When you’re a tennis fanatic like I am, then this is what you think about (the photo was from Sports Illustrated. Please don’t sue me…):
Rafael Nadal won his 12th French Open title on Sunday, but I just finished watching it because I spent the last couple of weeks recording dozens of hours of the tournament at a time and then trying to catch up by watching a couple hours a day.
Anyway, now that the tournament is over, here’s a figure I came up with after doing some quick math: 84%. That’s the percentage of Grand Slam titles Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic have won over the last 15 years. There have been 58 Grand Slams since the beginning of 2005. Rafa, Fed and Novak have won 49 of them (Fed also won four prior to 2005). Mind boggling, man. Crazy. Unheard of. Impossible.
The other winners since 2005 are so few that I can name them off the top of my head: Murray (3 titles), Wawrinka (3), Safin (1) Del Potro (1) and Cilic (1). Heck, the number of players who even reached a Grand Slam final other than Rafa, Fed and Novak are so few I can name them off the top of my head: Safin, Murray, Tsonga, Berdych, Del Potro, Wawrinka, Cilic, Nishikori, Raonic, Anderson and Thiem. I think I have that right.
Rafa, Fed and Novak have been nearly as dominant in winning Master’s 1000 titles, which are the biggest tournaments outside of the Grand Slams. They’ve also been fairly evenly matched, spending the past decade in a constant tug of war over who’s the greatest at any given moment in time.
There has never been any period of any sport that has been so thoroughly dominated by three players, any of which could lay claim to the Greatest of All Time.
Serena has dominated women’s tennis for nearly two decades, but she’s won more than three times as many titles as the second best, her sister Venus. Serena has basically been in her own orbit, sorta like Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps.
Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova and (later) Steffi Graf dominated women’s tennis for much of the 1980s, but not as much as Rafa, Fed and Novak have over the last decade and a half.
Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player dominated golf for much of the 1960s, but not this much.
Ali, Frazier and Foreman dominated heavyweight boxing in the 1970s, though Leon Spinks (!) also grabbed a title that decade, against all logic. And it was mostly the Ali Show during the ‘70s.
Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain dominated basketball in the 1960s, but the Celtics dominated the NBA titles. And who do you pick as the third player? Oscar Robertson? Elgin Baylor? Jerry West? They have exactly two NBA titles between them.
Michael, Magic and Larry? Close, but not as dominant (remember the Bad Boy Pistons and Doc/Moses Sixers). Also, Michael’s titles came after Magic and Larry were long past their primes.
Margaret Court and Billie Jean King dominated women’s tennis during the 1960s, but who was the third player? And anyway, seven other players won Grand Slam titles that decade.
Brady, Manning and Favre? Nah.
Montana, Marino and Elway? Nah.
Willie, Mickey and the Duke? Mmmm…..Duke was not quite on par with Willie and Mickey, and anyway the Yanks dominated the World Series.
Tiger, Phil and …. No.
I’ve been watching tennis pretty regularly since the days of Rod Laver, Stan Smith, Ken Rosewall, Arthur Ashe, etc. I used to play regularly and still do when I get a chance, but nowadays I usually just bang it against a tennis ball machine or a backboard. Just me, the fresh air, and the yellow orb.
I’ve never seen anything like what the sport has produced over the last decade and a half. I don’t expect to see it again.