Ever since 2005, 12 years ago, when Federer and Nadal started to dominate their respective slams, these prestigious tournaments have been more or less predictable. Nadal and Federer have been the more or less undisputed masters of the game. There have been paradigm shifts and exceptions of course.
In the 2008 Australian Open, Novak Djokovic appeared as a serious challenger to the hegemony of “Fedal”. Murray consistently made some good results which marked him as the fourth wheel of the Big 4. Del Potro won the US open 2009 but his wrists were too fragile for him to become a main stay at the top. Robin Söderling looked close to a French Open title with his big hitting until mononucleosis cut his career way too short.
To summarize, 2005-2008 was the era of the Big 2 (Federer and Nadal of course) and 2008-2013 was roughly the era of the Big 4, obviously Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, and Murray. Although this era facilitated a peak quality of tennis not seen before in encounters such as the 2008 Wimbledon final and the 2012 Australian Open final, arguably the two greatest matches of all time, this era also ensured a predictability that sometimes caused a bit of boredom. For many years, one could trust at least Federer or Nadal to be in the final and win. Not only could you often predict the winner, but you could predict the semifinalists as well. Guess who they were? None other than the Big Four.
This era saw some of the most amazing tennis and rivalries that the sport has ever seen. However, if one wasn’t a particularly big fan of anyone of the “Big 4”, it wasn’t extremely exciting. For example, me myself, I loved the unpredictable nature of the runs of Baghdatis in 2006 or of Gonzalez in 2007, or the various Masters and WTF runs of people like Nalbandian and Davydenko — players who didn’t have what it took to outplay the greatest of all time in slams, but could occasionally school them in the best of 3 tournaments.
Wimbledon 2013 — Greatest/Weirdest Tournament Ever?
For every one of us who had grown tired of the hegemony of the big players, Wimbledon 2013 was a relief. It showed that Federer and Nadal could be defeated. Darcis, a literal journeyman, absurdly taking out a possibly injured Rafa, a peaking Stakhovsky serve and volleying out Federer, leaving the tournament open for Djokovic, Murray or anyone else with the guts to go for it.
Another first week curiosity was Lleyton Hewitt beating Wawrinka in the first round, which was an epic redemption for the guy who had been a slam champion and world number one 12 years ago. His draw looked wide open, and many thought he was primed for a good run, maybe even to the semis as Darcis had taken out Nadal who was in Hewitt’s quarter of the draw, but then, seemingly out of nowhere appeared a Jamaican trick shot king. Dustin Brown took out Hewitt and made his name heard.
Janowicz, who nowadays is a literal joke, with infinite dropshots made the semis. Lukas Kubot, another Pole, made the quarters against his countryman but lost, embracing in a very cute hug with Janowicz after the match. Juan-Martin del Potro played two epic matches, first against Ferrer in the quarters where he was slightly injured but still ballbashed his way to victory, and then in the semi against Novak, five sets and an all-time great match, showing the potential that a healthy Delpo had, something we had already seen in that 2009 US Open final.
The final was not that exciting as a non-Brit, although you had to feel happy for Murray. The first British male to win Wimbledon in 77 years, doing it in straight sets after being denied just one year prior. He would go on to win it again just three years later, along with two consecutive Olympic gold medals.
No More First Week Formalities
No longer was the first week a formality. Verdasco, Del Potro, and Janowicz all could have won it. It was a turning point in tennis away from the dictatorship of the Big 2 and especially the Big 4 and towards a new era of tennis, an era where the Big 4 weren’t invulnerable, an era where tennis contained an element of uncertainty that had been sorely missed since 2005 when Federer began dominating.
What caused this momentous change? Federer and Nadal were aging and unlucky. However, the main culprit, I believe, was the surface. The fast, low bouncing grass gives the top players no time to adjust. It gives them less time to react to the shot making or volleying of lower ranked players. The grass at Wimbledon reduces the advantage of the established great players and their skills at adapting and gives advantage to whoever happens to be striking the ball the best that day.
Wimbledon is known for its plentiful upsets, more so than any other Grand Slam, although this year’s Australian Open certainly came as a shock. This variety, this venture away from the usual contenders provides for a refreshing change, and we could see the very same thing happen this year as well, although probably not in the same magnitude as that Wimbledon 2013.