Kyle Edmund’s incredible run to the semi-finals of the Australian Open grabbed the nation’s attention and elevated him to a new level of public interest that he has never experienced before.
Arriving in Melbourne two weeks ago Edmund had never beaten a player in the world’s top-10, yet he recorded the two best victories of his career, defeating Kevin Anderson and Grigor Dimitrov as he charged into the final four.
With an aggressive style of play and a ruthless forehand, he blew away all those that stood before him, breaking into the world’s top 30 in the progress before Marin Cilic ended his dreams of glory.
He is now on the brink of overtaking the long-injured Andy Murray in the rankings and claiming the title of British number one that Murray has held since 2006.
However, Edmund’s rapid rise and the likely end of Murray’s 12-year monopoly over British tennis are indicative of a major change in the men’s game on the world stage; the fall of the ‘Big Four’ of Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, and Murray.
This proclamation may seem a bit premature considering that Nadal and Federer are still ranked number one and two in the world — having split last year’s Grand Slams evenly between themselves — while Murray and Djokovic won three out of the four Slams the year before.
Yet, as the injuries have started to catch up with these superhumans there is clear evidence that their dominance of the sport is the weakest that it has ever been. By just glancing at this week’s semi-finalists it is clear that the world game is shifting away from the ‘Big Four’, as only Federer was still flying the flag in the later stages of the tournament.
Djokovic lost in straight sets to the rising South Korean star, Hyeon Chung, Nadal had to retire from a Grand Slam match for only the second time in his career, and Murray failed to even make it onto the court due to his hip injury.
This is symptomatic of the decline which has struck the ‘Big Four’ over the last couple of years. While they have won 46 of the last 51 Grand Slams dating back to the 2005 French Open, gone are the days that they were regularly the last four standing in the biggest tournaments.
They have held the number one spot between them constantly since February 2004 but, without doubt, their most impressive days are behind them. From 2008 -2012 the ‘Big Four’ made up the top four of each of the end of year rankings and were untouchable at the pinnacle of the game. Since then, at least one has been injured or has fallen down the rankings and it now seems that the decline might be terminal.
Federer, at the age of 36, is defying his age and still winning major titles but must surely start succumbing to old Master Time at some point and will fall off in the next couple of years.
Nadal, remarkably due to his all-action style, looks like he may be able to continue for the longest. He holds the number one slot and is playing some of the best tennis of his career but his limping off in Melbourne was a worrying sign that his injury woes may be returning and could hamper him in years to come.
The youngest of the two, Murray and Djokovic, have the biggest question marks hanging over them at the moment, having cut short their 2017 season due to injury but not returning to their best this year. Djokovic’s elbow seemed to again be causing him problems in his defeat while Murray’s latest operation puts his whole season in doubt.
These great competitors have fought back too many times to be written off just yet but the signs are there that the future without the ‘Big Four’ may not be that far away.
Luckily for the game, new stars like Edmund and Chung are rising to take their place and their success this fortnight has proven that tennis will not suffer when the ‘Big Four’ call it a day, but instead become more interesting as a wider group of players fight for dominance.
Image courtesy of Tatiana