The only certain thing about being world number one is that the day will come when you will no longer be world number one. Climbing to the summit is frequently an easier task in tennis than defending your splendid isolation as the best in the world. Currently, there are four players on the scene who have scaled the heights and stood on the top of the tennis’s peak. Two are looking to build a legacy and two are looking for one last taste of triumph.
Andy Murray has won 20 matches in a row and has now passed a possibly-injured Novak Djokovic to become world No1.
Since April he’s been on a run of superiority that has resulted in his first French Open final, a second Wimbledon title, a second Olympic singles gold medal and he’s currently the 11/8 favourite to win the ATP World Tour Finals. Murray’s hot streak surely makes him one of the safer options for those looking to place their bets on the tour finals, as he looks to redeem himself after falling at the group stages in 2015.
The season-long rampage means that at the age of 29 he has elevated himself into a position of dominance that many people never predicted he could achieve. He is now one of only 26 players to claw themselves to the top and be listed as numero uno of the Association of Tennis Professionals.
The fact that Murray has managed to become number one while three former holders of the top spot, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, are still active and hungry for accolades seems to make it even more of an achievement.
“Federer” (CC BY 2.0) by swampa
Now 35 years old, Federer was ranked No. 1 for a record 237 consecutive weeks beginning in February 2004.
His era of true domination ended in February 2010 when he was 28 years old. The Swiss genius had achieved 16 major titles and at that time crossed the threshold of 850 career matches.
The 17th and possibly final major came in 2012 when Federer beat Djokovic in the Wimbledon semi-finals and bettered Murray in the final to return to the top of the world rankings list.
Back and knee injuries have effectively sabotaged his tournament success rate since then, although there have been other accomplishments such as becoming only the third man in the Open Era to have 1000 or more wins.
Realistically, his last hopes of winning another major evaporated following his five-set Wimbledon semi-final defeat to the upcoming Milos Raonic.
He’s been a fine champion, and a champion who has proved time and time again that writing him off is a foolish mistake, but it’s hard to see a pathway back to the top for the Swiss legend.
“Rafael Nadal” (CC BY 2.0) by ciccontetanya
Rafael Nadal was a great rival to Federer and seemed destined to be the greatest player of his generation after lifting his 13th major at the 2013 U.S. Open.
At the Australian Open in 2014, he defeated Roger Federer for a sixth consecutive time to reach his third Australian Open final, enhancing his career record against Federer to 23–10.
This was Nadal’s 19th Major final, tying him with Murray’s coach Ivan Lendl for second all-time and just behind Federer’s incredible 24 major final appearances.
The final seemed a sure thing, with Nadal facing Stanislas Wawrinka, against whom he entered the match with a 12–0 record, having won all of their previous 26 sets. After losing the first set, Nadal suffered a back injury down 2–0 in the second set, and although he won a set, he lost the match in four sets.
It was the beginning of the end for Nadal, although he put in a Herculean effort to win the 2014 French Open and tie with the magnificent Pete Sampras with 14 career majors.
After recently suffering a wrist injury, you wonder what part of his body will renounce the fight next and, like Federer, it would be foolish to write-off someone so talented, but his latest injury appears to be the final straw for a stellar career at the top.
“Novak Djokovic” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by theglobalpanorama
At 29 years-old he’s far from finished, but there are perturbing indications the Serbian will find it a difficult journey back to the top.
Djokovic’s 2015 is perhaps the greatest single season ever. The Serb won 11 tournaments, three grand slams, was runner-up at the French Open and finished with a win-loss record of 82-6.
It could be argued that Federer’s 2006 was better when the Swiss won three slams, 12 tournaments and finished with a win-loss record of 92-5. But using the Elo Ranking System, the standard of competition was much higher for Djokovic’s standout year.
His dominance is clearly under siege and he has failed to shake off the injuries that spoiled his 2016. We can only speculate, but if it is a chronic wrist injury, then Djokovic is undoubtedly in trouble and will fail in his bid to surpass Federer’s major wins record.
If, as expected, the problem is not serious, then we can expect a serious challenge to Murray’s number one status in 2017.
The only other consideration is if this dip in form is an inevitable mental and emotional comedown after his Grand Slam. If that is the case, then all bets are off and no one can predict when one of the greatest will be back to being invincible again.
Nothing is guaranteed in sport but, at 29 and with a few years left to build on his current dominance this could be Murray’s time to make hay. He’s behind Federer, Nadal and Djokovic, in terms of the aura of tennis greatness and they might just surprise us and make a last bid for triumph.