By James A. Crabtree
(November 24, 2013) Of those who can truly challenge for a major, the list is very small. Consider in 2002 when swede Thomas Johansson won the Australian Open as the 16th seed or Gustavo Kuerten won the French Open ranked 66th in the world. Compare that with today’s rankings and we have Fabio Fognini winning in Melbourne and Yen-Hsun Lu in Paris. If you think that either of these results is far fetched for 2014 you are on the money.
When fourth seed David Ferrer made the French open final this past year nobody but his mother felt he could win it. Not surprising considering his opposition, Rafael Nadal, has only lost once out of the sixty matches played at Roland Garros. Only a mad man would bet against him over five sets on clay.
Add that to the fact the big four have not only dominated the slams but since 2009 only Nikolay Davydenko, Ferrer, Ivan Ljubicic, Andy Roddick and Robin Soderling have been able to add their names to the ATP 1000 champions list. That is only five differing names to the usual four out of 45 tournaments.
Although the dominance of the big 4 has been lessened since the 2013 horror campaign of Roger Federer, the collection of contenders hasn’t been increased far beyond those players who have won a slam in the past. When looking at the others within the top ten all have their flaws. Tomas Berdych struggles when playing any final. Richard Gasquet and David Ferrer don’t have the fire power to notch big back-to-back wins. Stan Wawrinka has the firepower and the arrogance but not the physical stamina. Comparatively Jo-Wilfred Tsonga has the arrogance and firepower but not the mental fortitude. That leaves Juan Martin Del Potro, the scariest opponent not named Novak, Rafa, Roger or Andy.
Australian Open, Return of the Muzzer
Yes, seriously. Andy Murray will be refreshed and hungry and will look for glory at a venue he has been a three time finalist. A fourth consecutive triumph for Novak Djokovic in Melbourne, even on current form, seems a bridge too far.
Look for Federer to regain some form and make the semi-finals once more.
French Open, As predictable as a Vin Diesel movie
Novak Djokovic will have to wait one more year before he can unify the all four career majors belt.
Nadal on the ultra-slow clay of Roland Garros is too much for any mortal. It is impossible to argue with a 98.33 winning percentage over nine years. All we can say is shame on you Robin Soderling for ruining slam perfection.
Wimbledon, Novak Vengeance
By June Djokovic is going to be mighty mighty angry. Not only that, he is going to make both Andy Murray and the British crowd pay for the previous year. Look for Djokovic to sneak this one in 5 sets.
U.S. Open, The Federer Redemption?
This is a really 50-50 call between old man Federer and Juan Martin Del Potro. Del Potro has a good case as he was the best player to not win a slam this past year. Federer has a case because, regardless of form, he is still Federer. On top of that history often likes to repeat itself in certain ways and it would be quite fitting for Federer to snatch a triumph in New York as Pete Sampras did in 2002.
James Crabtree is a journalist living in Melbourne. Follow him on twitter @JamesACrabtree