History of Men's Tennis, 2000-2020 (Age of the Big Four)

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200px-ATP World Tour

The logo of the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), the governing body of men's tennis

The era of men's tennis between 2000 and 2020 is often lauded by many as being a golden age of men's tennis,in part because of the dominance of four players -- known as the Big Four -- and the high quality of tennis they produced and helped produced across this era. Those four players were Roger Federer of Switzerland, Rafael Nadal of Spain, Novak Djokovic of Serbia, and Andy Murray of Great Britain.

The era is considered to have begun with Roger Federer's first Grand Slam victory at the 2003 Wimbledon Championships and is considered to have ended at the 2019 US Open with Andy Murray's defeat in the finals, the last time a member of the Big Four appeared at a Slam final. During this 16 year run, the Big Four won 53 out of 61 Grand Slams and appeared in 58. Each player is considered among the greatest male tennis players of all time.

Major Figures in Men's Tennis from 2000-2020

The Big Four

The term 'Big Four' refers to the four most dominant players of this era, all of whom contributed greatly to this era being a golden age of men's tennis. As stated before, these players were Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Andy Murray.

Roger Federer

R federer

Roger Federer at the 2010 Australian Open

Roger Federer was by far the most successful of the Big Four, having won 18 Grand Slam titles and secured the ATP World No. 1 ranking on four separate occasions for a total of 314 weeks. His first Grand Slam victory came at the 2003 Wimbledon Championships in which he defeated Mark Philippoussis in straight sets. The following year, Federer won the Australian Open, Wimbledon, and US Open and secured the World No. 1 ranking for the first time, a ranking he would hold for four years until shortly after his defeat at the finals of the 2008 Wimbledon Championships against Rafael Nadal. Throughout this dominant stretch between 2004 and 2008, Federer won another 8 Grand Slam titles and three ATP World Tour Finals. His finals match against Rafael Nadal in the 2008 Wimbledon Championships is considered the greatest tennis match of all time. Federer recaptured the World no. 1 ranking the next year at the 2009 Wimbledon Championships in which he won another thrilling five set finals match, this time against Andy Roddick. He maintained the ranking until Rafael Nadal reclaimed it in June 2010.

Federer's dominance waned in the early 2010s, in part because of the rise of the other half of the Big Four, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. He won the 2010 Australian Open and lost in the finals of the 2011 French Open. The next year, however, Federer secured the no. 1 ranking for a third time after winning the 2012 Wimbledon Championships, which he maintained until Novak Djokovic recaptured the ranking a few months later. Though his abysmal 2013 season was plagued with back injuries and a couple early Grand Slam exits, Federer stormed back in 2014 and reached the finals of Wimbledon (losing to Novak Djokovic in five sets) in addition to winning the Davis Cup. His resurgence continued through 2015 where he once again reached the finals of Wimbledon and lost to Djokovic, as well as won the ATP World Tour Finals. In 2016, Federer won his record 8th Wimbledon title and 18th Grand Slam and won the gold medal at the Olympics, both of which helped him regain the No. 1 ranking for a fourth time until Novak Djokovic earned it back twelve weeks later. Federer's back injury resurfaced at the end of 2016, which -- coupled with continuing threats from rising stars on tour -- contributed to his decision to retire at the 2017 Wimbledon Championships. His final match was in the semifinals of the 2017 Wimbledon Championships, where Andy Murray dispatched the Swiss 6-4, 5-7, 6-3, 6-4. At the end of the match, a tearful Federer received a five minute standing ovation from the crowd.

Rafael Nadal

List of Grand Slam Champions

Winner (Grand Slam Number/Total Slams Won)

Player won 1 Grand Slam that year Player won 2 Grand Slams that year Player won 3 Grand Slams that year Player won 4 Grand Slams that year

Australian Open French Open Wimbledon US Open
2000 A. Agassi (6/8) G. Kuerten (2/3) P. Sampras (13/14) M. Safin (1/2)
2001 A. Agassi (7/8) G. Kuerten (3/3) G. Ivanisevic (1/1) L. Hewitt (1/2)
2002 T. Johansson (1/1) A. Costa (1/1) L. Hewitt (2/2) P. Sampras (14/14)
2003 A. Agassi (8/8) J. Carlos Ferrero (1/1) R. Federer (1/18) A. Roddick (1/1)
2004 R. Federer (2/18) G. Gaudio (1/1) R. Federer (3/18) R. Federer (4/18)
2005 M. Safin (2/2) R. Nadal (1/16) R. Federer (5/18) R. Federer (6/18)
2006 R. Federer (7/18) R. Nadal (2/16) R. Federer (8/18) R. Federer (9/18)
2007 R. Federer (10/18) R. Nadal (3/16) R. Federer (11/18) R. Federer (12/18)
2008 N. Djokovic (1/12) R. Nadal (4/16) R. Nadal (5/16) R. Federer (13/18)
2009 R. Nadal (6/16) R. Federer (14/18) R. Federer (15/18) J. Martin Del Potro (1/1)
2010 R. Federer (16/18) R. Nadal (7/16) R. Nadal (8/16) R. Nadal (9/16)
2011 N. Djokovic (2/12) R. Nadal (10/16) N. Djokovic (3/12) N. Djokovic (4/12)
2012 N. Djokovic (5/12) R. Nadal (11/16) R. Federer (17/18) A. Murray (1/7)
2013 N. Djokovic (6/12) R. Nadal (12/16) A. Murray (2/7) R. Nadal (13/16)
2014 S. Wawrinka (1/2) R. Nadal (14/16) N. Djokovic (7/12) M. Cilic (1/1)
2015 N. Djokovic (8/12) S. Wawrinka (2/2) N. Djokovic (9/12) A. Murray (3/7)
2016 N. Djokovic (10/12) R. Nadal (15/16) R. Federer (18/18) N. Djokovic (11/12)
2017 A. Murray (4/7) R. Nadal (16/16) A. Murray (5/7) K. Nishikori (1/6)
2018 D. Thiem (1/4) K. Nishikori (2/6) A. Murray (6/7) M. Raonic (1/2)
2019 A. Murray (7/7) K. Nishikori (3/6) N. Djokovic (12/12) N. Kyrgios (1/1)
2020 M. Raonic (2/2) D. Thiem (2/4) G. Dimitrov (1/3) K. Nishikori (4/6)

List of Men Ranked World No. 1, 2000-2020

Order Name Start Date End Date No. of Weeks (No. in Career)
1 Andre Agassi 13 September 1999 10 September 2000 52 (87)
2 Pete Sampras 11 September 1999 19 November 2000 10 (286)
3 Marat Safin 20 November 2000 3 December 2000 2 (2)
4 Gustavo Kuerten 4 December 2000 28 January 2001 8 (8)
Marat Safin 29 January 2001 25 February 2001 4 (6)
Gustavo Kuerten 26 February 2001 1 April 2001 5 (13)
Marat Safin 2 April 2001 22 April 2001 3 (9)
Gustavo Kuerten 23 April 2001 18 November 2001 30 (43)
5 Lleyton Hewitt 19 November 2001 27 April 2003 75 (75)
Andre Agassi 28 April 2003 11 May 2003 2 (89)
Lleyton Hewitt 12 May 2003 15 June 2003 5 (80)
Andre Agassi 16 June 2003 7 September 2003 12 (101)
6 Juan Carlos Ferrero 8 September 2003 2 November 2003 8 (8)
7 Andy Roddick 3 November 2003 1 February 2004 13 (13)
8 Roger Federer 2 February 2004 17 August 2008 237 (237)
9 Rafael Nadal 18 August 2008 5 July 2009 46 (46)
Roger Federer 6 July 2009 6 June 2010 48 (285)
Rafael Nadal 7 June 2010 3 July 2011 56 (102)
10 Novak Djokovic 4 July 2011 8 July 2012 53 (53)
Roger Federer 9 July 2012 4 November 2012 17 (302)
Novak Djokovic 5 November 2012 6 October 2013 48 (101)
Rafael Nadal 7 October 2013 6 July 2014 39 (141)
Novak Djokovic 7 July 2014 21 August 2016 110 (211)
Roger Federer 22 August 2016 13 November 2016 12 (314)
Novak Djokovic 14 November 2016 5 February 2017 11 (222)
11 Andy Murray 6 February 2017 10 September 2017 30 (30)
12 Kei Nishikori 11 September 2017 8 July 2018 42 (42)
Andy Murray 9 July 2018 7 July 2019 51 (81)
Novak Djokovic 8 July 2019 17 November 2019 18 (240)
Kei Nishikori 18 November 2019 2 May 2021 75 (117)

Notable Matches

1. 2008 Wimbledon Final

Roger Federer 4 4 7 (7) 7 (10) 7
Rafael Nadal 6 6 6 (5) 6 (8) 9

Considered by many as being the greatest match of all time, the 2008 Wimbledon finals pitted the world's two most dominant players at the time, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Nadal notched the first two sets 6-4 6-4 and was down 4-5 in the third set when a rain delay stopped the match for 80 minutes. When play resumed, Federer fought his way back to even the match and won both the third and fourth sets in tiebreakers. The fact that Federer won both these sets in tiebreaks presented an ominously daunting task: because the Wimbledon Championships do not play fifth set tiebreaks, Federer had to break the Spaniard's serve or wear him down as the set continued indefinitely in order to win. Federer came within a break point of accomplishing this task and two points from clinching the match, but Nadal pushed back to hold serve. Ultimately, Nadal prevailed 9 games to Federer's 7 and clinched the championship. Nadal's victory not only helped him secure the world no. 1 ranking in the following weeks, but also facilitated the end of Federer's reign as the sole dominant force on tour which itself allowed for the rise of the Big Four throughout the next three years.

2. 2016 French Open Final

Rafael Nadal 4 5 7 6 7 (12)
Novak Djokovic 6 7 5 3 6 (10)

The 2016 French Open final is regarded as one of the greatest and most pivotal matches in the rivalry between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. Nadal, previously mentioned as being nicknamed the King of Clay, was recovering from an awful 2015 season in which he failed to win any Slams and sunk to no. 10 in the rankings. Djokovic, on the other hand, was still continuing one of his most dominant streaks of his entire career, having played in all four Slam finals in 2015 and maintained the no. 1 ranking for almost two years. He came close to rectifying his main career blemish in 2015 -- not winning the French Open and becoming the eighth man to win all four Grand Slams -- but lost in the finals to Stan Wawrinka. Hence, both Nadal and Djokovic had a lot riding on the 2016 French Open finals -- Nadal had his resurgence as reestablishment as the King of Clay, while Djokovic had his career slam on the line. Djokovic, considered the favorite for the title, battled out the beginning of the match and won the first two sets 6-4 7-5, and was serving at 5-4 in the third set before Nadal stormed back and won the set 7-5. Djokovic appeared rattled by Nadal's resilience and made numerous errors, double faults, and unforced errors, allowing Nadal to dominate the set en route to a 6-3 fourth set victory. In the final set, however, Djokovic managed to regroup. Both men duked out a slew of double digit shot rallies as each struggled, and ultimately failed, to break the other's serve, resulting in a fifth set tiebreak. The tiebreak saw much of the same struggles seen throughout the set, but Djokovic appeared as though he were gaining control, which culminated at him serving match point with 6 points to Nadal's 5. Nadal, however, still did not surrender, and saved three more championship points before grabbing his own match point while serving at 11 points to Djokovic's 10, at which point a 14-shot rally ended with Nadal firing a cross-court winner to clinch the match and his 10th French Open title. The victory marked Nadal's comeback streak in which he climbed back to the top 5 in the rankings and secured his legacy as the greatest clay court player in history. This would be Djokovic's last appearance at the French Open finals, as he suffered a string of semifinal and quarterfinal defeats throughout the remainder of his career.

3. 2014 US Open Final

Kei Nishikori 3 3 3
Marin Cilic 6 6 6

The 2014 US Open final was a shocker to many because the two favorites for the title -- Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer -- not just lost in the semifinals, but lost to players who had never reached a Slam final before. 14th-seeded Marin Cilic defeated 5-time champion Federer in straight sets while 10th-seeded Kei Nishikori overcame Djokovic in four sets. While the finals itself was largely uneventful, in which Cilic prevailed over Nishikori in straight sets with relative ease, the most significant part of this match was that it interrupted a nearly ten year streak of Big Four finals appearances, meaning that at least one member of the Big Four had appeared in a Slam final every year since the 2005 French Open. It is for this reason that the 2014 US Open is considered the beginning of the twilight years for the Big Four, as their dominance began to falter and non-Big Four players began to take control of the tour. The US Open was also future world no. 1 Kei Nishikori's first slam final appearance out of 11, but because of injuries and health problems, Nishikori would not make another appearance until 2017, though he was still a continuing threat on tour during that time. Cilic faded back into relative obscurity after the match and his best Slam showing since his victory was the semifinals of the 2016 Australian Open, where he lost in straight sets to Andy Murray. He retired in 2019 amidst health concerns.

4. 2020 French Open Quarterfinals

Andy Murray 6 6 5 6
Novak Djokovic 3 4 7 4

The 2020 French Open quarterfinals match between Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic was, like the 2014 US Open finals, noteable not because of the match itself but because of its aftermath. This time, the aftermath wasn't the beginning of the twilight years of the Big Four, but its end. The match was the final meeting between any members of the Big Four as Novak Djokovic announced his intentions to retire at the conclusion of the tournament, leaving Murray the final Big Four player on tour since Roger Federer retired in 2017 and Rafael Nadal in 2018. While Djokovic did manage to wrestle the third set from Murray, the match was largely dominated by Murray, who managed to convert 4/6 break points and clinched the match in under two hours. At the end of the match, Djokovic was given a standing ovation akin to the one Federer received at Wimbledon three years prior. Murray would go on to lose in the semifinals to two-time defending champion Kei Nishikori, and would retire the following year. 

5.2016 ATP World Tour Finals Championship

Novak Djokovic 7 4 7
Roger Federer 5 6 5

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