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The Ebb and Flow of the Big Four


Nikita Taparia
Feb 6, 2016 · 4 min read

Roger Federer is the greatest player of all time. Please, Rafa Nadal ends that argument in one sentence. And Novak Djokovic ends both your arguments. The competition is weaker now. Agreed. Um, the competition was weaker during the Fedal era of dominance. Roger and Rafa have more Slams. Novak has a better record against Fedal and he has the best season ever and most prize money in one season. He did not face them in their prime. Your point goes both ways. One season doesn’t define…Don’t forget Andy…Andy isn’t in the same league…

ENOUGH. Seriously. I think I have seen the same extended arguments about the tennis GOAT and it just goes on and on like a viscous circle running on the Tesseract [Marvel reference]. Everyone is so busy trying to pick a single player and only a few are looking at these four players a dynamic being.

The truth is there isn’t enough time or space to write about the Big Four unless I am writing a thesis. Thus, I decided to break up this analysis into an ongoing series called The Ebb and Flow of the Big Four [or simply under the tag, The Big Four]. I have done a lot of incomplete ‘behind-the-scenes’ analysis privy to a select few but I would like to start sharing these ideas in hopes to stimulate conversations and further analysis. It is also part of the reason I am co-hosting a data storytelling challenge with Tennis Abstract!

The percentage is prestige score as discussed in Tennis Note #25. Prestige Score has not been updated since middle of 2015. The line width represents number of matches lost to the respective player. For example, Roger Federer has lost more matches to Rafael Nadal but Novak Djokovic has essentially matched Nadal and Federer in their rivalries — hence the equal thickness in line width.

As I mentioned primarily on my twitter and also in Tennis Note#25, the Big Four is like a network. When one side gets stronger, the other side responds, and through the years, we can watch its evolution. It may be lopsided right now but there is still history behind the continued dominance. For instance, I shared the graph below on Twitter last year — we can compare the Prestige Score of the Big Four to the Top 10, 30, and 100. Remember Prof. Radicchi’s explanation of prestige score:

If prestige score is based on the quality of player, than you can see somewhat quantify the most difficult year as 2010 — the big four were evenly distributed and the top 10 were a lot closer in competition. Djokovic’s rise is easy to see — he has the highest score ever. Note this graph represents up until May 2015 so I would imagine Andy would be a lot higher.

A player has high prestige score based on the quality of the players he has beaten, not just the number of opponents defeated. In this case, it is more intuitive to think that “tennis credit” is flowing in the network, jumping from player to player based on the results of tennis matches. Prestige Score quantifies the percentage of credit that each player owns. Beating a good player (with large credit) thus may be better than beating many other not so good player (low credit).

From the light blue dotted line, one thing is clear: The Big Four operate in a league of their own and the day all four disappear will probably be dubbed the Tennis Crash of [insert a year far far away]. It is more than just record number of titles and money. It is how they win. They represent an incomprehensible level of tennis that keeps getting better and better in order to best each other. Therefore, this analysis needs to do more than touch the surface. It needs to deconstruct the Big Four piece by piece.

Table of Contents

I will continuously update this cover page with links to each article that pertain to the Big Four. If you are interested in contributing, check out the guidelines and submission process.

  1. The NetworkPrestige Score Distribution for the Big Four Only
  2. Coming Soon!

Recommended Articles and Links

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The Tennis Notebook

A ‘romantic’ tale between tennis enthusiasts and an elegant sport. Includes light commentary and analysis of the game.

Nikita Taparia

Written by

Engineer. Scientist. Data Nerd. Cookie/Coffee Addict. Educator. Tennis/WoSo. Photographer. Musician. Artist. Whiteboards. @ByTheMinTennis Commentator. Writer.

The Tennis Notebook

A ‘romantic’ tale between tennis enthusiasts and an elegant sport. Includes light commentary and analysis of the game.