November 13, 2013 12:41:31 am
The impenetrable shell of the big four in mens tennis is cracking,but that is common knowledge. Whats more interesting is the performance of the guys just below David Ferrer,Juan Martin del Potro,Tomas Berdych,Stanislas Wawrinka,Richard Gasquet and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga among others who are beginning to topple this hierarchy.
Ferrer has had a poor year by his standards but is ranked No. 3 in the world. Relatively though,his record is better than those below him as has consistently been the case for the past three years,during which he has risen five spots.
The 66 del Potro is back in the reckoning. As is his forehand,which has been blazing across courts and rattling opponents with a fizz not seen since his breakthrough 2009 US Open win. The tower of Tandil is the only man to have beaten all members of the big four this season and he has stretched them even when hes lost. Even though he was not fully fit,he gave Djokovic a massive scare in a 4 hour 43 minute classic in the Wimbledon semis. With del Potro,it is not a matter of if but only a question of when he becomes a Grand Slam champion again.
John McEnroe says Wawrinka has the best one-handed backhand in the game today. He uses it to great effect. Twice in Grand Slams in 2013,he has taken Djokovic to five sets in matches that cumulatively lasted over nine hours. Tellingly,Wawrinka looked fresh after those encounters.
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Berdych always seems to hang around till the quarters before fading away. The Czech looks in prime physical shape and needs to tune his mental game to go past guys above him and etch his name into metal.
Till Wawrinka came along,Gasquet perhaps had the best one-handed backhand in the game. He was World No.7 back in 2007 and is ranked No. 9 now. Like Berdych,he is looking for a breakthrough Grand Slam win to kickstart a career that has always had more potential than performance. The backhand is still as beautiful as ever.
Tsongas like a confused cat he roars one day,mews the next. While he has been unable to maintain his intensity and string consecutive victories over top opponents,he is unbeatable on his day. He enthrals and perplexes in equal measure.
Given the spread laid out toward the end of this season by the players while trying to wriggle into the World Tour Finals,tennis fans will salivate at what lies ahead. The desserts of 2013 may just be the aperitif for 2014.
(Hormazd is a senior sub-editor based in New Delhi)
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