Friday March 21st, 2014

The ATP Big Four of (from left) Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray (Getty Images) The ATP Big Four of (from left) Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. (Getty Images)

In his SI.com mailbag this week, Jon Wertheim was asked to rank the best matchups among the ATP Big Four of Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray. Here's how I would answer the question:

1. Rafael Nadal vs. Roger Federer

Head-to-head: Nadal leads 23-10

First match: 2004

Number of finals: 20

Signature match: 2008 Wimbledon final; Nadal won 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-7 (8), 9-7

I still consider this to be tennis' most compelling rivalry despite Nadal's decided head-to-head advantage, which includes a five-match winning streak and 15 victories in the last 19 meetings. Nadal-Federer features the most distinct contrast of styles among the Big Four matchups, and they've contested 20 finals, including eight at Grand Slam tournaments, over the last 10 years. Just imagine how different their careers would be without the other serving as a roadblock. Nadal has won nine of their 11 matches at majors; it's conceivable that Federer might have completed the Grand Slam -- whether calendar or career -- a few times over and pushed the Slam record from 17 to well over 20 without the presence of Nadal.

GALLERY: Federer vs. Nadal over the years

Highlights from their 2008 Wimbledon epic:

http://youtu.be/-1yfWb0-jqQ

(via Carlos Rochin)


2. Rafael Nadal vs. Novak Djokovic

Head-to-head: Nadal leads 22-17

First match: 2006

Number of finals: 19

Signature match: 2012 Australian Open final; Djokovic won 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7 (5), 7-5 in five hours, 53 minutes

It may lack the historical significance and style contrast of Nadal-Federer, but when it comes to pure athletic machismo, Djokovic and Nadal is the rivalry in tennis. They've met a record 39 times, the head-to-head is nearly even since the summer of 2007 (Nadal, 17-16) and they've pushed each other to the limit physically. The two produce visceral tennis, and their athleticism and similar ability to retrieve and turn defense into offense make for some pulsating, savage rallies.

Highlights from their marathon 2012 Australian Open final:

http://youtu.be/mRyWPj1ifXA

(via ESPN)


3. Roger Federer vs. Novak Djokovic

Head-to-head: Federer leads 17-16

First match: 2006

Number of finals: 9

Signature match: 2011 U.S. Open semifinals; Djokovic won 6-7 (7), 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 7-5.

Federer and Djokovic respect each other and get along fine. Of all the Big Four rivalries, though, this one carries the most animosity and baggage. Federer questioned Djokovic’s retirement history and told the Serb’s camp to pipe down. Djokovic’s parents criticized Federer and savored their son’s victories over him. Federer reacted with incredulity to Djokovic's bold forehand return winner to save match point in their 2011 U.S. Open semifinal. But the tennis itself is often quite good. With the Serb unable to attack the Federer backhand with the same ferocity as Nadal, the matchup remains nearly even.

Memorable moments from Federer-Djokovic rivalry

Highlights from Djokovic's three-set victory in last week's BNP Paribas Open final:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YYsijUhZUbo

(via Tennis)


4. Andy Murray vs. Roger Federer

Head-to-head: Murray leads 11-10

First match: 2005

Number of finals: 8

Signature match: 2012 Wimbledon final; Federer won 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4

A skinny, junk-balling Murray once led their head to-head 6-2, but Federer has closed the gap and won four of five Slam clashes, including their quarterfinal at this year's Australian Open. After meeting five times in 2012, when Federer won their Wimbledon final and Murray rebounded a month later with a dominant victory on the same court in the Olympic final, the two haven't played outside of Melbourne over the last year and a half. With Federer back in form and Murray searching for his, their potential matchups the rest of the year could be interesting.

Highlights from their 2012 Wimbledon final (you have to think Murray is still cursing that roof):

http://youtu.be/SMWWWYXjM44

(via nibcab wu)


5. Novak Djokovic vs. Andy Murray

Head-to-head: Djokovic leads 11-8

First match: 2006

Number of finals: 9

Signature match: 2012 Australian Open semifinals; Djokovic won 6-3, 3-6, 6-7 (4), 6-1, 7-5 in four hours, 50 minutes

The 2012 Australian Open semifinal -- in which Murray rallied from 2-5 in the fifth set only to get broken in the final game -- got fans buzzing. All told, though, their similar styles leads to monotonous rallies that are physically brutal but not often fun to watch. This one still needs some time to find its legs.

Highlights from their dramatic encounter in Melbourne:

http://youtu.be/zI8koIr666o

(via TennisHighlightsHD)


6. Rafael Nadal vs. Andy Murray

Head-to-head: Nadal leads 13-5

First match: 2007

Number of finals: 3

Signature match: 2011 Wimbledon semifinals; Nadal won 5-7, 6-2, 6-2, 6-4

We're still waiting for these two to renew their rivalry. Nadal and Murray haven't played since the 2011 Tokyo Open, meaning Nadal never faced Murray during the latter's fantastic 12-month run that began at Wimbledon in 2012. Murray hasn't figured out how to break down Nadal's game, which means their rivalry still has some room to grow.

Highlights from their 2011 Wimbledon semifinal, where Murray came into the match full of confidence and Nadal slowly sapped him of all of it:

http://youtu.be/Dz-qt_I1tgI

(via Tennis Highlights)


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