Golden era: Federer and Nadal show shines on

It is Andy Murray's misfortune - and fortune - to be part of probably the most glorious spell in the game's history

There are two sides to the current golden age of tennis. For most of the world there is the joy of watching Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, two of the greatest players and ambassadors the sport has ever known, sweep all before them. For those who live this side of the Channel Tunnel, however, that pleasure is inevitably tinged by the realisation that the domination of the Swiss and the Spaniard may mean the best British player for the better part of a century never wins a Grand Slam title.

Andy Murray, nevertheless, expresses only pleasure at being part of arguably the greatest era in the history of tennis and having the chance to face the two players he regards as the best ever. "I would love to play Roger every week if I had the chance," the world No 4 said recently of the man who has beaten him in both his appearances in Grand Slam finals. "It's a great experience every single time."

Murray feels similarly about Nadal. After losing a titanic three-hour semi-final against the world No 1 in the semi-finals of the ATP World Tour Finals in London on Saturday, the Scot expressed disappointment at the result but acknowledged how much he had enjoyed the experience. "I kind of knew when I was out there that it was a great match," he said. "I just love playing against Rafa. I don't know if there's ever been a better sportsman in terms of the way he conducts himself."

It was only fitting that the 2010 season should end with Federer and Nadal contesting the last big prize on the men's tour, the former triumphing at the O2 Arena to become one of only three players – Pete Sampras and Ivan Lendl are the others – to win the title five times.

Debates about greatest players and eras inevitably come down to a matter of opinion, but some facts speak for themselves. The domination that Federer and Nadal have enjoyed on all surfaces and in all corners of the globe over such a long period of time is unprecedented.

Between them they have won 21 of the last 23 Grand Slam titles. Since Marat Safin won the 2005 Australian Open, the only players to have denied them are Novak Djokovic, who won in Melbourne nearly three years ago, when Federer was suffering from glandular fever, and Juan Martin del Potro, who beat the Swiss in five sets in last year's US Open final.

Federer, 29, has won more Grand Slam singles titles (16) than any other man, while Nadal, five years his junior, already has nine to his name, three more than his rival had at the same age. Both are members of an elite seven-strong group of men to have won a "career Grand Slam", Nadal having completed his set of the big four titles at this summer's US Open, three and a half years ahead of the schedule established by Federer.

Since February 2004 no other player has topped the world rankings, Federer having reigned for 237 weeks until Nadal succeeded him two summers ago. They have since swapped the lead again, with the Spaniard currently enjoying a big advantage at the top after winning three Grand Slam titles this year.

If Murray and Djokovic have had to scrap for crumbs from the top two's table, the quality of the contributions made by the Briton and the Serb to the present era should not be underestimated. Their excellence has helped to push Federer and Nadal to greater heights and to bring depth and contrast to the top of the game. The leading four men bring a wonderful range of styles to the sport: Federer the elegant attacker, Nadal the indefatigable defender, Murray the smart strategist and Djokovic the great all-rounder.

At a time of financial stringency around the world, tennis, spearheaded by the big four in the men's game, has been bucking the trends for both attendance and revenue from sponsorship and television rights. It would be hard to imagine any other sport being able to draw more than 250,000 paying customers to an indoor event in November, as the season-ending championships did in London last week.

Is the current era the greatest in tennis history? Ask around the world and you would probably hear different answers. The French might choose the late 1920s and early 1930s, which were dominated by the "Four Musketeers" – Jacques Brugnon, Jean Borotra, Henri Cochet and René Lacoste. Australians would no doubt nominate the years around the 1960s, when Rod Laver and a succession of his fellow countrymen took the greatest honours, while Americans might suggest a more recent time, when Sampras and Andre Agassi, challenged on occasions by Jim Courier and Michael Chang, vied for supremacy.

Bud Collins, the veteran American broadcaster and writer, has covered the sport for more than half a century and believes the only age that could rival the present one was the late 1970s and early 1980s, when Bjorn Borg, Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe dominated, with Lendl right behind them.

"One of the great things about that era was that Connors, Borg and McEnroe seemed to be playing each other all the time," Collins said. "The 1960s could have been the greatest age of all, but most of the best players joined Jack Kramer and went professional, so we didn't have them playing the majors for a period. We never got to see all the best players of that era playing each other at their peak."

The spiky rivalry between Connors, McEnroe and Lendl, combined with the arrival of the never-to-be-ruffled Borg as the first pop star of tennis, certainly took the sport to a wider audience than ever before. During Wimbledon, for example, there was almost as much interest in the big-name players in the news and features pages of newspapers as there was in the sports sections.

The friendship and respect shared by today's two leading men may have become too cosy for some, who would prefer a sharper edge to the rivalry, but there is no doubt Federer and Nadal are great ambassadors, particularly in an age when the behaviour of sportsmen and women has never been under greater scrutiny.

After the Haiti earthquake struck, Federer was the inspiration behind the subsequent tennis fundraising events. Later this month, when other players will be taking time off during the close season or preparing for 2011, Federer and Nadal will play each other in Zurich and Madrid to raise funds for their respective charitable organisations. Unlike some of their predecessors, the two men also give thought to the wider needs of their contemporaries through their work as player representatives within the Association of Tennis Professionals.

After his defeat on Sunday, Nadal said he did not even regard Federer as a rival. "Our relationship is very respectful," he said. "We've never had a problem in our careers, even though we've spent a lot of hours facing each other on court and had a lot of tense moments. That's not easy, and it says that we have always had a really good relationship."

Can the top two maintain their supremacy? Federer said that Murray's victories over him in the Masters Series finals in Toronto and Shanghai this year should give the Scot great encouragement for 2011. He also singled out Djokovic, Robin Soderling and Tomas Berdych as players who had proved their ability to beat the best.

"The men's game is at an absolute high right now, with a lot of exciting games being played," Federer said. "I also think Rafa and I having won the career Grand Slam already at a young age is great for the game. We're obviously playing not only for ourselves and beating the other guys, but also for history. There will always be a lot at stake in our matches."

The major men

Between them, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer have failed to win only two of the last 23 Grand Slams. Novak Djokovic won the Australian Open in 2008, while Juan Martin del Potro prevailed at the US Open last year.


French Open: Nadal

Wimbledon: Federer

US Open: Federer


Australian Open: Federer

French: Nadal

Wimbledon: Federer

US: Federer


Australian: Federer

French: Nadal

Wimbledon: Federer

US: Federer


Australian: Djokovic

French: Nadal

Wimbledon: Nadal

US: Federer


Australian: Nadal

French: Federer

Wimbledon: Federer

US: Del Potro


Australian: Federer

French: Nadal

Wimbledon: Nadal

US: Nadal

voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
The Pipes and Drums of The Scottish Regiments perform during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Commonwealth GamesThe actor encouraged the one billion viewers of the event to donate to the children's charity
Karen Dunbar performs
Entertainers showcase local wit, talent and irrepressible spirit
Members of the Scotland deleagtion walk past during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game