We’ve taken part in an experience unlike any other in tennis, quite possibly one unlike any other in any sport.
It’s been 17 years of pure dominance by the Big 3. Roger Federer, the record-holder for ATP Major Championships won and resident tennis maestro, leads the 3 with 20 major championships, including 8 Wimbledon Championships. Rafael Nadal, the undisputed King of Clay, holds 12 French Open Championships and 19 major wins overall. To round out the 3, Novak Djokovic collected 17 major championships over a dominating span of fewer than 11 years. To top it all off, the Big 3 have collected 56 of the 67 major championships held since Federer’s first title in 2003. Even more so, they’ve gone on streaks of 18 and 11 straight wins without an outsider winning one (in 2005-2009 and 2010-2012), not to mention a current streak of 13.
Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic have taken over the sport unlike any other prior. Bjorn Borg collected 11 titles in his career, including 7 in just over 3 years, but a large amount of competition emerged and beat him during his 9-year span of winning majors. 10 other players, including John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, and Arthur Ashe, won majors alongside Borg from 1974-1981. A staggering 20 other players won major championships alongside Pete Sampras from 1990-2002. Federer was only accompanied by 7 other players (excluding Nadal and Djokovic) since 2003 and Nadal by only 4 since ’05.
Fans have been so accustomed to seeing either Federer, Nadal, or Djokovic winning major titles that it’s numbing. Even when it seems that their command over the sport begins to waver, whether it’s at the hands of Big 4 add-ins Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka or young stars on the rise like Dominic Thiem and Daniil Medvedev, the Big 3 still prevails. Even now, when all three players compete over the age of 32, major championships still end the same way they did 15 years ago during their primes.
The moment when one, then two, then all three retire, it’s going to be an out-of-body experience. Soon gone will be the effortless, art-like play of Roger Federer. Gone will be the relentless drive and primal attitude of Rafael Nadal. Gone will be the ever so frustrating athleticism and passion of Novak Djokovic. Soon, there will be a new King of Clay to take Nadal’s throne. Federer’s ownership of the All-England Club will be turned over. The screeches of Djokovic’s sliding shoes on hard court will be reduced to none, hopefully, to be taken up by another.
Whoever takes the reigns at the top of the tennis world, it will never be the same as the current. There will never be pure supremacy quite like that of the Big 3. It’s uncertain of how long it will be until one decides it’s time to leave the sport, but all we can do as fans, for now, is to not take any of this left for granted and be thankful we’ve been able to live and enjoy this for so long, because after all, there won’t be anything close to this again.