Nadal and Federer, together with Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray – the ever famous ‘Big Four’ – have seen their dominance in Masters 1000 tournaments disrupted recently, with six of the last 11 of these events won by a player outside this elite quartet.
But when it comes to the No. 1 ranking, no non-Big Four player has managed to take the helm since Federer first took over the top spot from Andy Roddick back in February 2004.
It’s more than 14 years later and no one has managed to shake the Big Four’s iron grip on that coveted No.1 position.
Only 110 points separate Nadal and Federer at the top but a total of 3,685 points stand between the Swiss and world No. 3 Marin Cilic.
Narrowing that gap between the top-two and the chasing pack is one mighty task with Federer and Nadal currently holders of two Slams each. One Grand Slam is worth 2,000 points.
It’s obvious that in order to get a new world No. 1 by the end of the year or next season, Federer and Nadal would have to perform very poorly at the Majors and the tournaments they’ve won last year and the chasing pack would have to step up and win Slams and Masters 1000s.
Even with two Masters and three more titles under his belt, someone like Alexander Zverev was more than 5000 points behind Nadal and Federer in the rankings end of last season.
It will take a herculean effort, but sooner or later, we will eventually see a non-Big Four player at the top of the rankings.
These are three of the most likely candidates to pull it off…
JUAN MARTIN DEL POTRO
Currently at No. 6 in the world, the tall 29-year-old from Tandil, Argentina has been marching back up the rankings, showing signs of the form that saw him stun Federer to win the US Open nine years ago. Already a two-time titlist this season, having triumphed in Acapulco and Indian Wells, Del Potro is becoming more and more comfortable with his new backhand, after triple-surgery on his left wrist forced him to add more slices and variety to that shot.
If he stays healthy, Del Potro is one player who has the quality and experience to win Slams and threaten the Nadal-Federer duopoly. Del Potro’s career-high ranking of No. 4 was first achieved back in 2010. Could he go higher by end of 2018?
Only one of three players outside the Big Four to win a title in the last 52 Grand Slams, Cilic continues to be underrated even when he’s No. 3 in the world, a US Open champion in 2014, and a runner-up at Wimbledon 2017 and Australian Open 2018. While he upped his consistency last season (which is why he is No. 3 with only one title won in the last 12 months), Cilic will have to dig even deeper to try and close in on Federer and Nadal.
The Croat has got a lot of points to defend during the grass season (finals in Queens and Wimbledon), and has had indifferent results this year outside of the Australian Open.
Remains a candidate though due to his ability to surprise on the biggest stages, and has weapons to defeat anyone on a good day.
The glaring hole in the young German’s resume is the fact that he has never made it past the fourth round at a Grand Slam. He’s made the second week just once at the Majors – reaching the Wimbledon fourth round last year – but has won two Masters 1000s and was runner-up in Miami last Sunday. The 20-year-old is 11-17 against top-10 opposition, and is 6-4 in career finals so far. He’s already a top-four player without doing well at the Slams. Just imagine where he’d be if he finally cracks the best-of-five, two-week formula!
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