We talk a lot about echelons in tennis - about the upper echelons, the middle ones, the lower ones, the upper-middle, the upper-upper, the upper-upper-upper... pretty much any echelon you want to think of, someone's probably talked about it.
The one we talk about most, however, is probably that extreme upper echelon - namely, who belongs to it. It used to be just Federer, all by himself. Then Rafa got in on the game, and then Djokovic a bit later, and then Murray a bit later again. Soderling's laid his claim to it. People are always talking about who the next big thing is, the one that will take that top echelon by storm. (Raonic and Dolgopolov seem to be the most popular candidates at the moment.)
But in reality, in tennis right now, that upper echelon has three men in it. And they are playing so much better than the rest of the field that it is just not funny. Rafa. Roger. Creme Brole. (Not necessarily in that order.) These guys are SO HIGH (high above me, they're so lovely.)
Let's review 2011 for these guys. Djokovic, as we know, has not lost a single match. Federer has only lost to Djokovic. Nadal has lost to Djokovic and to a couple of other dudes, but there was an injury cloud there for a moment (and now we're going into the clay season, where his dominance is totally unquestioned). The reason they are doing so well at the moment is because of pure consistency. These guys either a) don't lose or b) only lose to each other.
It sounds simple, that the guys at the top are the ones that aren't losing. But it seems to be a surprisingly tough concept for people to grasp sometimes.
Soderling had an excellent run for a while there - he won three out of four tournaments entered, with only that one loss to Dolgopolov marring his record. But now, in this US swing? Early, nasty losses. And he's dropped back down to #5...
...which is really odd, when you consider that the dude going back to #4 is Andy Murray, who has not won a set since he collapsed against Djokovic at the Australian Open. NOT ONE SINGLE SET. I know we've all heard this and we all talk about it, but seriously. NOT A SINGLE SET. Not even against Alex Bogomolov Jr, otherwise known as 'who?'
Murray has the talent and ability to reach that Fedalovic platform. No doubt. But if he's going to be such a mental midget, it is just NOT going to happen. These kind of losses... you could deal with one. The string he has is completely unacceptable.
We all love the streaky, unpredictable players - the Tsongas, the Safins, the Dolgopolovs. But to get to the top and stay there, you have to do one thing: win. And the complete collapse of the top ten in Miami this week has demonstrated exactly which dudes are doing that, and which dudes need to go back to the drawing board.
(Look! Paragraphs! Apologies for the crazy-ass spacing, but Blogger has been an absolute tosspot to me. Has anyone else found this?)