‘Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic messed up everybody’s expectation of what is normal’

Shahida Jacobs
Roger Federer Rafael Nadal Novak Djokovic discuss tactics
Big Three of Roger Federer Rafael Nadal Novak Djokovic during a match

Milos Raonic was recently asked for his thoughts about the quality of players on the ATP Tour compared to a few years ago and he gave an interesting reply as he feels Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic’s brilliance have changed people’s perceptions of what is considered normal.

Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have dominated tennis over the past two decades as they have won 65 Grand Slams between them with Djokovic leading the way with 23. They have also ruled the roost when it comes to ATP Masters 1000 series titles as well as the No 1 spot in the ATP Ranking.

Below them were the likes of Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka as they both won three Grand Slams during the Big Three’s dominance while Marin Cilic and Juan Martin del Potro were the only other two players to win majors when the trio were at their peaks.

Needless to say, the rest were all playing second fiddle – or even third fiddle behind Murray and Wawrinka – as they had to fight over the scraps.

With Federer retiring last year and Nadal currently out injured, Djokovic is the last remaining member of the Big Three giving the rest of the Tour some breathing space.

There have been suggestions that the overall quality of men’s tennis is better these days as players lower down the rankings have a better chance of beating the top seeds.

Raonic, who recently made his return to tennis after two years on the sidelines due to injury, is not too sure as he feels Messrs Federer, Nadal and Djokovic distorted the landscape.

“For me, obviously, I haven’t played enough of the top guys to know, but I would actually say it’s a little bit the opposite,” the 2016 Wimbledon runner-up said.

“I think just three guys, to have three exemplary kind of legendary athletes in one sport, not even in one generation, period, but in one sport at the same time, you kind of mess up with everybody’s expectation of what is normal.

“If you look back at a lot of tournaments, you would have the three of them playing. Obviously, I’m talking, like, when all the three guys were taking Masters series seriously. I think we’ve kind of forgotten a little bit now because it’s been kind of just a pure focus on Grand Slams for them for the last couple years.

“When I first went on tour it was pretty much them and Andy. I would say that they were in 60% or 70% of the semi-finals. And maybe when it came to clay, David Ferrer was the guy that changed things up a little. So you had three guys that were there all the time and winning most of the events.

“But I think you were still seeing the same kind of thing, the rotation of guys from 16 to five in the world, let’s say, that were kind of maybe losing early in events. You know, they weren’t – like, it’s not like every week the top eight seeds were all in the quarters. So it’s quite different.

“I think three guys just messed with everybody’s expectations for a long time. In sport, and just in a lot of things, we have a very short-term memory, and I’m guilty of that as well. Tennis was quite different before Roger came around.”

Raonic believes things will return to normal over the next few years with normal being similar to the days when Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras were close to retirement and several players were able to win Grand Slams.

He added: “I think it’s just this kind of next period is probably what tennis – obviously, Novak is still around, and he’s still going to be very involved in later stages of Grand Slams.

“But I think it’s kind of like what tennis was when Andre and Sampras were kind of aging out a little bit. You have a lot of different players that will win Slams.

“And if you look at history and you just look at the trend, there are many players with one or two [Slams]. And then, you know, the higher up you go with the numbers, the quantity of players there drops off. I think just three guys really messed with everybody’s calibre – or recalibration of what’s normal.”

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