DUBLIN, Ireland—It’s 20 after nine in the morning here at my connecting point to Wimbledon, where I’ll be spending the next two weeks writing about Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Roger Federer, and Rafael Nadal. In other words, I will be covering The Big Fourtnight.
The idea for this blog came to me earlier this year, partly because I love portmanteaus and the "Before & After" category on Wheel of Fortune. But I was also counting on the Big Four’s play to back up my play-on word, and they didn’t disappoint, winning every Grand Slam and Masters tournament held so far in 2013. They’ve now won 32 of the last 33 Grand Slam titles and, by my count, 64 of the last 77 regular-season Masters titles. By almost any measure, their dominance is as thorough as ever.
But the Big Four’s supremacy goes beyond numbers, even though as a group they are identified with one. Consider the reverence they receive in the press room, not only from journalists, but from their contemporaries on tour, who likewise refer to them as a collective. Or the (rightful) backlash the All England Club is receiving for its decision to leave Nadal—who may very well end the year ranked No. 1—seeded No. 5, and how much we are elevating Djokovic’s chances because of his fortunate draw. Yes, it’s part of the bracketology so many of us love, but it’s more a reflection of how widely accepted it is that the Big Four is the undisputed and unrivaled ruling class of men’s tennis.
Winning Wimbledon is always a significant achievement, and that’s going to be doubly true if one of the Big Four takes home this years’ title. For Murray, England’s Scottish hope, the reasons should be obvious. A Federer title defense would mark yet another time in his career—each more impressive than the last—that he reminded us of how silly we are for dismissing his chances. Should Djokovic win his second Wimbledon, he’d be at seven Slams, joining John McEnroe and Mats Wilander on the all-time list with years left in his prime. And if Nadal does the Chunnel double for the third time? We might be witnessing his greatest season ever, despite him missing its first two months.
And yet, despite all that, the Big Four as we know it may be showing signs of wear. Nadal’s knees will forever be the elephant in the room, even though the injury seems in the distant past at the moment. (And yes, he’s not in the ATP Top 4 at the moment, but I’m making an exception—David Ferrer said it was OK.) Then there’s his foil Federer. What if he fails to defend his championship points in two weeks' time? The soon-to-be 32-year-old could take a tumble in the rankings, and should he fall to, say, Nadal in the quarterfinals, it could be a substantial—and perhaps permanent?—drop. It wasn’t long ago that Federer’s year-to-date points standings wouldn’t have been enough to secure him entry into the ATP World Tour Finals, the showcase of the tour’s Top 8! Sources tell me the ATP will expand the round-robin field to 16 if that holds true come October.
But it’s wrong to pick on Federer just because he’s the elder statesman of this council. The grip this group has on tennis can disappear, and suddenly—it happens all the time to sports dynasties. It seems unlikely, but really, how long can Murafedjok continue to hold their competition at bay? It’s not like Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (a two-time defending semifinalist), Tomas Berdych (a finalist in 2010, the same year he beat Federer and Djokovic), or Juan Martin del Potro (who lost a heartbreaking, 19-17 in-the-third match to Federer in last year’s Olympics at Wimbledon) aren’t capable of putting together a title run. But after such an extended Big Four chokehold, it would be foolish to say anything other than: I’ll believe it when I see it.
It’s for all these reasons that I’ve decided to follow the Big Four at Wimbledon with The Big Fourtnight blog. It will include Racquet Reactions of this esteemed quartet’s matches, quick highlights of their press conferences, thoughts on how they are progressing, thoughts on how they are dressing, and any other behind-the-scenes info I can dig up on this fearsome foursome in Wimbledon Village. I saw Djokovic’s coach, Marian Vajda, out for breakfast three years ago at Le Pain Quotidien in SW19; maybe Nole will be there this year? I’ll even settle for his portable poodle, Pierre.
So why start my dispatches in the land of world No. 248, James McGee? Well, to me it feels like 20 after four in the morning, the time back home in New York. There’s no rest to be had here, just like on the plane ride over. And for someone who’s been the writer cliché—clicking away on a laptop at Starbuck’s, sipping his coffee—I will take this rare opportunity to pen my thoughts with a proper Guinness at arm’s length.
So without further ado, here’s to The Big Fourtnight! I hope you'll join me.