For the first time in ten years, neither Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray competed in a men’s singles Grand Slam final at this year’s US Open in New York. In the women’s singles tournament, the most familiar and revered name in the sport, Serena Williams, won her 18th Grand Slam.
Marin Cilic, a 6’ 6”, 25-year old Croat who had never been to a Grand Slam final in his career, joined Stanislas Wawrinka, Juan Manuel Del Potro, Marat Safin, and Gaston Gaudio as the only men to beat out the Big Four of Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray in a Grand Slam since 2004. In that time, Federer has won 16 majors, Nadal 14, Djokovic seven and Murray two. Serena Williams, who beat Caroline Wozniacki in the ladies’ final on Sunday, has won 12 majors including four U.S. Opens in that time span.
The Big Four’s superiority over the rest of tennis this past decade has been unlike anything we have ever seen in sports. No other combination of teams or athletes has exhibited quite the same level of dominance over their respective sport through all of history. The Chicago Bulls and Houston Rockets of the ‘90s and the ‘50s New York Yankees might challenge that claim, but the numbers are simply staggering for Federer, Nadal and company. Over the past 44 Grand Slams, the Big Four have won 39 and been represented in 41 finals.
Cilic’s victory was significant and represents the distinct possibility of a changing of the guards in the sport, not only because he won, but also because his runner-up was Kei Nishikori, a 24-old Japanese player and another non-member of tennis’s elite.
Cilic and Nishikori’s matchup was the first major final without Federer, Nadal or Djokovic since 2005. Unfortunately, the two did not put on a particularly entertaining show in celebration of their historic accomplishment, and Cilic cruised relatively unspectacularly to a 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 straight-sets victory.
Though it didn’t have the drama and intensity behind it, and it didn’t feature five sets of grueling, awesome rallies, the match was undeniably important. ESPN will not run a 20-minute analysis of the match on SportsCenter, but for the future of men’s tennis, what happened on Monday was monumental. Tennis may finally have some parity and some new level of competition with the rise of young players like Cilic and Nishikori. This is not to say that Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray will suddenly lose their places amongst tennis’s elite, but the whisperings of that possibility have indeed arisen.
For the women, however, it’s the same old song and dance. At 32-years old, Serena Williams’ record sixth US Open title tied her with Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert for fourth on the all time list with 18 overall Grand Slams. She hadn’t won a major this season, but her victory on Sunday was her third consecutive US Open championship.
Though the golden age of the Williams sisters has clearly passed – Venus is now 34 and has slipped to No. 20 in the WTA rankings – Serena will remain still the world’s Number one.
After such an exciting US Open, tennis fans will be eager to see how the Davis Cup plays out later this fall. The Czech Republic, France, Italy and Switzerland are the four semifinalists and will be playing next week in Paris and Geneva. The teams will feature Federer and Wawrinka of Switzerland, Gael Monfils and Richard Gasquet of France, Fabio Fognini of Italy and Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic.