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Murray would've ruled tennis without Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal & Novak Djokovic, says former French player

  • Rodolphe Gilbert & Florent Serra pondered what would've happened without Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal & Novak Djokovic.
  • Federer, Nadal and Djokovic are collectively nicknamed the 'Big 3' for their stellar achievements in the sport.
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Modified 29 Jun 2020, 16:38 IST
Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic (from right to left)
Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic (from right to left)

Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, collectively called the Big 3 of men's tennis, have a plethora of 'big' records in the sport. With 20, 19 and 17 titles, the trio occupy the top three positions in the all-time Slam leaderboard.

Such has been their dominance in men's tennis over the last one and a half decades, that since Roger Federer made his Grand Slam breakthrough at Wimbledon 2003, only 15 of the subsequent 70 Grand Slam titles have eluded the Big 3.

In Masters 1000 tournaments too, Rafael Nadal (35), Novak Djokovic (34) and Roger Federer (28) are miles ahead of the next man on the list - Andre Agassi (17). Each of the three has reached the finals of all nine Masters 1000 titles on the calendar, with Novak Djokovic having won all nine.

In the first part of an episode titled "What if the Big 3 had not existed", former French players Rodolphe Gilbert and Florent Serra reflected on the impact of the three legends on tennis - while also pondering how the sport might have evolved in their absence.

When asked if erstwhile Grand Slam title leader Pete Sampras (14) would have still led the all-time charts had the Big 3 of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic not existed, Florent Serra replied in the affirmative.

"With 14 titles, he is not so far from the Big 3," Serra said. "Especially with five titles at the ATP Finals, he is in the wheels of Roger Federer (six titles) and Djokovic (five titles) and far ahead of Rafael Nadal who has never won the year-end tournament and has had little success indoors. "
"Without the Big 3 of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, the American today would probably still be the record holder of (most) Grand Slam titles with 14 that includes two in Australia, seven at Wimbledon and five at the US Open."

Serra then remarked that the slowing of surfaces over the years has allowed Rafael Nadal to succeed on surfaces outside his beloved clay.

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"I regret that Sampras is no longer a reference for certain players and above all, I find that there was unfinished business at Roland Garros where he never managed to reach the final. Note however that Pete Sampras benefited from faster surfaces than those of today. And conversely, this allowed Rafa in particular to impose his game on the grass of Wimbledon or the hard of the US Open."

Andy Murray would have been the most dominant player had the Big 3 of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic not existed: Rodolphe Gilbert

Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal
Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal

Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic's stranglehold on tennis has meant that no new Grand Slam champion has emerged since Marin Cilic beat Kei Nishikori at the 2014 US Open. The trio have swept all Grand Slam titles on offer since the 2017 Australian Open, with Rafael Nadal winning five titles, Novak Djokovic four and Roger Federer three.

Imagining how the tennis scene would have looked without the Big 3 of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, Rodolphe Gilbert opined that Andy Murray might well have been the most dominant player in the world.

"I think that without the Big 3 of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, Murray would have been at the top of the Grand Slam ranking. He was able to compete with them for almost 10 years and even dominate the Big 3 in 2016 with notably a series of 60 victories for only 3 defeats." 

Gilbert also pointed out how competing with the Big 3 of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic took a lot out of Murray, and that if he had been free of that burden he might have had a longer and more successful career.

"It also cost him the rest of his career at the physical level since since Wimbledon 2017, he has been absent from the circuit. We can't compare him to the Big 3 of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic but without the Big 3, he would have been, in my opinion, the dominant player on the circuit," said Gilbert.

Without the Big 3, there would have been another French men's singles Grand Slam champion: Rodolphe Gilbert

The Big 3 of Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal
The Big 3 of Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal

Gilbert and Serra also spoke about the French drought in Grand Slam men's singles. Yannick Noah (1983 Roland Garros) remains the only French player to win a Grand Slam men's singles title in the Open Era.

The two former players noted that although French tennis has been blessed with the likes of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Gael Monfils and Richard Gasquet, their Grand Slam ambitions have often been thwarted by one or more of the Big 3 members.

Gilbert said that without the Big 3 of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, Tsonga in particular would have won a few Grand Slam titles. The 2008 Australian Open finalist is one of very few players to have beaten Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic at Grand Slam tournaments.

"A Frenchman could have won a Grand Slam," Gilbert said. "Even more than one. The two best placed would have been Jo Tsonga and Gael Monfils. I even think that Jo could have won several." 
"Jo is one of the very few players to have beaten each member of the Big 3 in Grand Slams, notably Federer at Wimbledon, which is not bad, is it? The problem with this generation is that to win a Grand Slam, they had to beat at least two members of the Big 3 and sometimes even all three," he added. 

Serra concurred with his compatriot, opining that Gael Monfils could have perhaps won Roland Garros in 2008 - where he lost to Roger Federer in the semis.

"Without the Big 3 of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, we would have had a French winner I think, and we would stop pissing us off with this," Serra said. "I obviously think of Jo on hard but I also remember his defeat against Ferrer in 2013 in the semifinal of Roland Garros."

Serra concluded by reminding everyone that there was always the spectre of facing Rafael Nadal on the clay of Roland Garros. The Spaniard has won a record 12 titles at the tournament - the most by any singles player, male or female - in the Open Era.

"The Big 3 was not the only obstacle even if after anyway, we would have had to beat Rafa. Gael could have won a Roland without the Big 3 since in 2008 he was beaten by Roger in the semi-finals who then loses to Rafa in the final."
Published 29 Jun 2020, 16:38 IST
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