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 two.
One of the most popular and universally adored players on tour, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga seemed destined for greatness as he captivated the global tennis audience with a stunning run to the 2008 Australian Open final.
That tournament started with a sensational four-set victory over Andy Murray before a pair of straight sets victories to set up a mouth watering round of 16 clash with compatriot Richard Gasquet.
Tsonga would take the contest in four before disposing of Russia’s Mikhail Youzhny in straight sets before one of the truly remarkable displays in the semifinal against Rafael Nadal.
The Spaniard was no match for the Frenchman, who showed no signs of nerves in his maiden Grand Slam semi by bludgeoning Nadal off Rod Laver Arena in a match that has since lived in Australian Open folklore.
Novak Djokovic would await in an unlikely final lineup, but the occasion didn’t seem to deter Tsonga, who caused television sets to vibrate as he claimed the opening set.
He would not sustain the form however, as Djokovic claimed the first of his 22 major titles, and unfortunately it would be Tsonga’s only Grand Slam final, reaching five more semifinals throughout his career.
Tsonga amassed 16 wins against the Big Three against his career with 39 losses, and claimed 18 career titles before his retirement last year, including two Masters 1000 titles and a runner up performance at the ATP Finals in 2011.
The Czech, like Tsonga, would be a stalwart of the ATP’s top ten for a plethora of years and was constantly a threat to Federer, Nadal and Djokovic throughout his career due to his power and brute force on the court.
But again the dominance of the illustrious trio went so far that Berdych would only progress to a solitary Grand Slam decider at Wimbledon in 2010.
The All England Club would almost belong to Berdych that fortnight, as he dismantled Federer in the quarterfinals before doing the same to Djokovic in the semis.
His salutation over his Swiss rival was historic in its own right, being the first time since 2002 that Federer had fallen before the Wimbledon final.
Berdych’s run was halted brutally by Rafael Nadal, who claimed his second and most recent crown in London, adding to his 2008 triumph.
The Czech enjoyed titles on 13 occasions throughout his career, with one of those a Masters 1000 title in Paris in 2005 when he was just at the mere age of 20. In addition he claimed a pair of Davis Cup crowns for his nation and reached a further three Masters finals.
Against the Big Three, Berdych saluted on 13 occasions, but would fall in 65 other meetings, thus going down as another player that might have done a lot more in another era.
While the Canadian has not yet retired, he has not been on court since August 2021 due to injury in one of the more disappointing narratives of the 2010’s.
Raonic progressed to the fourth round in his second Grand Slam main draw at the Australian Open in 2011, falling to David Ferrer in four sets, but introducing the tennis world to his booming serve.
He enjoyed a maiden title a month later and would lay claim to eight throughout his career, however none of those a Masters 1000 or a major.
In each of the Canadian’s four Masters finals, he would fall to Djokovic on three occasions and Nadal in another.
After an adductor injury caused him to fall in the 2016 Australian Open semifinals to Andy Murray despite boasting a two sets to one lead, Raonic found himself in another major semi at Wimbledon that year facing Federer.
Down after three sets, the Canadian rallied to take an epic contest to progress to his maiden major decider where he would face Andy Murray, but ultimately would not win a set.
He would soar to a career high ranking of three but only won five of his 36 matchups against members of the Big Three, and while that still may change, his career is another that could have been so much more.