There was a real sense of an ending of an era moment on 23rd September when Roger Federer announced he would be retiring from tennis. The Swiss legend defined the sport for the best part of two decades, and he, along with Serena Williams, became the global symbol of sporting excellence in the 2000s and 2010s.
However, in the men’s game, it was Federer’s rivalry with Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic that created one of the most astounding legacies of the game. The period will forever be known as the “Big 3” era, a golden age when men’s tennis had not one, not two, but three players who have claims of being considered the greatest of all time.
The records those men have set will probably never be equaled. Sure, we can imagine a future where someone overtakes the individual Grand Slam haul of each player. But the dominance that three players held over the sport for that length of time? Not likely.
Of course, we know that Nadal and Djokovic have no plans to retire yet. And we can see by the tennis betting markets for the upcoming Grand Slams in 2023 that both men will likely add to their current tally of victories next year. But by using Federer’s retirement as a reference point that ends the era, we can pull out some facts and stats that speak to their dominance. Here are some of the most interesting:
63 Grand Slams (and Counting)
It is, of course, success at the top level that determines sporting greatness, and that’s where the Big 3 made it count. From the moment that Roger Federer won his first Grand Slam at Wimbledon in 2003 to Djokovic’s win at the same venue this summer, the trio has racked up 63 Grand Slam titles. Federer has 20 titles, Djokovic 21, and Nadal 22. During that period, there were some moments when the dominance was threatened. Indeed, there was sometimes talk of a “Big 4”, which included Andy Murray, but the Scottish player’s career was later marred by injuries. Still, the dominance of the Big 3 remains undimmed. A good way to look at it is this: 17 out of the last 20 Australian Opens, 17 out of the last 20 French Opens, 17 out of the last 19 Wimbledons, and 12 of the last 20 US Opens have gone to one of the three legends. They have also played in a combined 93 Grand Slam Finals in that period.
Money, Money, Money
It is estimated that Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic have earned a combined $422 million in prize money. To be clear, that is not career earnings overall but simply the amount of money awarded by the various tournaments they have taken part in. Of course, sponsorships will add to that total. Federer, for example, has huge deals signed with brands like Rolex and Mercedes, something that takes his net worth to over $450 million. The three men lead the all-time rankings in career earnings since the creation of the Open Era.
Time at the Top
As we keep saying, it’s not just the titles the Big 3 have won; it’s the sheer length of time spent at the top of the sport. We have an exact measurement for that – 892 weeks. That figure, equivalent to 17 years, is the amount of time combined that the Big 3 have spent in the world number one position in the ATP tennis rankings. Djokovic has spent 373 weeks as number one, Federer 310 weeks, Nadal 209. Of course, Nadal and Djokovic can further extend that record in the coming months and years.
Head to Head
You may have noticed that the statistics we have shown so far don’t really show a clear winner between the group. For example, Nadal has most Grand Slams, but he has spent the fewest weeks at world number one. But what about when the three superstars collide with one another? Djokovic can claim to have the best record, but it is very tight. The Serbian has beaten Nadal 30 times in the 59 matches they have played, and he has beaten Federer 27 times in the 50 games they have played. We should add for context that Federer is a little bit older and started his career a lot earlier, so some of Djokovic’s wins came when the Swiss was considered past his prime.