By Jürgen Fritz, Thu. 04 March 2021, Cover photo: ATP Tennis TV Screenshot
Since July 2005, there have only been four players who have made it into the world’s top two: Federer, Nadal, Murray and Djokovic. Daniil Medvedev had the chance this week in Rotterdam to be the first to enter this sphere. All he had to do was reach the final of the C tournament. But the Russian failed in the very first round. So for the time being, the world’s No. 1 and No. 2 are only for the big four.
From July 2005 to August 2009, Federer and Nadal or Nadal and Federer were always No. 1 and No. 2
On 25 July 2005, the then 19-year-old Rafael Nadal climbed from No. 3 to No. 2 in the ATP Ranking for the first time after his eighth tournament victory of the current season, including his first Grand Slam win at the French Open. At No. 1 at the time was Roger Federer, who was almost five years older. The then five-time Grand Slam champion had taken over the number 1 position in February 2004 and did not relinquish it for four and a half years.
From then on, from July 2005, these two, Federer and Nadal, were uncatchable for all others, almost playing in a league of their own. This was to remain the case for more than four years. Until 18 August, Federer was always at No. 1, Nadal at No. 2. Then, after his fourth victory at the French Open, the first at Wimbledon and the Olympic gold medal in Beijing, the Spaniard took over the No. 1 position for the first time and Federer was at No. 2.
In 2009 and 2010, Murray and Djokovic advanced into this sphere for the first time
It was not until 17 August 2009 that a player managed to break through the Fedal phalanx. Nadal lost a match at the French Open for the first time in his career, was eliminated in the round of 16 against Robin Soderling due to knee problems and could not even play at Wimbledon because of his knees, so he could not defend his title there either and needed many months to regain the form he had from 2005 to May 2009. But in 2010 he was to come back in a big way, winning three Grand Slam tournaments in a row for the first time in his career and regaining the No. 1 ranking.
But let’s stay in 2009. It was Andy Murray, who benefited from Nadal’s injury, who played great at the time and was able to take advantage of this opportunity. On 17 August 2009, Murray climbed to the No. 2 position for the first time. Although he was able to hold the No. 2 position for only four weeks at first, he managed this feat again from April 2013, then for longer, and again in 2015. Then in November 2016, he even became No. 1 until August 2017.
And there was another player, along with Murray, who could join the league of Federer and Nadal: Novak Djokovic. The Serb, only a week younger than Murray, managed to climb to 2 in the world rankings for the first time on 1 February 2010. And from the beginning of 2011 it became apparent that he was even stronger than Murray, indeed Djokovic became the outstanding player of the decade. On 4 July 2011, after his second Australian Open win and his first Wimbledon triumph, he took over the No. 1 ranking for the first time with a victory over Nadal in the final. Next Monday, 8 March 2021, he will be at 1 for the 311st time, breaking Roger Federer’s record (310 weeks).
Since July 2005 until March 2021, only the Big Four have been ranked 1 and 2
However, I would like to make another point here: the unique dominance of these three players, Federer, Nadal and Djokovic and, for a few years, Andy Murray, who kept up with the Big Three from early 2008 to early 2017, that is, for nine years after all, and turned the Big Three into the Big Four for almost a decade.
Then, from 2017 onwards, Murray was repeatedly plagued by severe hip problems and had to have two operations and an artificial hip fitted. He played well in Rotterdam this week, but was eliminated yesterday in the round of 16 against Rublev, the world No. 8, and will probably no longer be able to keep up with the absolute top of the world. Murray’s ATP ranking has risen from 123 to 115 and, if he can play for a few weeks and months without any complaints, he can certainly move up a lot further, but he will certainly not be able to keep up with the top five. So from 2017, the Big Four became the Big Three.
Until today, at the beginning of March 2021, no player has ever again managed to break into the top two of the world rankings. Since 25 July 2005, the same four players have always been there: Federer, Nadal, Murray or Djokovic, currently Djokovic and Nadal.
Thiem was close in October, now Medvedev even closer
At the French Open at the end of September, beginning of October 2020, the newly crowned US Open winner Dominic Thiem (with Federer and Nadal absent and Djokovic disqualified) had the chance to move up to position 2. To do so, however, he would have had to win this tournament. However, Thiem, who was still tired from the US Open, was eliminated in Paris in the quarter-finals against Diego Schwartzman, who was playing very well, and missed out on the 2nd position in the ATP ranking.
Since the end of February, Thiem has now dropped from 3 to 4. The Russian Daniil Medvedev overtook him on 22.02.2021. Medvedev had initially played outstandingly for eleven weeks from the end of July to mid-October 2019, reaching six finals, including that of the US Open, winning three tournaments, including the two B tournaments (Masters 1000) of Cincinnati and Shanghai. But then came a very long lull. From mid-October 2019 to early November 2020, he did not reach the final of a single tournament, with, of course, almost 25 weeks of non-playing due to the pandemic. Nevertheless, Medvedev competed in twelve tournaments during these 55 weeks and was always eliminated in the semi-finals at the latest.
But this was to change abruptly from November 2020. Now, the lanky Russian was again on an incredible winning streak, first winning the indoor B tournament in Paris Bercy at the beginning of November, then the ATP Finals (B+) at the end of November with victories over Djokovic in the group phase, Nadal in the semi-finals and Thiem in the final. To date, this is his greatest success ever. In the new year, Medvedev continued his run, winning the ATP Cup (C) for Russia with his partner Andrey Rublev and then advancing to his second Grand Slam final at the Australian Open.
There, the highly traded player disappointed, losing outright to Djokovic 5:7, 2:6, 2:6. This was his first defeat after twenty consecutive victories. But the second one was to follow immediately.
Medvedev fails in Rotterdam and Nadal remains No. 2 for the time being, the Big Four thus remains untouched
In Rotterdam (C) this week, Medvedev had the chance to become the first player since July 2005 to break into the top two, the sphere that has since been reserved exclusively for Federer, Nadal, Murray and Djokovic. But Daniil fluffed, losing his first-round match yesterday to Dusan Lajovic, the world No. 27. So Nadal remains No. 2 and Medvedev No. 3 for the time being.
The Russian will certainly be able to replace Nadal at No. 2 in the next few weeks. The Spaniard is injured and will probably be out for a few more weeks. At the beginning of February, Rafa cancelled all his matches at the ATP Cup and did not play a single match for Spain. At the Australian Open he probably played with painkillers and then cancelled the C tournament in Rotterdam because of his back problems. He will also not play the C tournament in Acapulco, where he won the title last year, starting on 15 March, and even his start at the B tournament in Miami at the end of March/beginning of April seems uncertain. In this respect, Nadal will not be able to improve his points tally by a single point over the next few weeks.
Medvedev, on the other hand, has already entered the D tournament in Marseille next week and Miami from 22 March. With a tournament win in Marseille, he could probably already overtake Nadal. Or with a good performance in Miami, where he only has 90 points (round of 16) to defend. So at the moment it seems only a question of time until Daniil Medvedev will succeed in doing so.
But it still remains the case: since July 2005, there have only been four players who have made it into the world’s top two: Federer, Nadal, Murray and Djokovic.
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