Not even Jo-Wilfried Tsonga could believe what he saw on Tuesday as his French Open 2013 quarterfinal matchup against Roger Federer finished in a straight sets victory for the Frenchman.
It wasn’t like Tsonga didn’t believe in himself.
It was simply that at this Grand Slam, against one of the true greats in the sport, he didn’t think he would be the one to knock out the former champion. He certainly didn’t think he’d be able to do it in straight sets, and as comfortable as he did.
“It’s extraordinary to be here and to have won,” said Tsonga afterwards (per BBC Sport). “I never dreamt of this moment.
“Today was my moment against a champion who has won everything.”
Yet as remarkable and as shocking as the win was, it was one that many have been indicating wasn’t that far away. After all, the 17-time Grand Slam champion is now into his 30s and showed earlier in the year at the Australian Open that he simply isn’t the lock to make the final that he once was.
Of the Big Four, it was his career that seemed most in jeopardy.
And so, the question must be asked as to whether we’ve seen the end of the Big Four in men’s tennis. Is Federer’s loss further proof that he can’t be considered one of the true elites of the sport or is it just another blip in an otherwise prolific career?
That, it seems, still remains to be seen, but if one is to lean one way or another on the matter, you’d have to think that the “glory days” of the top four seeds making it through to the semifinals are slowly starting to come to a halt.
Novak Djokovic (age 26) and Rafael Nadal (age 27) are without doubt the top two players in the game. They are elite, and their performances throughout their seemingly long careers so far prove that to be the case. But as for another other players who can be considered at the same level as them?
There simply isn’t any.
Andy Murray is close but inconsistent. It’s not about falling at the final hurdle in Grand Slams; it’s simply about the fact that he hasn’t proven himself to be a consistent Grand Slam champion like Djokovic or Nadal.
The likes of Juan Martin Del Potro, David Ferrer, Tomas Berdych and Tsonga are all threatening too, but they aren’t elite. They all have the skill to topple the world’s best (as we’ve seen throughout the year) but they aren’t there yet. And if the Djokovic-Nadal duopoly continues in men’s tennis, they may never get there.
And so that leaves us with Federer.
A true legend of the game who, with disappointing losses in every single tournament he’s entered this year, is struggling to maintain his hold on hegemonic status. And with every Grand Slam tournament that ends without a winners trophy (now just one Grand Slam win in last 40 months), that slip becomes more and more exaggerated.
It’s not that he isn’t brilliant anymore. It’s not that his form has dropped or that his talents are no longer world-class. All of those are still true and if anyone tries to suggest otherwise, then they need to sit down and watch the tape all over again.
Federer is world-class, and always will be, but he’s not Djokovic or Nadal. And given that he’s on the wrong side of 30, he never will be.
The Big Three made for compelling viewing while it lasted. The Big Four – once Murray finally won through at a Grand Slam event – was greater still. The Big Two now, will likely do exactly the same, but it will certainly take some getting used to.
Especially for Roger Federer fans.