NEW YORK — For all the talk of the “Big Four” in men’s tennis, it is really the “Big Three” who maintain a stranglehold on the sport.
During a Golden Age for men’s tennis, Roger Federer (20), Rafael Nadal (17) and Novak Djokovic (13) have combined to win 50 Grand Slam men’s singles titles — including the last seven straight. The No. 50 has special significance this year because it is the 50th anniversary of the US Open.
Entering the Open, the trio has split this year’s majors, with Federer winning at the Australian Open, Nadal at the French Open and Djokovic at Wimbledon.
“You’re talking about a historic time in our sport for the past 10 years,” four-time US Open champ John McEnroe said.
The trio — all in their 30s — enter the US Open as the oddsmakers’ favorites to win the title on Sept. 9. According to Bovada, Djokovic, 31, faces odds of 9/4 to win the Open. Nadal, 32, is at 3/1 and Federer, 37, 5/1.
“You could make the case for any of the three of them that they can win this,” said Patrick McEnroe, an ESPN commentator and former Davis Cup captain. “Realistically you couldn’t make a case for anybody else. Maybe [Juan Martin] del Potro or [Marin] Cilic. Those guys have won here before. But it’s hard to make that case outside of top three that someone legitimately has a shot to win this whole thing.”
There is hope for the other 125 men in the draw, of course.
At Wimbledon, no one outside the “Big Four” of Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Andy Murray has won the title since 2002. That’s a stretch of 16 straight years of dominance.
Yet during that same span at the US Open, four men outside the “Big Four” have hoisted the trophy: Andy Roddick, the last American man to a win a Grand Slam title, in 2003; del Potro in 2009; Cilic in 2014; and Stan Wawrinka in 2016. Federer (5), Nadal (3), Djokovic (2) and Murray (1) have combined to win the other 11.
The 31-year-old Murray, who is unseeded here as he battles back from hip surgery, conceded before the tournament that it is not realistic to consider him a contender this year.
“For the last 10 years or so I’ve been coming and trying to prepare to win the event, whereas I don’t feel like that’s realistic for me this year,” Murray said. “It’s a slightly different mentality for me coming in than what I have had the last 10, 11 years of my life.”
He says the “Big Three” remain the favorites yet again.
“Right now I think the level of those guys, Roger, Rafa, Novak, is higher,” Murray said. “Once they’re fit and healthy, they’re always going to be competing for the biggest events.”
The draw, as always, will play a critical role.
Federer, the No. 2 seed who has not been the “King of Queens” since 2008, and Djokovic, the No. 6 seed and reigning Wimbledon champ, were drawn into the same quarter of the draw, meaning that only one of them can possibly reach the semifinals.
Cilic, the No. 7 seed, and Alexander Zverev, the No. 4, are also both on the bottom half of the draw.
Nadal, the defending champ who opens Monday night against fellow Spaniard David Ferrer, is sitting pretty on the top half of the draw, where he is drawn to meet del Potro in the semis.
“The draw, it is what it is, and I’ve got enough stuff to worry about anyway in the earlier rounds,” said Federer, who faces Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka in the first round Tuesday night. “My focus is the first round. Nothing else.”
Fans can dream of a final featuring either Nadal against Djokovic (for the 53rd time) or Nadal versus Federer (for a 39th meeting). Considering the latter two have met in every Grand Slam except the US Open, it would be something special if it finally happened this year when they are ranked 1-2 in the world and continue to battle for historical supremacy on the all-time majors list.
“This is the situation where the No. 1 ranking is going to be at stake,” John McEnroe said. “It’s got a lot of ramifications for where the fallout is in the future for those guys. If Rafa were to win this, he’d be closer to Roger. If Djokovic were to win, he’d be closer to Rafa. If Roger would win it at 37, he would set a new standard, add to his record of slams. This is a pretty exciting tournament for us.”
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