Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are widely known as the Big 3 of men’s tennis. Andy Murray is often added in as a member of this elite group, making it a Big 4. We recently saw them together for Federer’s farewell at the Laver Cup. But where was Federer’s fellow Swiss, the dynamic ball blaster Stanislas “Stan” Wawrinka? If grand slams are the greatest indicator of achievement in men’s tennis, then should we make it a Big 5 and add Wawrinka to the group?
Tennis is a story of matchups and we see this play out in the rivalries between the greats. Federer was dominating until he faced Nadal and his punishing topspin forehand. Nadal was peaking until Djokovic emerged. Djokovic hasn’t really been troubled by too many players in his career, but one of those players is Stan Wawrinka.
Djokovic holds a comfortable 20-6 head to head advantage over the Swiss, but things get a little more interesting when you look at just the Grand Slams, where they are tied at 4-4. Of his 4 victories, Djokovic has had to go to 5 sets 3 times, with the other win coming courtesy of a Wawrinka retirement. On the other hand Wawrinka has beaten Djokovic at 3 of the 4 slams, twice in 4 sets and once due to a Djokovic retirement.
He famously blasted Djokovic off the court in the 2015 Roland Garros Final, where the Serbian simply had no answers for Wawrinka’s sublime shotmaking, which put an end to Djokovic’s quest for the career grand slam that season. In the 2016 US Open Final he again put a dampener on a spectacular Djokovic season, beating him in 4 sets. Wawrinka has also beaten Djokovic at the Serbian’s favourite slam, in a 5 set quarterfinal epic on his way to the 2014 Australian Open title.
Wawrinka’s credentials to being included in a Big 5 come mainly from his performances in the big matches. To win his slams he’s had to beat two of the greatest players of all time – Djokovic twice and Nadal once (albeit a visibly impaired version of the Spaniard). His only slam final loss came when he was unable to beat Nadal at Roland Garros, a feat that has only been achieved by two players.
I know by this point Murray fans are probably questioning my credentials as a tennis writer. But please, hear me out – I’m no Murray hater so let’s go through some reasons why the Big 5 wouldn’t work.
If you take Grand Slams out of the equation, Andy Murray’s career achievements stand head and shoulders above those of Stan Wawrinka. For one Murray has achieved something none of the Big 3 have – winning two singles Olympic Gold medals!
Another argument for Murray is his longevity. He reached 11 slam finals over a 9 year period (2008-2016), which pales in comparison to Wawrinka, who reached 4 finals in a 4 year period (2014-2017). It can easily be argued Murray could be sitting on 6 or 7 slams had he not run into prime Djokovic and Federer, who are responsible for his 8 slam final losses. Murray has also won 46 career titles including 14 Masters 1000 events. Wawrinka on the other hand has achieved 16 titles, including a sole Masters 1000 at Monte-Carlo.
Finally, Murray has reached the pinnacle of the sport in terms of ranking, holding the world number 1 spot for a total of 41 weeks. Wawrinka’s highest ranking was number 3 in the world, which he reached in January 2014.
To conclude, it looks like it might be slightly unfair on Murray to place him at the same level as Wawrinka in a Big 5. Wawrinka’s non Grand Slam achievements are dwarfed by those of Murray. While the Swiss arguably had a higher peak, defeating prime Djokovic multiple times, Murray’s longevity and consistency of performance need to be considered. Overall you could say Murray’s career presents many questions of what could have been, while Wawrinka made the most out of the limited opportunities he had.
Agree? Disagree? I’d love to hear what you think. Let me know in the comments below.