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Adjusted Slams: How Many Could the Big 3 Have Had

The Big 3 cannibalized each other and essentially blocked almost every other man in their era. For poor Andy Murray, he made it to almost the exact number of slam semi finals as Pete Sampras only to have the three best players ever almost always waiting for him in the semi finals. Even if he could avoid one on the way or beat one he was always facing one in 92% of the finals he made.

The percentage of SF’s made has to be considered when you look at this era. Players like Andy Murray were robbed of their legacy having to play the 3 best players ever their entire career. 

Djokovic 68 Majors / 43 SF’s…..63.2%
Bjorg 27 majors / 17 SF’s ……………….63%
Federer 81 Majors /46 SF’s…. …57%
Nadal 66 Majors / 38 SF’s……..57%

Conners 57 Majors/ 31 SF……54%
Lendel 57 Majors / 28 SF’s……..50%
McEnroe 40 Majors / 19 SF’s….48%
Sampras 52 Majors / 23 SF’s….45%
Aggassi 60 Majors / 26 SF’s…..44%
Becker 46 Majors / 18 SF’s…….40%

Murray 55 Majors / 21 SF’s…….38%(21/46 prior to hip surgery)

Edberg 54 Majors / 18 SF’s…..34%

I think you have to judge him in this context. Murray finished top 4 in the world 9 years meaning he was better than everyone that wasn’t the Big 3, including one year he finished #1 over the 3 best players ever,. 2 other years he was better than at least 1 or 2 of the all-time greatest players ever as well. These are hardly insignificant accomplishments in this era or the amount he even got to finals. Winning two gold medals is something as well, especially blocking Federer on Grass from a what would have been his only singles gold. He never got it.

 I certainly think you can make the case he is on Becker, Edberg, Agassi  tier and one of the best open-era players certainly. When you really dig into Sampras career things like the amount of SF’s he got to it already becomes less impressive, especially when you compare both Murray and Sampras before Murray had a hip replacement and is playing more for the love of the game. .

Semi finals in Slams (before the hip replacement)

Pete Sampras 23 in 52….44%

Andy Murray 21 in 46….46%

Getting to SF’s is pretty cut and dry, and had Murray just walked away at the same age as Sampras instead of trying to play on with a new hip he’d almost be identical in deep runs. 

I watched Sampras from his first Slam win and I don’t think he’d have 14 slams had he been born the same time as Murray had or close to it with Fed, Nadal, and Djokovic as well as Murray and Wawrinka. Murray went to 11 finals and lost 8 times to the Big 3 and won the other 3 including 2 over Djokovic.  Murray lost 20 times to the Big 3 in Grand Slams.  I do believe had Murray been born in Sampras and Agassi’s era he would have had many major titles and would have even challenged Sampras. Had you switched the two he probably has about Sampras’s total. 

In an alternative universe, what if the other two of the three of the Big 3 never picked up a tennis racket? What if this was a more normal era or if the other two of the other Big 3 were born 20 years later. how many more slams could each of them theoretically have. First I think we need to look at the times each of them ousted each other in Slams to give us some idea of the potential amount of total slams they missed out on playing in an era together. (parenthesis- times they lost in slams to the other two)

Federer lost in 22 slams  (10 Nadal, 12 Djokovic)

Djokovic lost in 16 slams (6 Federer, 10 Nadal)

Nadal lost in 12 slams (4 Federer, 8 Djokovic)

They probably wouldn’t have won all of these slams but they likely would have won well over half at least considering nearly all were in the semi finals or finals and how well they play vs everyone else. It’s crazy to think about but if there were no Nadal or Djokovic Fed might have 35+ slams and the other two could have likely added another 8 or 10 with some years left to play too. The flip side to consider is they all might have retired in the early 30’s too without the motivation/rivalry if they were already at 20.

Honestly the fact that the three greatest players ever all existed mostly together and still put up these numbers is crazy. I think without two of them  Andy Murray, and Stan Wawrinka, Juan Martin del Potro obviously could have probably added a few to their totals. I believe in their absence of 2 of the 3 they generally would be considered similar type players in other eras and players with 5 to 8 slams.  I believe they were the most screwed in this generation, especially Murray who is probably like an Agassi type level player all time when you look at the amount of semi finals and finals he lost to these guys. Kind of your Agassi/Courier types that are more historically represented. The Big 3 and especially Murray were all kind of screwed by when they were born.

I mentioned they motivated each other and might have retired early without them pushing each, that said I don’t think it’s fait accompli at least for Federer. I think that guy just really loves tennis when his body allows him to play he’d probably still be grinding. If he was racking them up in the kind of numbers he may have without them other Big 3 around he seriously might have just kept going and tried to get 35 or 40. At some point the numbers themselves might have been self- motivating enough. I wouldn’t disagree that they all have been trying to keep the record, that’s pretty obvious but I don’t think the other has to be untrue or that he wouldn’t have other possible motivations. 

If you just pretend there was no other 2 of the big 3 that existed during this era and take just the finals they lost to the other Big 3 members this would be more likely their Slam number. (This assumes they could have stayed motivated for all this time though) I actually think they all could though, they seem to love Tennis in a way Sampras and Bjorn did not. All 3 of the Big 3  seem to have more respect for for the history and legacy of the game than Sampras ever did or guys like Agassi, Borg, McEnroe etc who just basically took years off. I really think any of the Big Three would have tried to put the record out of reach and get to 25+ before they stopped anyway regardless. 

Sampras walked away after winning a US Open at 31 years old but he had already slipped farther than any of them ever have and was the 17th seed that year coming into the tourney. His level of tennis and commitment was one where he could see the writing on the wall in my opinion of how the next few years would go with young guys like Fed, Hewitt, Safin, and Roddick already beating him and established and on the way up. Especially Hewitt who looked like the next big thing at the time and had won 4 in a row vs him. Sampras might have won another Wimbledon or US Open but that would have been unlikely with Federer soon to emerge and having already beaten him when he was still at the top.  I believe around 14 was always likely going to be his number.

Adjusted Slams

30 Fed
27 Nadal
26 Novak

Andy Murray
10 if there was no Fed/Novak
8 if there was no Novak/Nadal

4 if there was no Nadal

Roddick(4)/Cilic(3)-without Federer

David Ferrer 

Andy Murray might be the most unlucky tennis player ever to come along in the era he did with the three greatest players ever.  At least even the non die hard tennis fans would likely still know his name and understand his plight some.  I beat some fans that actually watch tennis may not remember or even think about David Ferrer or understand how strong his career really was. Like Murray it has to be consider the era he played in where the three best players ever were in his way.

7 years in the Top 10 (peak of 3)
11 years finishing the top 17
27 titles
17 QF’s in majors, (10 straight)
6 SF’s
1 Finals

Clearly the big 3 (and Big 4) impacted a lot of runs he made. 17 QF’s puts him 17th all time in the Open Era. 17th in Quarter Finals, with an obvious reason why he wasn’t advancing to Finals much, but he was getting to that point consistently. He was one of the only 6 players (with Big4 and Stan) to reach the top-3 in more than 9 years (August 2007 – November 2016), again where three of the best players ever were holding those spots. Essentially in my opinion that was about reaching #1 in any other era. He was ranked over one of the Big 3 some when they were still in their prime.   

Wrawinka was able to break through and win 3 majors, but the rest of his resume is similar, if not lighter 16 titles (vs 27 Ferrer), 18 QF’s (vs 17 Ferrer), 5 years finishing in the top 10 (vs 7 Ferrer), 6 years finishing in the top 15( vs 10 Ferrer)

Ferrer will probably be forgotten in history for the era he played in, but I still think he complied a worthy hall of fame career and has a strong case.


Basically Andy Murray and Stan Wrawinka plus one of the big 3 would be a more representative typical type era through out history. The fact all 4 of these players really came along and screwed each other but especially Andy Murray who is very likely an all time great in his own right that will never get his actual due respect. The number of semi finals and all his other stats look more similar to Sampras.  There is no doubt this is the greatest era in tennis ever and the Big 3 is what has made it that. I do believe that had their careers been spaced out better overall though it would have been interesting to think about how big the numbers could have been. Maybe that increases interest in tennis as well. Everyone wants to see greatness trying to be dethroned and all time records being smashed. Think no farther than when Babe Ruth smashed the homerun record or when the steroid era smashed his. It drives interest as well when the history is there, but at the same time all coming along had to hurt their legacy as well.

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