By Mitch Phillips
LONDON (Reuters) – As the Wimbledon women’s quarter-finals take place on Tuesday without any of the top six seeds, the men’s competition has a far more familiar look with the “Big Three” not only safely through but, in most cases, barely breaking sweat.
For many fans this “famine or feast” has left them somewhat confused. Everyone loves the excitement of a new name crashing the party, which is why 15-year-old Coco Gauff was so popular. But they also want to believe they are seeing the best in the sport when it gets to the sharp end – which, with the exception of Serena Williams and former world number one Simona Halep, does not seem to be the case on the women’s side.
They also want to get a glimpse of the holy trinity – Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic. But even these players’ biggest supporters are crying out for someone to make a sustained assault on their utter strangulation of the men’s game, something that only Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka have managed in the last 15 years.
The three men sit proudly on top of the Grand Slam winners’ chart, with Federer on 20, Nadal 18 and Djokovic 15. Between them they have scooped up an incredible 53 of the last 64 grand slam titles and, with only one other top-20 seed into the quarter-finals, look certain to add another on Sunday.
Murray and Wawrinka briefly pushed the door ajar, each winning three titles, but they have both fallen by the wayside. Five others have had their moment in the sun by hoisting a Grand Slam trophy, but all failed to manage a second title.
Instead, the Big Three continue to defy all sporting norms by not only continuing to win the biggest prizes, but seemingly maintaining the gap in quality between them and the chasing pack, despite playing at ages when many would contemplate winding down on the seniors’ tour.
In Monday’s fourth round matches, when in theory the quality of opposition should be challenging, they all swept to three-set victories. Nadal (33) and Djokovic (32) did not face a single break point, while Federer (37) faced one. In the tournament so far each man has dropped one set. Federer has been broken twice in four matches, Nadal three times and Djokovic four times.
Trying to establish why nobody has been able to challenge their hegemony has been a discussion theme in the game for years. In his early career Murray came to realise that he was physically unable to compete and set about a fitness regime that eventually meant he could stand toe to toe with the big guns through tough five-setters.
That, though, seems something of an exception as some coaches and pundits suggest the “younger generation” – albeit men now in their mid and late-20s – lack the motivation to train to the levels necessary.
Asked on Monday about the dominance, Federer, who turns 38 next month, said the three men had learnt how to navigate a two-week tournament. “The best guys now are fully engaged, they know exactly what to expect from the court and the conditions,” he said.
“With experience, we haven’t dropped much energy in any way. It’s not like we’re coming in with an empty tank into the second week. All these little things help us to then really thrive.”
Djokovic, who made it his life’s goal to reach a level of fitness that enabled him to challenge the other two, said the trio’s aura probably helped, but that the most basic explanation was more prosaic.
“The confidence, everything that we have achieved in our careers obviously we carry onto the court, then most of the other players feel that pressure, while we are comfortable on the centre stage,” he said.
“After that, it takes hours of training, preparation, recovery. It’s a lifestyle really. Dedication truly pays off. I guess each one of us top three guys is different, but I think we share that in common, that we just love the game and we are very dedicated to it.”
(Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Clare Lovell)