The Big Four and the Little Four

by thriding

Now that Andy Murray has won the US Open, the concept of the Big Four has solidified to a further degree. Over the summer Del Potro has moved from a position just beyond Tipsarevic in the rankings, to No.8, and now has a worthwhile points margin. Thus we can begin to see a Little Four, arranged behind the Big Four

Here’s the Top Ten after the US Open:

  1. Federer – 11,805
  2. Djokovic – 10,470
  3. Murray – 8,570
  4. Nadal – 7,515
  5. Ferrer – 5,915
  6. Berdych – 4,830
  7. Tsonga – 4,520
  8. Del Potro – 3,890
  9. Tipsarevic – 3,285
  10. Isner – 2,610

The Big Four

All of them have GS titles, multiple Masters titles and a large number of titles:

  1. Federer: 17 GSs, 21 Masters, 76 titles inc. 6 YECs
  2. Djokovic: 5 GSs, 12 Masters, 31 titles inc. 1 YEC plus 1 Davis Cup
  3. Murray: 1 GS, 8 Masters, 24 titles inc. Olympic Gold
  4. Nadal : 11 GSs, 21 Masters, 50 titles inc. Olympic Gold, plus 4 Davis Cups

The Little Four

Only one of these four has a GS title – Del Potro – and only two have a Masters title: Tsonga and Berdych have both won the Paris Indoor Masters. Ferrer has neither a GS nor a Masters title, but does have six ATP500 titles.

All four of these players have appeared at a YEC or GS final.

  1. Ferrer: 16 titles, inc. 6 ATP500s (also ’07 YEC final)
  2. Berdych: 7 titles, inc. 1 ATP1000 & 2 ATP500s (also ’10 Wimbledon final)
  3. Tsonga: 8 titles, inc. 1 ATP1000 & 1 ATP500 (also ’08 AO & ’11 YEC finals)
  4. Del Potro: 11 titles, inc. 1 GS and 3 ATP500s (also ’09 YEC final)

The next four beyond

Only one of the next quartet has a Masters final appearance and between them they have just 4 ATP500s (compared with 11 for the Little Four)

  1. Tipsarevic: 3 ATP250s (plus 7 ATP250s finals)
  2. Isner: 5 ATP250s (plus 1 ATP1000, 1 ATP500  & 5 ATP250 finals)
  3. Monaco: 6 titles, inc. 2 ATP500s
  4. Almagro: 12 titles, inc. 2 ATP500s

By all measurements,excepting Del Potro’s US Open title, the Big Four have placed themselves beyond the rest of the field. Similarly, we can see that the Little Four, ranked 5-8, have achievements which place them clearly above the chasing pack.

The Little Four in 2012

Ferrer

The breakdown of Ferrer’s points shows that over the last 12 months he has been very consistent. In the GSs he has reached two SFs and two QFs, and last November’s YEC made the SF. He reached the final of the Shanghai Masters and holds five titles at the moment.

  • Australian Open: QF  (l. to Djokovic)
  • French Open: SF  (l. to Nadal)
  • Wimbledon: QF (l. to Murray)
  • US Open: SF (l. to Djokovic)

In the Grand Slams he has only lost to members of the Big Four, and at RG beat Murray. At Wimbledon he beat Del Potro in straight sets.

  • Masters: F, SF, QF, QF, QF, R32 R32
  • ATP500s: Won Acapulco; finalist in Barcelona
  • ATP250s: Won Bastad, ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Buenos Aires, Auckland

All five of Ferrer’s titles have come in tournaments where he was the top seed.

It is in the Masters tournaments that he has underperformed: as well as losing to Federer, Djokovic, Murray and Nadal, he has also lost to Isner, Wawrinka, Bellucci and Istomin.

It is difficult to see anything in his record which would suggest that he’s likely to make a breakthrough at a slam, but one certainly could hope that he might transfer his consistency in slams to the Masters.

This year the indoor Paris Masters will be the week immediately before the YEC. Perhaps this will be the moment for Ferrer to win an ATP1000?

Berdych

Like Ferrer, Berdych both reached the SF of the YEC last year and was a finalist in an autumn ATP1000. His Grand Slam results are patchier than Ferrers, and his Masters record not quite as good. 

  • Australian Open: QF (l. to Nadal)
  • French Open: R16 (l. to Del Potro)
  • Wimbledon: R128 (l. to Gulbis)
  • US Open: SF (l. to Murray)
  • Masters: F, SF, SF, QF, R16, R16, R16, R16, R32
  • ATP500s: Won Beijing ’11
  • ATP250s: Won Montpellier

Losses to lower-ranked players in the last 12 months:

  • Almagro in Indian Wells
  • Dimitrov in Miami
  • Haas in Halle
  • Gasquet in Canada
  • Raonic in Cincinnati
  • Isner in Winston-Salem
  • Nishikori in Basel
  • Lopez in Shanghai

In 2012 he is 2-6 against the top 4, beating Murray in Monte Carlo and Federer last week in the US Open. To win a big tournament he will probably have to beat two higher-ranked players in a rowm, nor have lost to a low-ranked player beforehand.

His one big title, the Paris Indoor Masters, came seven years ago. He has never won more than one title in a year.

Tsonga

Tsonga finished 2011 with a flourish: he won the Vienna tournament, and reached the finals of the Paris Masters and the YEC, losing both to Federer. At the YEC he had beaten Nadal, Berdych and Fish. 

  • Australian Open: R16 (l. to Nishikori)
  • French Open: QF (l. to Djokovic)
  • Wimbledon: SF (l. to Murray)
  • US Open: R64 (l. to Klizan)
  • Masters: F, QF, QF, QF R16, 16, R32, R32
  • ATP250s: Won Doha, Vienna, Metz

In 2012 he is 0-5 against the top 4. Like Berdych he has the game to take out the members of the top 4, but on current form it difficult to imagine that he will plough through an entire draw to take a Masters, let alone a GS. He did well to reach the final of the YEC, but then Djokovic was long-spent by that stage of 2011, indoor hard court is Nadal’s worst surface by far, and Murray had a groin injury and limped through just one match.

Del Potro

Del Potro is the lowest ranked of these four players, but, unlike Berdych and Tsonga, converted his one GS final appearance, winning the 2009 US Open

  • Australian Open: QF (l. to Federer)
  • French Open: QF (l. to Federer)
  • Wimbledon: R16 (l. to Ferrer)
  • US Open: QF (l. to Djokovic)
  • Masters: SF, SF, QF, R16, R16, R32
  • ATP500s: Finalist in Rotterdam (l. to Federer)
  • ATP250s: Won Estoril, Marseille

At ATP1000s in 2012 Del Potro has only lost to a lower ranked player once: Stepanek in Toronto. That match came straight after he won the Olympic bronze medal against Djokovic; in turn that was just after losing to Federer 3-6, 7-6, 19-17. His other losses at 2012 Masters have been to Federer, Djokovic, Ferrer, Berdych and Tsonga.

His record against the top 4 in 2012 is 0-6 against Federer and 1-1 against Djokovic. That run against of six losses to Federer is interesting: it was Federer he beat in the 2009 US Open final and later that autumn he beat Federer again at the YEC. In the run-up his that US Open in the summer of 2009 he had already beaten Nadal twice and Roddick (then ranked no.5) twice: his only loss was to Murray in the Montreal final.

Clearly, if Del Potro were to regain his 2009 game, then one could expect him to rise easily over Berdych, Tsonga and Ferrer, to threaten the Big Four. It is a shame we have not seen him against Murray or Nadal in 2012. He has record against those two is 4-12; all four victories came in 2009.

It seems that Del Potro’s career could go one of two ways: he could be the next Djokovic, consolidating an early GS title with a period of dominance, or he could be the next Roddick, forever trying to follow up that one early success, but eternally frustrated by those at the very top of the game. 

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