Just the same as every other sport, tennis too has some select individuals without whom the sport would not be the same. These men dictate the tournament results, are favourites as winners, have giant fan followings and are dreaded as competition by most other players. These top players are the elite of the tennis world, making a niche for themselves as champions and challengers, and providing every spectator with some incentive to stay attached to the game.
In the world of tennis, there are four such players who have made themselves prominent over the past few years. These players are collectively referred to as "the Big Four" of tennis. These four players are, in order of Association of Tennis Professionals rankings, Rafael "Rafa" Nadal, Roger "the Maestro" Federer, Novak "Nole" Djokovic and the as yet majorless Andy Murray. These four players are generally slated to stand the best chances of winning a Grand Slam in the year 2011, or as ending up as one of the top five this year. Tennis Channel analyst Justin Gimelstob commented on their standing, saying, "I still believe that the world will be dominated by Rafa, Roger, Novak, Murray...I really don't see anyone breaking through that group in the foreseeable future."
Let's take a look at these players and their claims to fame. In this first part, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer are analyzed.
1) Rafael Nadal:
This 24 year old Spanish player is currently ranked World Number 1 on the ATP rankings. He is often thought of as one of the tennis greats of all time, and is a viable contestant for GOAT (Greatest of All Time). Rafa's most notable success is achieved on clay courts, especially on Roland Garros. He is hence, known as the "King of Clay", and is also touted by analysts and experts as being the greatest player to ever grace the clay court. Rafa's signature move off the court is biting into the trophies he is awarded.
Nadal has amassed nine Grand Slam singles titles for himself, along with a Olympic Gold medal in singles which he achieved in 2008 and 18 ATP World Tour Masters 1000 trophies. Rafa was also a part of the Davis Cup team which won the finals of the tournament in 2004, 2008 and 2009. This year, he managed to complete a career Grand Slam with his victory at Flushing Meadows at the US Open. In doing so, he became the seventh player to pass this milestone, as well as the youngest player in the Open Era to accomplish such a feat. Along with the career Grand Slam, Rafa also completed a career Golden Slam, which means amassing all four of the Grand Slam trophies and an Olympic Gold Medal. He and Andre Agassi are the only two players to achieve this.
2) Roger Federer:
Federer, or the Maestro, is a Swiss tennis player who held the World Number 1 position for a record breaking 237 consecutive weeks, and a total of 285 weeks, a record itself broken only by Pete Sampras, who is one week ahead. A large majority of analysts, critics and players also consider Roger Federer to be the greatest player of all time.
Federer has collected a grand total of 16 Grand Slam singles titles, which is the highest number of Majors titles to ever be won by a male. He is one of the seven male players in tennis to have captured a career Grand Slam, and one of the only three players who have managed to win tournaments on all surfaces: clay, grass and hard. Federer's achievements include appearances in 22 Grand Slam finals, another record. He has won 4 ATP World Tour finals, and ahs also emerged as the victor in 17 ATP Master Series tournaments. He has also garnered a Gold Medal with his doubles partner, Stanislas Wawarinka, at the 2008 Olympics.
In recognition of his achievements, Roger Federer was named the Laureaus World Sportsman of the Year for four years running, from 2005 to 2008.