When one looks at the dominance of men in Tennis in the modern era, it is just restricted to just three individuals. Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Roger Federer are the individuals who have dominated the sport unlike any in this world. Djokovic, Nadal, and Federer have won 20 Grand Slams each. Each has a separate base of dominance. Djokovic has dominated the Australian Open with nine titles. Nadal is the king of clay with 13 French Open titles while Federer is the undisputed master in Wimbledon.
But, there is a strange anomaly that connects all the three legends together. It has been their inconsistency in the US Open. Yes, all three players have won the tournament at Flushing meadows multiple times. But, it is at the US Open where players who are outside the sphere of influence of the big three have managed to acquire some success. Federer has five US Open titles, followed by Nadal with four and Djokovic with two. But, with Nadal and Federer not playing in the US Open, the stage is potentially set for Djokovic to do the Grand Slam in 2021.
Players who begin the season have intensity and that is why the Australian Open sees players at their freshest. Clay Court has a separate season altogether and it is here that they get used to the conditions. The short turnaround time for French Open and Wimbledon means players are on the verge of getting tired at the US Open. With the hard court season underway from July onwards, by the time the US Open is finished, players are fatigued.
It is perhaps for this reason that none of the three have had a killer streak like they do in the Australian, French, and Wimbledon tournaments. The biggest streak that any player had in the Open Era was Federer . The Swiss won five consecutive US Open titles from 2004 to 2008. He could have added a sixth consecutive in 2009 but he lost in the final to Juan Martin del Potro. Neither of Nadal and Djokovic have built a streak in the US Open. This has allowed other players to go for the kill and secure the US Open title.
Here is a list of the players apart from Djokovic, Federer and Nadal who have won the US Open in the last 12 years.
If the Argentinian has to be remembered in Tennis history, he would be the individual who would deny Federer a record-breaking sixth consecutive US Open title in the Open Era. The 2009 US Open was just that. Del Potro had battled many injuries, including a career-threatening wrist injury. But, he still overcame the odds.
Del Potro started his US Open on a high with straight-sets wins in the first and second rounds against Juan Monaco and Jurgen Melzer. He had a scare in the third round when he lost the second set to Austria’s Daniel Kollerer but bounced back to win the match. Del Potro beat Juan Carlos Ferrero in straight games to enter the quarterfinal. The Argentinian remarkably defeated Marin Cilic and Rafael Nadal in straight sets to enter the final.
Federer, on the other hand, had a similar run. He won the first two rounds easily but in the third round, he had a superb tussle with Lleyton Hewitt as he lost the first set. But, the Swiss won the next three sets to enter the fourth round. After beating Tommy Robredo in the fourth round, Federer lost another set to Robin Soderling in the quarterfinals but recovered to beat him. A straight-sets win over Djokovic meant Federer was in top form heading into the final.
Federer won the first set 6-3 against del Potro but the Argentinian equalized by winning the second set tie-break. Federer won the third set but once again, he faltered in the fourth set toe-break. In the decider, del Potro broke at crucial intervals and became the first Argentina player since Guillermo Vilas in 1977 to win the US Open. It was a fairytale run for Del Potro and it remains the only Grand Slam success of his career.
Andy Murray’s exploits could have made the big three in Tennis the big four. After all, he did win Wimbledon when the trio were at the peak. But, he was one of the few who gave a regular tussle to Djokovic, Federer and Nadal. In the 2012 US Open, he would add to his Grand Slam kitty with a great performance.
Murray started his campaign well by winning the first two rounds easily but he was undone in the third when Feliciano Lopez gave him a big scare. The British star defeated Raonic to enter the quarterfinal. Murray achieved four-set wins against Marin Cilic and Tomas Berdych in the semi-final. The Czech had knocked out Federer in the quarterfinal.
Djokovic, on the other hand, dominated as he won the first four rounds easily. After beating Juan Martin del Potro, Djokovic had a tough encounter against David Ferrer. He lost the first set but bounced back to win the remaining three convincingly.
In the final, Murray won the first two sets 7-6 (10), 7-5 but Djokovic equaled the match by winning the third and fourth sets 2-6, 3-6. But, Murray held his nerve to win the final set 6-2 and once again upstage the great three.
The Croatian had undergone tremendous heartbreak in previous editions of the US Open and he was determined to make it count in 2014. But, he did not have it easy. After the injury to Marcos Baghdatis in the first round, Cilic won the second round easily. But, in the third, Cilic overcame a tough fight from Kevin Anderson. In the fourth, he was pushed to the brink by Giles Simon. Kei Nishikori, his opponent in the final, raced through the first three rounds but he almost stuttered against Milos Raonic in the fourth round. The Japanese won the match in five sets.
Cilic defeated Gael Monfils in the quarterfinal while he got the big fish in Roger Federer in straight sets in the semifinal. Nishikori also entered the final when he beat Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic in four tough sets. Visibly fatigued, Cilic disposed of Nishikori in straight sets in the final to win the US Open for the first time.
Stan Wawrinka had denied Novak Djokovic to win the Grand Slam in 2015 after winning the French Open that year. Now, he was once again going to hurt Djokovic in another Grand Slam. Wawrinka did not have it easy as he had to fight his way through to the final. After winning the first two matches, Wawrinka encountered tough contests in the third and fourth rounds. He beat Dan Evans in a tough five-set match and overcame Illya Marchenko in the fourth.
Wawrinka won in four sets against Juan Martin del Potro and Kei Nishikori in the semifinal to reach the final round. Djokovic, on the other hand, had a simple passage. Although he lost the second set against Poland’s Jerzy Janowicz, he benefited from retirements from Jiri Vesely and Mikhail Youzhny. After beating Kyle Edmund, Djokovic entered the semis when Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was injured. The Serb overcame a tough fight from Gael Monfils but he won in four sets to enter the final to face Wawrinka.
Djokovic won the first set in a tie-breaker but Wawrinka played inspired tennis to win the next three sets 6-4, 7-5, 6-3 to win his third Grand Slam. The US Open would be the last time he would win a Grand Slam in Tennis.
Perhaps, the first match that can truly be classified as the passing of the torch when it came to ending the dominance of the big three. Rafael Nadal pulled out due to the coronavirus situation while Federer was injured. Djokovic was disqualified after he hit a line person in anger during his fourth-round match. That meant, a young generation was ready to take over. They were Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev.
Zverev did not have a comfortable run in the US Open. In all the matches until round three, he was stretched to four sets. Zverev defeated Kevin Anderson, Brandon Nakashima and Adrian Mannarino. It was in the fourth round that Zverev defeated Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in straight sets. Zverev was stretched to four sets in the quarters against Borna Coric. In the semi-final, he was down two sets to love against Pablo Carreno Busta but he recovered in grand style to win in five sets and enter the final.
Dominic Thiem, on the other hand, had a comfortable run. He lost only one set, that was to 2014 champion Cilic in the third round. But, the Austrian was dominant, beating Alex de Minaur and Daniil Medvedev in straight sets.
In the final against Zverev, Medvedev lost the first two sets 2-6,4-6. But, in an inspired play, Thiem won the next two sets 6-4,6-3. The fifth set went into the tie-break, with Thiem winning 8-6 to clinch his maiden US Open title. He became the first player in the Open Era to win from two sets down in a US Open final. Thiem became the first male player to win from two sets down at the US Open since Pancho Gonzales beat Ted Schroeder in 1949. It was the first time at any major event since Gaston Gaudio defeated Guillermo Coria in the 2004 French Open final.