Monday
Jan182016

In The Shadow Of GOATS

Imagine being one of tennis' best players.  Imagine how tough, but rewarding, it must be to have consistently GREAT form and success year after year.  Then imagine that all your achievements have come alongside your fellow countrymen, who is possibly tennis’ GREATEST OF ALL TIME (GOAT)!  Welcome to every day of the past decade for David Ferrer and Stan Wawrinka.

33 years old now, David Ferrer of Spain has been a professional player since May 2000 (shortly after he turned 18).  He entered the top 100 in 2002 and entered the too 10 early in 2006.  Though he’s occasionally dipped back into the 20s, he’s been a mainstay in the top 10 for the past decade and has not been out of the top 10 since 2010.  He peaked at number 3 in July 2013 after making his first Grand Slam final at Roland Garros (where lost to his Spaniard friend, “King Of Clay” Rafael Nadal). 

So 2 Spanish flags have kept Spain at the forefront of men’s tennis for the past 10 years.  But when you hear the cymbals of “La Marcha Real” (Spain’s national anthem), it’s usually paired with the proud face of Rafael Nadal.  Ferrer’s record looks amazing unless you compare it to his compatriot, who’s been with him on the tennis ride for most of his life.  Nadal turned pro in 2001, entered to top 10 after winning his first grand slam in 2005 and hasn’t left since!  He peaked at number 1 in August 2008 and has occupied that spot for 141 (non consecutive) weeks. Compared with 14 grand slams wins and 20 grand slam final appearances, suddenly a 1 grand slam final feels like a small feat.

So what happens when you win 2 Grand Slam finals for your country in 2 years? After entering the ATP tour in 2002, Stan Wawrinka climbed the ATP rankings for 11 years before he hit his peak of 3.   He was propelled by his first grand slam win in the 2014 Australian Open over Nadal. He followed that up with a 2015 Roland Garros win against Djokovic.   Though he spent 19 weeks in the top 10 in 2008, he did not become a steady top 10 competitor until he was 28 years old in May 2013.  Such a crescendo is a story of superb tennis success.

But the limelight for a 2 time grand slam Swiss champion is dim if you started your career when Roger Federer was number 8 in the world.  A tennis career in the Federer era entails watching that Swiss flag wave under Roger’s prowess for (a record) 16 grand slams.  SUI held the number 1 ranking for (another record) 301 (non consecutive) weeks (the equivalent of more than 5 years). So Stan’s 2 trophy’s don’t get a lot fanfare.  By comparison, consider fervor of Great Britain for Andy Murray who also has won (just) 2 Grand Slams.  International headlines are abundant for Murray’s success.    

Is it bad luck to have a wildly successful career in the shadow of tennis’s favorite GOAT contenders?  Would Ferrer have peaked higher than 3 if Rafa wasn’t there beating him 80% of the time?  Or did beating Rafa 20% of the time supply him with the skills needed to beat nearly every other great player most of the time?

If during your first year on tour, while your rank climbed from 696 to 174, you watched your compatriot win his first grand slam at Wimbledon and rise from rank 8 to 2, does that give you more belief in what’s possible?  If you are close to the man who yields the shadow, do you inevitably follow their steps?

So Mr. Troicki, the Serbian shadow of Djokovic, what’s in your 2016?

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