As Novak Djokovic awoke from a slumber that helped Ernests Gulbis steal a set in their semifinal at Roland Garros, reality began to reemerge. The Big Four’s third-most senior member closed out the Latvian interloper in four sets, then headed off the court and waited for his final opponent of the fortnight, Rafael Nadal or Andy Murray.
And with that, the supreme string quartet of tennis had clinched another Grand Slam singles title.
That was quick.
In January, Stan Wawrinka became the first player not named Djokovic, Nadal, Murray, or Roger Federer to win a major since Juan Martin del Potro beat the odds and requisite obstacles at the 2009 U.S. Open. So it was perhaps fitting that, in a French Open that saw three of the Big Four reach the final four, Wawrinka fell in the first round.
That symbolic plight, combined with the play of those three semifinalists, should convince even the most staunch contrarian that the Big Four being shut out Down Under was just a momentary stumble. Nadal looked more confident than at any point during the clay-court season, which he capped with an astounding ninth Coupe des Mousquetaires. Djokovic, facing palpable pressure, navigated through a difficult draw to reach the final. And Murray, hardly a clay sculptor -- he’s never even reached a final on his worst surface -- matched his best result at Roland Garros.
As for Federer? Don’t worry about him, he’s more concerned with his own Little Four at the moment.
Speaking of Federer, many pundits believe his best chance to win another major is at Wimbledon, which begins in less than two weeks. But maybe you don’t buy that argument, and believe that the defending champion, Murray, will give Great Britain the previously unthinkable: A back-to-back champ. Or maybe you’re feeling the 43rd installment of Nadal vs. Djokovic in the final.
None of these are far-fetched predictions, but picking anyone else to win Wimbledon is. The last time someone outside the Big Four won The Championships was in 2002, when Lleyton Hewitt defeated David Nalbandian. If there’s any tournament at which you can expect chalk to prevail, it’s the one where “chalk flew up!”, in the immortal words of John McEnroe.
But an even safer bet than Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, or Murray winning Wimbledon is the Big Four continuing to horde Grand Slam titles over the next couple of years. The three youngest in the fraternity each celebrated a birthday over the past month, but they're all under 29, with Djokovic and Murray just 27. In an era where the teenage champion is an endangered species, look for the Serb and the Scot to carry the well-lit torches originally ignited by Federer and Nadal.
Furthermore, each man in this ruling class continues to peak for the majors, and still commands intense respect from their playing peers. Take this just-concluded French Open, where Gulbis’ coach, Gunther Bresnik, admitted that the his player had “no chance” against Djokovic.
“I think he's not happy with it, but he probably agrees to a certain extent with me,” said Bresnik.
Even David Ferrer, who grinds as effectively as a pepper mill, admitted that he “threw in the towel” against Nadal in a 4-6, 6-4, 6-0, 6-1 quarterfinal loss.
Perhaps Gulbis and Ferrer should head to the tattoo parlor, along with the practice court, if they hope to emulate what Wawrinka did at the Australian Open. But even if they do, I don’t expect the ink to dry before Wimbledon.