Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Murray - a statistical comparison the top four

on July 18 2012 10:13 AM
Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Murray - a statistical comparison the top four

I wanted to take a look at what it is exactly that makes the best 4 players in the world as good as they are. Unfortunately the majority of analysis and commentary on tennis, as in most sports, succumbs to a level of hyperbole and uses a lexicon that while sounds impressive, tells us absolutely nothing about the different facets of the sports we love.

The top four players in the world, for the last 4 or 5 years now, have been Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Andy Murray. The first two have legitimate claims to be the best tennis player of all time; Djokovic has since partially eclipsed them in their prime by putting together the best season of all time in 2011; and Murray, while not belonging in the same category of all-time greats until he wins a slam, has been a consistent member of the top 4 and a huge factor in the era.

Subsequently I created a chart with the 15 categories I consider most important in the make-up of these great players and rated each player out of 10. Some attributes are physical and tangible, some are mental and illusive, and the categories are not perfect - but it hopefully gives an illustration.

 

 

Federer

Nadal

Djokovic

Murray

Forehand Groundstrokes

9.5

8

9

6

Backhand Slice

6.5

7.5

7

8

Serve Quality

9

7

8

8.5

Serve Consistency

9

8

7.5

6

Return of Serve

7

9

8

9

Speed

7

9

8

9

Spin

7

10

7

7.5

Net Play

8.5

7

7.5

7

Defence

6

9.5

8.5

8.5

Efficiency

9

6

7

7

Initiative

9

8

7.5

7.5

Mentality

9

8.5

8.5

7

Intelligence

8

8.5

8

9

Intimidation

9

9

9

6

Challenges

7

8

9

5

 
 
 
 
 

TOTAL

120.5

123

119.5

111

 

Roger Federer's success has been based upon his strong, consistent first serve, and his beautiful sweeping forehands that without suffering the rashness of a Del Potro or a Tsonga, are able to sweep away opponents and keep the rallies short. Where has struggled has been adapting to those opponents such as Nadal who are able to stay in the points and keep the rallies long. Keeping the points short has ensured Federer has remained the fittest and least affected by injuries of any of the top four players, and even now past his absolute peak he is able to cut through even the sternest opposition like a knife through butter, exemplified by his semi-final victory over Novak Djokovic and his comeback at Wimbledon 2012 against Andy Murray. Still though, his place in tennis history will always be questioned while he has such a comparatively poor record against his great rival Rafael Nadal; and many of his Slam titles were won before the Spaniard arrived on the scene.

Rafael Nadal was originally lambasted as just a moonballing claycourter - but it took him only about 2 years to prove that he is an all-court superstar. The most striking and instantly recognisable feature about Nadal's game is his defensive ability, speed, and ability to hit winning shots on the run from impossible positions on the court. The number one weapon in Nadal's arsenal though, is his incredible use of spin, and in particular, the revolutions on the tennis ball he gets from his topspin forehand. Not only does this make the ball go faster and lower when it hits the court on the opposition's side of the net but it also allows Nadal to hit his shots higher over the net than other players, cutting out errors. In my opinion, Nadal's topspin forehand is the best shot in the history of tennis and is the reason why he is probably the best player of all time. His biggest weaknesses are that he is sometimes slow out of the gates and is most vulnerable in the first sets of matches, and his gruelling style has caused him long term knee problems which nearly ended his career in 2009. Since coming back from the injury, he has altered his style slightly and tried to take control over points earlier in rallies than he used to. The best way to beat him is to go for your shots and hit them hard and true - because the longer you play against him, the more likely he is to draw an error out of you or counter attack when you leave a ball short.

Novak Djokovic burst on to the scene with victory in the 2008 Australian Open, but then settled into an exchange of 3rd and 4th ranking positions with Andy Murray over the next 2 years - before stepping back up a gear and compiling the best year in the history of tennis in 2011; winning the Australian Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open and reaching the final of Roland Garros, in the process going on an unbeaten run that spanned a ridiculous 43 matches. Djokovic adopted the Nadal model, that is to say, built his game from a solid base of defence, tenacity, and competitiveness, but despite lacking Nadal's topspin, he has much heavier groundstrokes which he can consistently find lines with in a way that other big hitters cannot. Djokovic bruises and bludgeons his opponents to death, and in 2011, it looked both that Federer could not cope with his attack, and Nadal couldn't counterattack his defensive prowess. If there is a weakness in his game it is occasional lack of variety. The temperament problems that plagued him prior to 2010 may return if he is unable to reach the high standards he set for himself in 2011.

Andy Murray, once removed from both the hype and the disdain that surrounds him in equal measure from a slavering British media, is a genuinely phenomenal tennis player. In an era of overhyped diva superstars, he is a down to earth, teetotal, focused and motivated winner who suffers unduly from a public's desire for all their sportsmen to be media savvy celebrities. Despite not having won a Grand Slam, he has reached 4 finals; before being beaten by Roger Federer & Novak Djokovic, and must be regarded as the greatest player in the history of tennis never to have won a major title. Murray is blessed with a natural touch and creative flair for shot selection, but lacks the heavy hitting consistent groundstrokes to hit with some players from the back of the court. He has had to circumvent that by employing his variety and preying on his opponents weaknesses, which he does better than anyone in the game. Often lambasted for defending too much or being too passive; it simply is not as easy for Murray to suddenly attain a Del Potro/Tsonga forehand - he will always lack this one weapon, which has so far hindered him in his quest to win a major. He is quicker than people realise, and defensively sound - he and Nadal routinely swap positions at the top of the table for breaks of serve. Murray's serve is feast or famine - on song, it is a free points machine, but too often it breaks down for entire matches; usually culminating in defeat. Were Murray to win a major, the confidence and intimidation factor he would propel him to the heights of his three contemporaries.