Tennis is now experiencing its most dramatic changing of the guard. For the better part of the past decade, the men’s tour has been dominated by Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Andy Murray, otherwise known as the sport’s Big Four. For years, Federer and Nadal teetered back and forth as tennis’ top two and created a sports rivalry for the ages. Djokovic broke through their mold as a young gun and has been untouchable in recent years, while Murray has been on the cusp of greatness but unable to dethrone his competitors. That is until now.
Murray, a three time Major champion and two time Olympic gold medalist, finally clinched the No. 1 ranking after spending years in the shadows of greats. The achievement came following a semifinal walkover win at the Paris Masters tournament. Murray, 29, also took home the trophy after defeating American John Isner 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-4 in Paris, increasing his current winning streak to 19 matches coming into this week’s year-end ATP World Tour Finals in London.
More noteworthy than Murray’s ascent to the top of the game is Federer’s fall. The Swiss legend has dropped to the 16th spot in the latest rankings, marking the first time in 14 years that he has not sat within the top 10. The 17-time Major champ has spent most of 2016 sidelined with a knee injury following the Australian Open in January. He did not play the French Open for the first time since 1998, causing many to wonder if he would have a presence on the court for the rest of the season. Federer returned to the game for Wimbledon and made a run to the semifinals that reminded fans never to doubt him, especially on his favorite surface. However, following his semifinal loss to Milos Raonic, Federer announced he would miss the remainder of the season–including the Rio Olympics and U.S. Open–to recover from his knee injury.
At 35, Federer remains unfazed by the aging process and has been vocal about his plans to remain on tour for several more years before retiring. He has been targeting his return to tennis for the start of the 2017 season, often sharing his training progress with fans.
For Djokovic and Nadal, health is also the key ingredient to continued success. Nadal has spent much of the year battling a wrist injury, which forced him to withdraw from both the French and U.S. Open. He remains in the top 10 at no. 8, but has an uphill climb to become dominant again and win another Major to put him just two titles behind Federer’s record. With 12 Grand Slams to his name already, Djokovic could very well surpass both Nadal and Federer but will need to rediscover the form that propelled him to the top of the sport.
Djokovic, who is among the eight players in the ATP World Tour Finals field, has the chance to reclaim the top ranking from Murray depending on his performance in the season’s last tournament. He has experience on his side as a four-time champ while Murray has yet to reach the final, but has been in a slump that proves difficult to get out of. After winning this year’s French Open and completing a career Grand Slam, Djokovic has fallen short in big matches and not at the caliber of play he is capable of.
The 2016 season has been chock-full of dramatic moments, but the way it comes to a close could prove to be the most interesting one yet.