When Roger Federer became world number one for the first time, Andy Murray was 18 years old. When Rafa Nadal succeeded the Swiss, Murray was 21 and when Novak Djokovic first topped the ranking the Scot had celebrated his 24th birthday. Now, as Murray ends the year as world number one, he is 29 years old and then second-oldest player to debut as the world’s highest-ranked player since the ATP introduced computerized points scoring.
Are we looking at a late-blossoming player? The evidence suggests not. Muray won his first title, in San José, when he was 19 and claimed his first Masters triumph in Cincinnati at 21. He first lifted a Grand Slam trophy aged 24 at Flushing Meadows. Murray was picking up tournament victories where Federer, Nadal and Djokovic permitted him to. He was always the fourth member of the “big four” but now that Federer is rationing his appearances, Nadal is struggling with injuries and with Djokovic battling uphill over the last six months, Murray has emerged.
Big four coming to an end?
Is this the best version of Murray? It is certainly the most consistent and tenacious. He never gave up the chase, despite being the fourth rung on the ladder, and now he has his prize. Behind Murray are Stan Wawrinka, Milos Raonic, Kei Nishikori, Marin Cilic, Gaël Monfils and Dominic Thiem… all notable players but names who to the fan base sound distant. It remains to be seen what the reaction will be when they are announced at Masters tournaments as the biggest names in tennis, something which will inevitably happen. It is the logical sequence of the new world order on the ATP Tour. Is it because those that are coming up are pushing the traditional hierarchy or because Federer and Nadal are gradually stepping aside, as Djokovic did in part to allow Murray passage to the top? We will have to wait and see. Perhaps the big four will return at their best next season to restore the order of the past decade – a golden era of tennis.