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The past 20 years of men’s tennis has been dominated by three men, who have shared 64 majors between them since Roger Federer hoisted the famous Wimbledon trophy for the first time in 2003.

But underneath the glittering careers of Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic has been a plethora of players good enough to win a major, or even more Masters 1000 titles, who unfortunately have been born in the wrong era.

A few have been able to sustain their runs at the top, with Andy Murray making it a Big Four before his injury woes, while peak Stan Wawrinka was a mesmerising sight to behold as he stormed to his three Grand Slam titles.

With Federer’s relative inactivity before his retirement last September, his two counterparts have continued to dominate and amass multiple Slams, causing even the original members of the ATP NextGen to wilt under their domination.

While there is still time for the likes of Zverev, Tsitsipas, Auger Aliassime and Shapovalov, some stars of the sport have enjoyed successful careers, yet also enduring serious heartache when it came to facing the players that have dominated the past two decades.

In this series The First Serve will look at some of the notables, here is part one.

David Ferrer

The Spaniard fought tooth and nail in every single match of his glittering career, which saw him amass 27 career titles, 52 finals and a career high ranking of No.3.

However, with his prowess and longevity within the world’s top 10, he would only ever progress to one Grand Slam final at the 2013 French Open where he would fall short against the tournament’s greatest competitor, Nadal.

He would reach the final four of a major on six occasions and feature at the ATP Finals an astonishing seven times with his best result being a runner up showing in his maiden event in 2007.

Ferrer’s crowning glory in the singles arena came in 2012, where he would hoist his only Masters 1000 trophy at the Paris indoors against an unlikely opponent in Poland’s Jerzy Janowicz.

He would enjoy success in Davis Cup however, with three titles for Spain in 2008, 2009 and 2011.

Despite his record of 11 wins and 59 losses against the Big Three, he will forever known as a fighter with the will and determination to run until his body could run no more, it is a shame that David Ferrer never quite broke through for a Grand Slam, but his career will not be forgotten.

Nikolay Davydenko

Standing at 178cm, Davydenko was one of the toughest competitors on tour, and took it up to the greatest players on tour for the better part of a decade.

He peaked at a career high ranking of No.3 in November 2006 and finished within the top 10 for five consecutive years from 2005-09, during which he progressed to five Grand Slam semifinals and won the ATP Finals in 2009.

The Russian won three Masters 1000 titles as part of his 21 career championships, including Paris 2006, Miami 2008 and Shanghai in 2009.

His victim in deciders the two latter events would be Rafael Nadal, whom he owned a 6-5 head-to-head record against.

Davydenko amassed ten career victories against the Big Three but unfortunately it was not enough for him to progress to a major final, falling to Mariano Puerta in five sets in the 2005 Roland Garros semifinal and suffering defeat to Federer in his trio of further ventures to the final quintet at a Slam.

In terms of team competitions, he would help Russia to the 2006 Davis Cup title over Argentina.

Richard Gasquet

Like Davydenko, Gasquet is another player with scintillating skill that never ventured to the decider of a Grand Slam.

The Frenchman is still going strong, even winning his 16th career title this year in Auckland and sitting inside the top 50 at the age of 36.

His aesthetically pleasing game has dazzled tennis fans for the better part of two decades, and ventured to three Grand Slam semifinals, unfortunately without taking a set.

Touted since he was 15, Gasquet has peaked at World No.7 but has been unable to claim an ATP 500 level crown let alone anything higher.

The Big Three have conquered the Frenchman on a staggering 50 occasions throughout his career, with Gasquet only registering three career wins and none of those against Nadal.

Some of his biggest trophies have come on the doubles arena, having claimed an Olympic bronze in doubles in 2012 with Julien Benneteau and the Roland Garros mixed doubles crown in 2004.


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