At the Net: The "Big Four" should dominate again

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As I gaze into my crystal ball for 2013 I can't help but see members of the "Big Four" combining to win all four major titles ... again.

Twenty-twelve marked the first season in nine years in which four different men corralled Grand Slam titles. But, of course, those four men just happened to be the top-four players in the world, both heading into and out of the most-recent campaign.

Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic had a stranglehold on all the major titles over the last seven or eight years, with a lone exception being imposing Argentine Juan Martin del Potro, who surprised the all-time great Federer in the 2009 U.S. Open finale, before Andy Murray officially turned the "Big Three" into the "Big Four" by winning the U.S. Open, not to mention Olympic gold, this year.

Since 2003, the incomparable Federer has amassed a men's-record 17 Grand Slam titles, while Nadal has piled up 11, and Djokovic five of his own. Federer has also been a runner-up at seven Slams, while Nadal is a five-time major runner- up, Djokovic is four-time Grand Slam bridesmaid, and Murray is also a four- time major runner-up. Do the math. The Big Four have combined to appear in a staggering 53 Grand Slam finals and win 34 major titles.


The last player outside the Big Four to win an Aussie Open title was Marat Safin back in 2005. The last player outside the Big Four to win a French Open title was Gaston Gaudio back in 2004. The last player outside the Big Four to win Wimbledon was Lleyton Hewitt way back in 2002. And the Big Four has combined to win eight of the last nine U.S. Opens.

This isn't even funny.

The currently seventh-ranked and former world No. 4 del Potro came on strong at the end of 2012, including two straight wins over the mighty Federer (at a final in Federer's native Basel and in the round-robin portion of the season- ending ATP World Tour Finals), this after losing seven in a row against the formidable Swiss, including six straight setbacks at one point during this past season. Lest we not forget that "DelPo" also beat Federer in back-to-back matches back in 2009, only to drop his next seven encounters against the former No. 1 artiste. So perhaps we shouldn't jump on the del Potro return to the Grand Slam winners' circle bandwagon just yet.

By the way, the only other guy in the Top 5 not named Djokovic, Federer, Murray or Nadal is David Ferrer, who would just appear to have no shot at breaking up the Big Four's Grand Slam party, considering he's a combined 14-45 lifetime against the fearsome foursome, including an almost-laughable 4-30 combined record versus the career Grand Slam legends that are Federer and Nadal.

You would think that Ferrer's best chance at a major title would have to come on clay -- which would leave only the French Open -- but Nadal and Federer have combined to win no less than the last eight titles there, including an Open Era-record seven such championships for Rafa. And for the record, Ferrer is a dismal 4-16 all-time against his fellow Spaniard Nadal, and he's even worse against the seven-time Wimbledon champion Federer, going winless in 14 lifetime matches against the splendid Swiss.

Maybe Ferrer could beat a Djokovic or a Murray at the Aussie or U.S. Opens, considering he's at least an improved 10-15 combined against those two ... or am I just being generous here? I'm sure I'm just being generous here, considering he's a combined 1-6 against Djokovic and Murray at the majors. Ferrer, however, did upset Murray in the quarterfinals at Roland Garros back in June.

The 30-year-old Ferrer, who quietly led the tour with seven overall titles in 2012, just isn't going to win a major title as long as the Big Four are still rolling along. Sorry, David.

Note: Ferrer and Federer were two of five men aged 30 or over to title on the ATP circuit in 2012, joined by Tommy Haas, Jurgen Melzer and Jarkko Nieminen.

The reigning world No. 1 Djokovic, Federer, Murray, and the former top-ranked superstar Nadal have combined to win the last 12 Slams, and it would appear as though there's no end in sight to that stretch, considering Djokovic isn't going anywhere anytime soon; the 31-year-old Federer is still obviously capable of winning the big one; the determined Murray just continues to improve; and Nadal, despite missing the last five months of this past season with a knee injury, will likely return to his dominant form and likely be the favorite at Roland Garros once again.

Did You Know?: Only Federer (17) and Pete Sampras (15) have won more Grand Slam titles than Nadal (11) in the Open Era. And if Nadal can win another major in 2013, he would set a new record by capturing at least one Grand Slam singles title for a ninth consecutive year. He currently shares the record of eight straight years with Bjorn Borg, Sampras and Federer.

The first Grand Slam event of 2013 will commence in less than a month in Melbourne, with Djokovic as your reigning two-time champ. The super Serb outlasted Nadal in the longest-ever Grand Slam final at last year's Aussie Open, an epic that lasted 5 hours, 53 minutes.

Can anyone -- Del Potro, Ferrer, Tomas Berdych, etc. -- break-up the Big Four's run in 2013?

Of course not.