I promised a look at the recent shape of the top of the ATP and WTA worlds, so here we go. A little light stats analysis to get everyone primed for the weekend.
I'm going to show you two tables, listing the semifinalists in the Grand Slams for the years 2008-2011. First, the men:
(SF 1 and SF 2 don't refer to the order in which the semi finals were played, nor the seedings of the players. They're labels for convenience).
In the past 16 ATP GS semi finals, Federer has appeared 13 times, Nadal 12 times (did not enter Wimbledon 2009), Djokovic 10 times, and Murray 8 times.
The next most successful player (in terms of reaching the SF stage) is Tsonga, who got there 3 times: Del Potro, Soderling, Roddick and Berdych each made the SF stage twice. 10 players made just one appearance (none of these made it to a final in this period, although Safin has two earlier titles and a final to his credit).
For the WTA over the same period of time, this is what we see:
Serena Williams tops the list with 8 appearances - and bear in mind that she didn't compete at USO 2010, AO 2011 and RG 2011. Dinara Safina and Elena Dementieva have been to the SF stage 5 times, with no titles between them: Zvonareva, Wozniacki and Jankovic are one behind, also with no trophies. Five women (Sharapova, Clijsters, Li, Stosur and Venus Williams) each reached the last four on three occasions.
Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray took 43 of the 64 available SF slots. You need 11 WTA players before you've filled two-thirds of the WTA SF slots, and only Serena Williams in the WTA was as consistently successful as Andy Murray has been since the start of 2008.
Andy Murray has been undeniably successful at the Masters 1000 level, but losing each of the three Major finals he's contended is the usual reason given by those who'd exclude him from Big 4 status. But the record shows that he's head and shoulders ahead of the next ATP player behind him, and at least part of the reason Murray doesn't have a Major title to his name is that he's 1 of 5 in semi finals against Nadal, including 3 straight losses this year.
On the WTA side, I'd argue that the last four years have been Serena Williams and a supporting cast. The ATP has had headline rivalries: first Federer-Nadal, then in 2011 Djokovic-Nadal. None of Serena's opponents have been consistent enough to act as a true rival, as her sister Venus was at the start of the last decade, and Justine Henin was in the mid 2000s.
Like Andy Murray, Caroline Wozniacki is often criticized by reporters for failing to land a first GS title. At 21, Wozniacki is younger than Murray, who's now 24, and she broke into the top tier a year after Murray did (2009 vs 2008). Since her breakthrough at the 2009 US Open, Wozniacki has reached 3 SFs out of 8 - respectable, but not by any means near automatic.
If you're an ATP player, you know you'll see one of Djokovic, Nadal, Murray or Federer in your quarter of the draw when it comes out, and the odds are that you'll have to go through one of them to make the semis. If you're a WTA hopeful, seeing Serena Williams in your section of the draw will likely get your pulse rate up a couple of notches. If you have a laptop and a statistical bent, seeing another high ranking seed won't have you checking your favorite airline timetable for an early flight out.