Last Sunday, on a mild New York evening exactly fifteen years on from the horrors of the 9/11 attacks, the eyes of the city, and of the world of tennis, turned on one match; a match that might just have shaken up the hierarchy at the top of the men’s game. On one side of the net was Novak Djokovic, the world number one, defending champion at Flushing Meadows, and without doubt the first among equals in the ubiquitous ‘Big Four’ – himself, Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. On the other, Stan Wawrinka, the Swiss Rottweiler who’s been snapping at the heels of this all-conquering quarter for the last half-decade. Not always sharp, not always consistent, but one of the best we’ve seen when playing his very best tennis, not to mention a two time Grand Slam champion, undefeated when he’s reached the finals of the sport’s biggest competitions.
When Djokovic went into a three game lead early doors, it looked like it could be one of those nights for the Swiss, but the world number five fought back tenaciously to take that first set to a tie break. Though it was one he lost, it was a sign of things to come in terms of the competitiveness of the fixture. Wawrinka won the next set a little more comfortably than the 6-4 scoreline suggests for parity at one set each, but it was the third set that really would have had fans on the edge of their seats. Wawrinka put himself straight into a 3-0 lead before Djokovic fired off three straight games to level things. From then on an epic tussle in which the Swiss’ epic backhand was seen to full effect, assisted by some of the double faulting from Nole which has been a weakness of his throughout the tournament, saw Wawrinka move ahead on sets for the first time.
From then on, the result felt something of a forgone conclusion, even if Wawrinka did squander one Championship Point on serve before finally getting the job done 6-3 in the final set. The victory was an emotional one for him, another milestone in an illustrious career than puts him just a Wimbledon title away from a ‘career slam’. But that doesn’t tell half the story. It’s now four years since Federer has won a Grand Slam title, and two and a half since Nadal’s victory in the Roland Garros. Wawrinka triumphed at the same competition twelve months later, meaning he’s now won two Slams in the same time Federer and Nadal haven’t won any. In fact, in the last four years, whilst Djokovic has dominated the men’s game with seven Major titles, Wawrinka is tied second with Nadal on three, ahead of Murray on two, with the other having been picked up by Marin Cilic. Wawrinka is also a comfortable third in both the world and tour rankings, behind only Djokovic and Murray, showing the consistency he has been playing with not only on the big stage but at all levels of the game. All this considered, surely the time has come to accept we’re living in a post-‘Big Four’ world. Whether it has been succeeded by a Big Three, Four, Five or just a much more level playing field is what remains to be seen.
Photo: The Associated Press