, and by doing so equaling Djokovic and Roy Emerson's record of six Australian Open titles, and becoming the first man to win 20 major titles. Soon after, by reaching the semi-finals in Rotterdam, Federer overtook Nadal to return to world No. 1. By doing this, he became the oldest ATP No. 1 ranked player (since 1973).

Federer then reached the final of Indian Wells, losing to Juan Martin del Potro. Federer's early loss in Miami resulted in the loss of the No. 1 ranking with Nadal overtaking him by 100 points. Federer announced that he would again skip the entire clay-court season. Nadal won his eleventh title in Monte Carlo, repeating the feat a week later for an 11th Barcelona title, winning both without dropping a set.[126] Nadal's loss to Dominic Thiem in the Madrid quarter-final returned the No. 1 ranking back to Federer for one week until Nadal won the title in Rome.

Following Djokovic's early exit from the Australian Open, the Serb underwent surgery for the wrist injury that had been causing him issues through the previous year. He returned to the Tour at Indian Wells, and initially struggled much with form, failing to reach the quarter-finals of any of first five tournaments since his return to the tour. He showed promising signs by reaching the semi-finals of Rome where he was highly competitive in a match against Nadal, losing in two tight sets. He then reached the quarter-finals of the French Open but lost to unseeded Marco Cecchinato. Nadal went on to win the tournament, defeating Dominic Thiem in the final to claim a record-extending 11th French Open title and his 17th major overall.

Federer returned to the Tour for Stuttgart and won the title there which saw him return to the #1 ranking for a 310th week.

2018 Wimbledon–2019 ATP Finals: Djokovic returns, dominates with Nadal[edit]

At Wimbledon, Federer lost to Kevin Anderson in the quarter-finals after suffering a hand injury at the start of the grass season, despite holding a two-sets-to-love lead and holding a match point in the third set.[127] Djokovic and Nadal, meanwhile, made the semi-finals, where Djokovic defeated Nadal in five sets to reach his first major final in nearly two years. He then defeated Anderson in the final to win his fourth Wimbledon title, his first major title in over two years.

At the US Open, both Djokovic and Nadal made the semi-finals where Nadal retired against Juan Martin Del Potro after being two sets down due to a knee injury he had been sustaining throughout the tournament. Djokovic, on the other hand, defeated Kei Nishikori in straight sets to make his eighth US Open final where he beat del Potro for his 14th Grand Slam singles title. He then followed this up with victory at the Shanghai Masters.

Nadal withdrew before his first match at the Paris Masters, thus yielding the No. 1 ranking to Djokovic, one day shy of exactly two years since he was dethroned. Djokovic and Federer set up a clash in the semi-finals where the Serb won a three-set encounter that lasted three hours. Djokovic was defeated by Karen Khachanov in straight sets in the final. Nadal then announced his withdrawal from the ATP Finals in order to undergo surgery for an ankle injury, as well as recovering from the abdominal injury that caused him to withdraw from Paris. At the ATP Finals, Federer and Djokovic were both defeated by champion Alexander Zverev in the semi-finals and final, respectively. The year ended with Djokovic, Nadal and Federer occupying the top-three positions in the rankings.

At the start of 2019, Djokovic made a run to the semi-finals of Doha before being stopped by Roberto Bautista Agut who went on to win the tournament.

In the Australian Open Federer was upset in the fourth round by 20-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas in a tight four-setter. In the final, Djokovic defeated Nadal in straight sets to claim a record-winning seventh Australian Open championship and increased his Grand Slam tournament tally to 15. By his Australian Open win, he was trailing Nadal by only two majors. In the week following the Australian Open, Murray underwent hip surgery.

Federer rebounded from his early loss at the Australian Open by winning his 100th title in Dubai. He followed this with a runner-up finish at Indian Wells and a title in Miami.

After withdrawing from Indian Wells due to injury, Nadal initially struggled, relative to his usual dominant standards, upon returning for the European clay-court season, losing in the semi-finals at Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid. However, he then returned to form in Rome, defeating Djokovic (who had won the title in Madrid the previous week) in the final to win his ninth crown at the Italian Masters event. The win also broke the tie he had with Djokovic as they co-held the record for most Masters titles.

At the French Open, Federer returned to play at the tournament for the first time since 2015, making it to the semi-finals where he was defeated by Nadal in straight sets. Djokovic also made it to the semi-finals, doing so without losing a set, but was beaten in five sets by Dominic Thiem in a match that was spread over two days due to rain. In the final, Nadal prevailed over Thiem for a second consecutive year, winning the tournament for a record-extending 12th time. This win would also push Nadal to 18 Grand Slam singles titles, just two behind Federer's record of 20. Federer, meanwhile, won a record tenth title in Halle, making him the only player in the Open Era besides Nadal to win ten titles at a single event.

In singles, Nadal and Federer again faced off in the semi-finals, their first meeting at Wimbledon since the 2008 final which Nadal won. Federer defeated Nadal in four sets. He and Djokovic advanced to the final, where Djokovic defeated Federer in the longest Wimbledon men's final in history. For the second consecutive year, Djokovic would go home with multiple Grand Slam singles titles and brought his tally to 16, only trailing Federer's 20 and Nadal's 18.

Nadal returned to action in Montreal where he defended his 2018 Canadian Open title, defending a title on a surface other than clay for the first time in his career. Additionally, this would be Nadal's fifth Canada Masters title, which is just one shy of Lendl's record of six. It was also Nadal's tenth Masters title on hard courts, along with his three at Indian Wells, and one each at Cincinnati and Madrid (indoors). Following his victory, he decided not to play in Cincinnati once again. Murray, meanwhile, continued his comeback to tennis through doubles, playing with his brother Jamie in Washington and with Feliciano López, with whom he won the title in Queen's, in Montreal. In both tournaments, he and his partner failed to advance beyond the quarter-finals. However, he decided he was ready to return to singles in Cincinnati where Murray lost in the first round to Richard Gasquet in straight sets, Federer was upset in the third round by Qualifier Andrey Rublev in straight sets, and Djokovic was upset in the semi-finals by the eventual champion Daniil Medvedev in three sets.

Murray declined to participate in the 2019 US Open. He instead participated in Challenger Mancor, Es, where he lost to Mateo Viola in three sets during the round of 16. At the US Open, Djokovic retired against Wawrinka in the fourth round due to a shoulder injury, and Federer was upset by Grigor Dimitrov in the quarterfinals. Nadal only dropped one set en route to his fifth US Open final. There he met Daniil Medvedev, whom he had defeated in the Canada Masters final just two weeks prior. However, after Nadal went up two sets to love Medvedev responded furiously and claimed the next two sets. Nadal went on to defeat Medvedev 6–4 in the fifth set, thereby notching his fourth US Open title and 19th Grand Slam singles title, just one behind Federer's record.

Nadal ended 2019 being ranked No. 1 for the fifth time, despite not reaching the semifinals of 2019 ATP Finals.[128] In the 2019 Davis Cup, Spain won their sixth title (their first since 2011), defeating Canada in the final 2–0. Nadal received the Most Valuable Player (MVP) award for his performance in the tournament after he won all eight matches in which he participated.[129] This was Nadal's fifth Davis Cup title.[130]

2020: Federer injured, disrupted season[edit]

At the 2020 Australian Open, Djokovic won his eighth title (a record for men's singles) and his 17th Grand Slam title overall by a narrow victory over Dominic Thiem in the final. He became the first man in the Open Era to win a major title in three different decades.[131]

The 2020 season was heavily disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Four of the five Masters tournaments typically held between the Australian and the French Open were cancelled, with the Italian Open being the only one to be postponed. The French Open itself was postponed to late September-early October while the Wimbledon Championships were cancelled. The first Masters to be held after the resumption was the Cincinnati Masters, from which Djokovic emerged victorious. Nadal opted to miss the US Open, preferring to focus on the upcoming clay-court season, while Federer was forced to withdraw due to a knee injury. Djokovic entered the US Open, but was disqualified during his fourth-round match against Pablo Carreño-Busta after inadvertently striking a ball at a line judge after conceding a break. This ultimately allowed Dominic Thiem to become the first player outside the Big Three to win a Grand Slam singles title since Stan Wawrinka had won the tournament in 2016.

Djokovic rebounded to win a record 36th Masters title in the Italian Open two weeks later. Federer was the only one not entering the 2020 French Open, still sidelined by the knee injury that prevented him from participating at the US Open. Nadal successfully defended his title against Djokovic in straight sets. With the win, Nadal equalled Federer's all-time record of 20 Grand Slam singles titles and extended his own record to 13 titles from the same major tournament.

2021: Djokovic's dominance[edit]

"I have to pay a great tribute to Rafa and Roger. They are legends of our sport. The two most important players I ever faced. They are the reason I am where I am today. They made me realise what I had to do to improve."

—Novak Djokovic, after winning his record-equaling 20th Grand Slam title.[132]

Federer did not compete in the Australian Open to recover from surgery. There, Nadal was upset by Stefanos Tsitsipas in the quarterfinals, despite taking a two set to love lead, while Djokovic successfully defended his title by beating Daniil Medvedev in straight sets. The win marked his 9th Australian Open title and 18th overall Grand Slam title, putting him two titles away from tying Federer and Nadal.

Nadal achieved his 36th Masters victory by defeating Djokovic in the 2021 Italian Open final.

In the French Open, Federer withdrew after his third round victory in order not to jeopardize his recovery from a knee injury, while Nadal's bid at winning a record 21st Major ended when he was upset by Djokovic in an epic semifinal encounter. Despite being down two sets to love in the final against first-time Grand Slam finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas, Djokovic rallied to win the title in five sets. With his victory, Djokovic won his second French Open title and 19th overall Grand Slam singles title, and made history by becoming the third ever man to have won each of the four Grand Slams twice or more after Roy Emerson and Rod Laver, and the first to have done so in the Open Era. Djokovic was then only one Grand Slam title away from tying Federer and Nadal for the most singles slams won in men's tennis.

Nadal withdrew from Wimbledon due to scheduling reasons. The 2021 edition marked Murray's first appearance in Wimbledon since 2017; he lost to Denis Shapovalov in straight sets in the third round. Federer was defeated in the quarterfinals by first-time quarterfinalist Hubert Hurkacz, thwarting him from winning his 21st major and re-taking his record for most slams won in men's tennis. Djokovic won the title and his 20th major against first-time Grand Slam finalist Matteo Berrettini, thereby equaling both Federer and Nadal's all-time tally for the first time. The victory made him the first male player to win the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon titles in the same calendar year since Rod Laver in 1969, and the second player to win three Majors on three different surfaces in a calendar year, after Nadal in 2010.[133] Djokovic is now expected to participate in the US Open with the opportunity to complete the calendar-year Grand Slam, a feat last accomplished in men's singles tennis by Rod Laver in 1969.

Djokovic had hoped to win the "Golden Slam" by also taking gold in the men's singles at the delayed 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. However, he lost in the semi-final to Alexander Zverev, having been a set and a break ahead.[134] He subsequently lost the bronze medal match to Pablo Carreño Busta.[135]

Career statistics[edit]

Grand Slam tournaments[edit]

The Big Three are the top three players in terms of Grand Slam men's singles titles won, as well as the top three male players in terms of Major finals reached. Federer has reached 31 finals, Djokovic 30, and Nadal 28. They are the only three men to win eight or more singles titles at the same Grand Slam tournament: Nadal with 13 French Open titles, Djokovic with 9 Australian Open titles and Federer with 8 Wimbledon titles.

Combined performance timeline (best result)[edit]

  • Since the year of first Slam win.
Grand Slam 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 SR
Australian Open 4RF WF SFF WF WF WD WN WF WD WD WD FN WD WD WF WF WD WD WD 16/19
French Open 1RF 3RF WN WN WN WN WF WN WN WN WN WN FD WD WN WN WN WN WD 16/19
Wimbledon WF WF WF WF WF WN WF WN WD WF FD WD WD SFF WF WD WD NH[b] WD 16/18
US Open 4RF WF WF WF WF WF FF WN WD FD WN SFDF WD FD WN WD WN 4RD 12/18

ATP Finals[edit]

Combined performance timeline (best result)[edit]

  • Since the year of first ATP Finals qualification.
ATP Finals 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 SR
SFF WF WF FF WF WF WD SFF WF WF WD WD WD WD FD SFF FD SFF SFDN 11/19

Top-level tournaments[edit]

Current as of 2020 Summer Olympics.
Titles Grand Slams ATP Finals ATP Masters Olympics Career
Slam
Golden
Masters
W–L (%)
AO RG WIM USO IW MIA MON MAD[c] ROM CAN CIN SHA[d] PAR
61 Serbia Novak Djokovic W (9) W (2) W (6) W (3) W (5) W (5) W (6) W (2) W (3) W (5) W (4) W (2) W (4) W (5) Bronze medal.svg 2016, 2021 2018, 2020 738–148 (83.3%)
57 Spain Rafael Nadal W (1) W (13) W (2) W (4) F (2) W (3) F (5) W (11) W (5) W (10) W (5) W (1) W (1) F (1) Gold medal.svg 2010 × 719–142 (83.5%)
54 Switzerland Roger Federer W (6) W (1) W (8) W (5) W (6) W (5) W (4) F (4) W (6)¤ F (4) W (2) W (7) W (3)¤ W (1) Silver medal.svg 2009 × 822–190 (81.2%)
172 Total 60 11 100 1 4 2 2279–480 (82.6%)

^ Open-era record underlined.
¤ denotes titles were won in different tournaments.

ATP rankings[edit]

Ranking history for the Big Three and Andy Murray 1999–2021

The Big Three monopolized the top spot in the ATP men's singles rankings from 2 February 2004 to 6 November 2016 and again from 21 August 2017 to the present, for a total of 851 weeks (equivalent to over 16 years). Djokovic (the current number 1) has been ranked number 1 for an ATP record 331 weeks, Federer for 310 weeks, and Nadal for 209 weeks. Each player has occupied the top position at the end of the year at least five times, with Djokovic tying Pete Sampras for the ATP record with six.

Combined rankings timeline (best result)[edit]

  • Since the first year-end No. 1 finish.
Year-end Ranking 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 Total
1F 1F 1F 1F 1N 1F 1N 1D 1D 1N 1D 1D 2D 1N 1D 1N 1D
Years at No. 1 5F 5N 6D 16
Weeks at No. 1 310F 209N 332D 851

^ Open-era record underlined.

Head-to-head matchups[edit]

The respective rivalries between the Big Three are considered to be some of the greatest tennis rivalries of all time,[136][137][138][139] and are the three most prolific men's rivalries of the Open Era. Amongst the three of them they have played 148 matches against each other, 48 of which were at Grand Slam events. This includes 23 Grand Slam tournament finals, more than any other trio. Currently, Djokovic leads the head-to-head record against Federer and Nadal.[140] Their three respective rivalries are the only ones in the Open Era to reach 40 matches.

Player All tournaments Grand Slams ATP Masters ATP Finals
Matches W L % Finals W% Matches W L % Finals W% Matches W L % Finals W% Matches W L % Finals W%
Switzerland Roger Federer 90 39 51 43% 16–27 (37%) 31 10 21 32% 4–10 (29%) 39 16 23 41% 8–12 (40%) 11 7 4 64% 1–2 (33%)
Spain Rafael Nadal 98 52 46 53% 27–25 (52%) 31 20 11 65% 11–7 (61%) 48 25 23 52% 14–12 (54%) 10 3 7 30% 0–2 (0%)
Serbia Novak Djokovic 108 57 51 53% 28–19 (60%) 34 18 16 53% 8–6 (57%) 49 27 22 55% 12–10 (55%) 11 6 5 55% 3–0 (100%)
Total 148 71 48 23 68 34 16 4

Results by court surface[edit]

Nadal is dominant on clay, particularly at the French Open, where he has won all six matches against Federer and seven of nine against Djokovic.

Player Hard Clay Grass
Matches W L % Matches W L % Matches W L %
Switzerland Roger Federer 58 29 29 50% 24 6 18 25% 8 4 4 50%
Spain Rafael Nadal 47 16 31 34% 43 33 10 77% 8 3 5 38%
Serbia Novak Djokovic 65 40 25 62% 35 12 23 34% 8 5 3 63%
Total 85 51 12

^ Two walkovers (2014 ATP Finals final and 2019 Indian Wells semifinal) are not included in the table.

Head-to-head records[edit]

Player Serbia Djokovic Spain Nadal Switzerland Federer Win % Finals Win %
Serbia Novak Djokovic 30–28 27–23 57–51 (52.8%) 28–19 (59.6%)
Spain Rafael Nadal 28–30 24–16 52–46 (53.1%) 27–25 (51.9%)
Switzerland Roger Federer 23–27 16–24 39–51 (43.3%) 16–27 (37.2%)

Grand Slam title race[edit]

The Big Three are currently competing to win the most Grand Slam men's singles titles of all-time.[141] Federer first led the trio by winning his first Grand Slam singles title at 2003 Wimbledon. He broke Pete Sampras's all-time record 14 Grand Slam titles at 2009 Wimbledon.[142] Following the 2010 Australian Open, Federer had 16 titles, Nadal 6, and Djokovic 1, the peak of Federer's lead over Nadal and Djokovic. After winning the 2016 French Open, Djokovic came to within 2 titles of Nadal (14 vs. 12), but over the next two years, Nadal and Federer extended their lead over Djokovic again; following the 2018 French Open, Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic had 20, 17, and 12 titles, respectively. During the 2010s, Federer's lead gradually shrank, culminating in Nadal tying Federer's record 20 titles with his win at the 2020 French Open. Subsequently, Djokovic's three victories in 2021 have brought him on an equal footing with Federer and Nadal, and for the first time all three players have an equal number of titles.[143]

Chronologically

Federer won his first Grand Slam title in 2003, Nadal in 2005, and Djokovic in 2008. Djokovic won his most recent title in 2021, Nadal in 2020, and Federer in 2018.

By age

Nadal won his first Grand Slam title at age 19, Djokovic at 20, and Federer at 21. Federer won his most recent title at age 36; Nadal and Djokovic at 34.

Legacy and recognition[edit]

Current and former professionals[edit]

Fellow top players, including David Ferrer, Tomas Berdych, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Stan Wawrinka and Andy Roddick have all spoken about the dominance of the Big Three (and Murray until 2017) and the challenge they have faced in matching them.[144][145] Many former top professionals have also spoken about the topic, including Björn Borg, Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras and Goran Ivanisevic.[11][146][147][148][149]

David Ferrer declared in 2013:

I think the top four, they are better. It's my opinion. But I am trying to win every match. The results, are there, no? I'm not making something up. It's very difficult for me to win a Grand Slam because there are the top four. At this time they are better than the other players.[150]

Media[edit]

Since 2010, when the Big Four increasingly began to dominate the tour as a group, many articles and reports have concentrated mainly on the members of the Big Four and their chances in upcoming tournaments, with smaller sections devoted to all other players.[151][152][153][154][155]

The presence of the Big Four is generally seen to have had a positive impact on tennis, making the sport more exciting and in turn attracting more attention. However, with all four members being European, this may have had a potentially negative effect on tennis popularity in North America compared to previous decades, when Americans were regularly at the peak of men's tennis.[156][157] It has also been argued that the dominance of the Big Four has made the game predictable[158] or even boring.[159][160]

Alternative concepts and proposals[edit]

"Big Four" suggestions[edit]

Even initially, some tennis commentators, including Murray himself,[161] spoke of a "Big Three" or "Trivalry",[162] due to Murray's smaller achievements than those three players.[163][164] In 2014, statistician Nate Silver labelled the group the 'Big Three and a Half'.[165] Murray's overall record against the Big Three is 29–56 (as of year end 2018). However, Murray features in the top ten on a number of Open Era records, including in quarterfinals, semifinals, and finals reached at the Majors, and is to date the only person in history to have won two gold medals in singles at the Olympic Games, and only the second player of the Open Era (after Andre Agassi), to have won a Grand Slam singles event, a Davis Cup, an Olympic singles gold, an ATP Final, and an ATP 1000 tournament, as well as reach world No. 1 in the ATP rankings (an achievement not held by any member of the Big Three). He reached world No. 1 after each of the Big Three,[166] though he had by that time spent 76 weeks as No. 2.[167] Murray's three Majors, two Olympic Games victories, ATP final and Davis Cup victories and his success in reaching the world no. 1 ranking, all since 2012, saw him listed more comfortably alongside the other three members during the mid-2010s.[60][168][169] His rise to reach the world No. 1 ranking in November 2016 and keep it to finish the year at the top position further helped arguments about him belonging in a "Big Four." However, the debate is still ongoing given Murray's injury-ridden exit from the tennis elite after his 2016 triumph, while the Big Three has remained at the top through the present day.[170][171][172]

"Big Five" suggestions[edit]

Additionally, it has been claimed that the current era in tennis should be seen as featuring a "Big Five", with Juan Martín del Potro,[173] Marin Čilić,[174]Stan Wawrinka[175][176][177][178]and Dominic Thiem suggested as additional expansions to the Big Three. Wawrinka is the only active player outside the Big Four to have won multiple Slam titles with three (the same number as Murray), defeating Djokovic and Nadal on the way to the 2014 Australian Open title, Federer and Djokovic to win the 2015 French Open, and Djokovic to win the 2016 US Open. He also holds a positive win-loss record in Grand Slam singles finals, winning three of four (the loss being to Nadal in the final of the 2017 French Open), as opposed to Murray who has won only three from eleven (a 27.27% strike rate). However, Wawrinka has reached seven fewer Grand Slam singles finals, has won 13 fewer Masters titles than Murray, and has peaked at only number 3 in the world rankings. Wawrinka himself has downplayed the suggestion that he be included in an expanded "Big Five", describing Murray as "well ahead" of him.[179][180]

Golden era[edit]

Some, including Steffi Graf and John McEnroe, believe the presence of the Big Four has coincided with that of a new "Golden Era" in men's tennis since 2008, wherein depth, athleticism and quality have never been better.[citation needed] The era has been compared to that of Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, Roy Emerson and John Newcombe throughout the 1960s and that of Björn Borg, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, and Ivan Lendl during the late 1970s and early 1980s.[181][182][183][184]

While Novak Djokovic himself recognizes it as a golden era,[185] Roger Federer remains skeptical. He declared in 2012:

I'd say no, but I don't know. Just because you look back maybe 15 years, then you have Sampras, Edberg, Becker, and Agassi, I don't know who else. Those guys weren't good or what? You look back, a further back, 20 years, and you have the Connors and the Lendls. Those weren't good either? I mean, I don't know. So for me I think that's respectful. It's just different times and definitely more athletic, there's no doubt about that. But then again we don't play doubles. We don't play mixed. Maybe we play less matches today because it's more taxing, but we do play less best of five set tennis than they used to play. You can't compare really, but we have somewhat of a golden era right now. I feel that truly. It's nice to see Andy making his move at the Olympics, nice to see Novak having an absolutely ridiculous year last year, and then Rafa and myself still being around. It's definitely good times. Past that you still have great champions as well. It's very interesting at the top right now, and the depth I think has never been greater than right now. But then best ever? The four of us? That's a really difficult call.

— Roger Federer, Tennis.com (2012)[186]

The term Golden Era has also been applied to other famous eras in tennis history including the mid-1970s to 1980s,[187][188][189] and the 1920s to the 1930s.[190]

Prize money[edit]

Djokovic, Federer, Nadal and Murray make up the top four prize money leaders of all time (not adjusted for inflation).[191]

Additionally, they collectively own the 10 biggest single season payouts ranging from $13.06 million to $21.15 million.

Notable matches[edit]

With a combined total of 231 matches played, the Big Four have played many notable matches against each other. The 2008 Wimbledon final, 2012 Australian Open final, 2017 Australian Open final, 2019 Wimbledon final, 2013 French open semi final and 2018 Wimbledon semi final are considered as some of the greatest tennis matches of all time.[192][193][194][195] Djokovic saved double match points against Federer at the 2010 and 2011 US Open semifinals and the 2019 Wimbledon final,[196][197] whereas Federer ended Djokovic's 43-match winning streak in the 2011 French Open semifinals.[198] The four-hour-and-fifty-minute 2012 Australian Open semifinal between Murray and Djokovic is said to have given Murray the belief he needed to match the Big Three.[199] Moreover, every Grand Slam tournament final of 2012, all played between the Big Four, holds some historical significance. The 2012 Australian Open final was the longest Grand Slam tournament final in terms of time played. The 2012 French Open saw Rafael Nadal break the record for the most titles won at the French Open, whereas Djokovic was attempting to become the first man to hold all four Majors since Rod Laver in 1969.[200] The 2012 Wimbledon final saw Federer equal the record for most Wimbledon titles when he came out victorious against Murray, who was the first British man since 1938 to appear in the final.[201] The 2012 US Open final was the equal longest final in US Open history, and Murray became the first British man since 1938 to win a Major title, and the only to do so in the Open Era.[202] He also became the only man to win Olympic Singles Gold and the US Open back-to-back.

  • 2005 French Open semifinal – Nadal defeated Federer in 4 sets on the way to winning his first Grand Slam title.
  • 2006 French Open final – Nadal thwarted Federer's bid to match Rod Laver's feat of winning all four Grand Slam titles in a row by triumphing in four sets. It was also Federer's first loss in a Grand Slam final.
  • 2006 Wimbledon final – Federer triumphed over Nadal in 4 sets to win his 4th consecutive Wimbledon title. This was Nadal's first loss at a Grand Slam final and Federer's first win over Nadal in a Grand Slam.
  • 2007 French Open final – Nadal denied Federer a second bid to complete a non-calendar year Grand Slam. This was only Federer's second loss in a Grand Slam final, and second to Nadal.
  • 2007 Wimbledon final – Federer defeated Nadal in five sets.
  • 2008 Wimbledon final – Nadal prevailed over Federer in five sets in the then-longest Wimbledon final all-time. Some consider this the greatest match in tennis history.
  • 2009 Australian Open final – Nadal beat Federer in five sets for his first hard-court Grand Slam title.
  • 2010 US Open semifinal – Djokovic beat Federer in five sets while saving two match points in the final set.
  • 2011 French Open semifinal – Federer beat Djokovic in a close four-set match that could have gone either way. It was Djokovic's first loss of the season.
  • 2011 Wimbledon final – Djokovic defeated Nadal in 4 sets to win his first Wimbledon title. This was Djokovic's first win over Nadal in a Grand slam after losing in the first 5 attempts. This is also notable for being the 5th and last Wimbledon final for Nadal to date.
  • 2011 US Open semifinal – Djokovic beat Federer in five sets while saving two match points in the final set−a repeat of the previous year's match.
  • 2012 Australian Open final – Djokovic outlasted Nadal in five sets. This is the longest Grand Slam final ever, clocking in at 5 hours and 53 minutes.
  • 2012 French Open final – Nadal bested Djokovic in four sets to win his seventh French Open title, surpassing Björn Borg's record of six.
  • 2013 French Open semifinal – Nadal beat Djokovic in five sets. It's one of two matches where Nadal was taken to the deciding set in RG.
  • 2014 Wimbledon final – Djokovic defeated Federer in five sets.
  • 2015 Wimbledon final – In a rematch of the previous final, Djokovic needed only four sets to down Federer.
  • 2017 Australian Open final – Federer beat Nadal in five sets to win his first slam in four-and-a-half years, thereby ending a six-match losing streak against Nadal at Grand Slams events.
  • 2018 Wimbledon semifinal – Djokovic, who was ranked world No. 22, defeated No. 1 Nadal in five dramatic sets to reach the final. It was his biggest win in almost two years.
  • 2019 Wimbledon final – Djokovic prevailed over Federer in a fifth-set twelve-all tiebreaker, after saving two match points in the final set, in the longest final in Wimbledon history.
  • 2021 French Open semifinal – Djokovic defeated Nadal in four dramatic sets to reach the final, ending Nadal's 33-match win streak at the tournament. It was only Nadal's third loss at Roland Garros out of 108 matches, and his second to Djokovic.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ In ATP Tour and Grand Slam main draw matches, Summer Olympics, Davis Cup and Laver Cup; Open Era tennis records
  2. ^ Not held due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  3. ^ Held as Hamburg Masters until 2008, and Madrid Masters 2009–present.
  4. ^ Held as Madrid Masters from 2002 to 2008, and Shanghai Masters 2009–present.

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