Stan Wawinka’s Place in the Big Four Era
From time to time someone in a Guardian comments thread or a YouTube video makes the case that a particular player is worthy of either being included in the Big Four, or that the Big Four should be a Big Five to include them. Back when it was more of a Big Three and Del Potro had just won the US Open, there was a strong case to be made for him being the fourth member rather than Andy Murray. These days, however, it’s Stan Wawrinka that puts forward the strongest claim to being included in this elite fraternity, so let’s examine that claim.
- Grand Slam Titles
- Top Four Ranking
The last three years have seen Wawrinka on a Grand Slam tear in which he has matched Andy Murray in Grand Slam titles. He’s seemingly gone one further than Murray, in fact, as while Murray has one US Open and two Wimbledon titles to his name, Wawrinka has an Australian, French, and a US Open title. This means he’s one Wimbledon victory from a Career Slam, something Murray will have to work a little harder to get.
Not only that, but Wawrinka has won all of his Slams by beating the number one player in the world (at the time) while Murray only had to do that twice.
Next we have the rankings. Wawrinka has finished in the top four ranking spots for the last three years, something that proponents of Murray as a member of the Big Four would point out back when his place in the group was considered contentious. Regardless of the significance you attach to his successes, Wawrinka has officially been one of the four best players in the world for the past few years, and the non-Big Four player in over a decade to win multiple Grand Slams.
- Poor Record Against Big Four Opponents
- Low Overall Title Count
- No Big Four Anymore?
Wawrinka has a pretty dismal record against Big Four opponents. 17–61, to be exact. He has set himself apart from the rest of the tour in many respects over the past few years, but other than a few significant wins, one would be hard pressed to argue that the Swiss is on a level with the Big Four.
The title count is telling, also. Grand Slam victories are an achievement in and of themselves, one that only a small percentage of professional tennis players can boast, but they’re not the be all and end all of tennis. Wawrinka has taken 15 titles during his career (at the time of writing, of course). For comparison, Murray has won 44 titles and Djokovic has won 66.
Finally there’s the state of the Big Four themselves. Wawrinka’s success has come at the definite tail-end of the Big Four’s dominance. Federer and Nadal have only managed two Masters titles the last two years–and no Grand Slams–and there’s a definite sense that the Big Four–which started out as a Big Two–may have become a Big Two once more.
To Sum Up
Something like this is always going to be a matter of opinion; there is no single metric that separates the Big Four from the rest of the tour, but rather a general dominance in the game in the game as a whole.
Personally I don’t feel Wawrinka can count himself among that elite group. His biggest successes have come when half of the Big Four have fallen off their game somewhat. You could make a similar argument about Andy Murray, of course, but Murray was there in the top four, winning Masters events and his first Grand Slams during a period when the Big Four were still… well, a four.
That being said, I want to stress that it is not my aim to undervalue Wawrinka’s achievements; he is having a magnificent career twilight. It does beg a question, though. It’s often pondered what kind of career Murray might have had if the rest of the Big Four weren’t around (or just Djokovic, for that matter)… but what kind of career would Wawrinka have had without the Big Four snuffling up all the titles?
It’s impossible to accurately gauge one generation of a sport against another, but perhaps in any other era of tennis, Wawrinka could have been one of the all time greats.
He just had the bad fortune to be playing in this era.
What do you think? Am I right? Wrong? Wasting valuable eyeball time? Let me know in the comments below.