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 three of our trilogy.
Gael Monfils is one of the most popular and mesmerising players that has ever graced the ATP Tour, and has been cruelly battered down by Federer, Nadal and Djokovic.
The Frenchman has amassed 11 titles across his career, the biggest of which coming at ATP 500 level with a Washington crown in 2016 and Rotterdam titles in 2019 and 2020.
The 36-year-old’s panache and exuberance on court has been simply jaw dropping at times, which makes the fact that he has only booked passage to two Grand Slam semifinals even more bemusing.
The first of those came at the Roland Garros in 2008 where it was Federer who swiftly ended the hopes of a nation with a four-set victory.
Monfils would wait another eight years to join the final quartet at a major, with his run at the 2016 US Open being ended by Djokovic in yet another four-set match.
In fact, six of his ten ventures into the quarterfinals of further at Slams have been derailed by tennis’ most dominant trio.
The others being a five-set defeat to Andy Murray, a four-set loss to Milos Raonic and a pair of epic contests to Matteo Berrettini that both went the distance.
Monfils has progressed to three Masters 1000 finals in his career, two of which have seen him fall to Djokovic and Nadal respectively, with another to Robin Soderling in the middle.
When thinking about his career it is easy to reflect on his epic contests with Djokovic, in which he has had a plethora of match points, but alas he has never conquered the Serbian in 18 meetings, one of the greatest one-sided rivalries in the sport’s history.
The Frenchman’s record against the dominant trio is six wins and 42 losses, with a quest to improve that as he continues his comeback from injury.
Nishikori is another of the unlucky baseliners to be crammed in the wrong era, with a tough mentality and determination that were at times impenetrable.
Holding the Japanese hopes aloft in copious events, the Shimane born star has never broken through at major, Masters or ATP Finals level.
Between the 2014 US Open and Wimbledon in 2019, Nishikori advanced to the elite eight or better in 11 out of the 18 majors he took part in, earning plaudits along the way for his ability to outlast his opponents.
The way he blasted through to the final in New York in 2014 took the world by storm, as he dismantled Djokovic in the semifinal before going down to Marin Cilic in what has remained his only Grand Slam final.
He has never defeated Djokovic since.
At Masters level, he has reached a quartet of finals, only to fall to Djokovic and Nadal in two each.
He has however hoisted 12 career titles, including 500 events in Barcelona, Tokyo, Washington and Acapulco, and boasts an Olympic bronze medal from Rio 2016 where he was able to overcome Nadal in the playoff.
Nishikori’s overall record against The Big Three sits at seven wins and 38 losses, which is a slim return for someone that has lingered around the top ten for such an extended period of time.
He will look to again reach his lofty heights when he returns from hip surgery next month at Challenger level, and who knows, there may be some more glory for the former World No.4.