Over the past two decades, the ATP Tour has seen an unprecedented level of dominance from a small group of players. The era has both united and divided opinion, and has enraptured tennis fans globally for its copious amounts of astounding moments.
The occult 'Big 3' of tennis - Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic - have won 60 of the last 72 Grand Slams dating back to 2003. They have also won a combined total of 100 Masters 1000 titles.
But amidst this startling three-way joust for glory, there have also been a few others who have challenged for the biggest prizes, and have - occasionally! - prevailed through Herculean displays of grit and tenacity. Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka, Juan Martin Del Potro and Marin Cilic have all beaten at least one of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic en route to a Slam title, thereby showing that the Big 3 are not invincible after all.
For all their exploits, however, the aforementioned players will never quite be viewed in the manner that Big 3 are. And for neutral fans, it is even more disheartening to note that apart from these 'greats' of the game, there is another set of players who may well have taken down the Big 3 were it not for their lax attitude towards the sport.
These players all had the 'x-factor' in their game and were widely tipped for greatness, but they proved to be their own biggest obstacle to success. While some of them were plagued by injuries, a few just couldn't make full use of their potential.
On that note, here is a look at the five biggest wasted talents from the previous decade.
5) Grigor Dimitrov
Nicknamed 'Baby Fed' for his striking resemblance to the Swiss Maestro's game, Grigor Dimitrov is indubitably one of the most talented players to have ever picked up a racket.
With a Nitto ATP Finals title and a career 337-226 win-loss record, the Bulgarian has had a better career than most. But his lack of success at the Slams and general inconsistency have 'earned' him a spot on this undesirable list.
Coming from a generation that idolized Roger Federer's fluid and regal playing style, Grigor Dimitrov didn't hesitate to take inspiration from the Swiss' game and use it to model his own. Right from the service motion to the backhand slice, Dimitrov's style leaves viewers wondering if they're watching Federer himself play on the court.
For all his natural talent, however, the 30-year-old has been unable to convert his early promise into consistent results on the ATP tour. His 'breakthrough moment' was a sensational win over Novak Djokovic at the 2013 Madrid Masters, but that remains his only win against the Serb in the 10 matches they've played.
Dimitrov's 2017 season has been his best to date, with a 49-14 win-loss and four titles - including the ATP Finals. Even in his 'prime', however, the Bulgarian was unable to reach a Slam final; he fell short against Rafael Nadal in a grueling five-set Australian Open semifinal, and later against Daniil Medvedev at the 2019 US Open.
Among fans, Grigor Dimitrov is perhaps not known for winning trophies, but rather for being the least reliable player to bank on. The 30-year-old often loses matches he has no business losing, and is also infamous for his inability to bring out his best when it matters - as evident in his meager 38% career break point conversion rate.
Dimitrov's relative lack of 'clutch' moments, coupled with intermittent bursts of form, have made his professional career rather underwhelming. Having turned 30 this year, the Bulgarian is working hard to resurrect his tennis career. But it seems unlikely that he will ever shake off the 'Baby Fed' moniker; he was never able to advance beyond the infancy of his comparison to Federer.
When a then 20-year-old Bernard Tomic triumphed at the 2013 Sydney Open, expectations were high. The Aussie (that's two on this list!) had a remarkably effortless game, and he was seemingly capable of pulling a rabbit out of the hat on demand with his shot selection.
Standing at 6'5", Tomic's presence on court was imposing, and his early career seemed to justify the hype around him. He was, after all, a two-time junior Grand Slam singles title holder (Australian and US Opens in 2009).
With that in mind, the now 28-year-old's haul of four singles titles (six finals) and a 186-182 career win-loss seems thoroughly disappointing. A quick Google search of the temperamental Australian will bring up a myriad of controversies that make his underwhelming professional career rather self-explanatory.
Fans who followed him from his earliest years will remember his (iconic?) "Counting my millions" jibe; a remark that is, to this day, used to mock him. A comeback trail looked plausible when he doggedly pushed through the qualifying rounds of the Australian Open earlier this year and further won his first tour-level match since Atlanta in 2019. But that resurgence has fizzled out in the months since.
It's important to note that his father, John Tomic, was especially draconian in handling his son's career. A series of acrimonious altercations once even led to the 28-year-old asking for his father to be removed from the stands.
While some of the other players on this list may have been disillusioned by early success, Bernard Tomic's case appears to be one of toxic parental expectations playing spoilsport. That makes his flopped career all the more dismaying.
3) Benoit Paire
When we think of Benoit Paire, do we see a gifted player with an astute eye for his opponent's weaknesses and shot selection, or do we see smashed rackets lying in heaps courtside?
Probably the latter.
To most tennis fans, the Frenchman is an enigma. Despite having a significant disadvantage on his forehand wing, a 'focussed' Benoit Paire is capable of posing a serious threat to most top players. His pulverizing backhand and deft touch, both from the baseline and at the net, are an aesthetic miracle.
236 match wins at 32 certainly doesn't really reflect how much Paire was truly capable of. Having clinched his first title at Bastad in 2015, the Frenchman has since won just two further titles, both of which came in 2019.
To his credit, Paire has had a somewhat resurgent period on the tour lately. The zenith of that came at Cincinnati, where he came from a set down in the round of 64 before giving the red-hot Andrey Rublev a valiant fight in the quarterfinals. The Benoit Paire of old wouldn't quite be associated with a comeback rife with grit, resilience and valor.
While he may be at the twilight of his professional career, Paire has certainly had a memorable time on the ATP Tour. Whether he retires in the same bracket as the rest of the players on this list may well depend on how long this 'inspired' run of his lasts.
2) Ernests Gulbis
If you initially struggled to identify the player in question, you can't really be blamed. After all, presently sitting at No. 205, Ernests Gulbis hasn't appeared on the big stage for years now.
The Latvian turned pro in 2004 at the tender age of 16, but he truly arrived on the scene in 2010, winning his first tour level title in Florida. Then aged 22, it was clear that this rising star had all the makings of a future great.
Armed with a booming serve and sizzling groundstrokes, coupled with an adroit tactical game, things were looking bright for Gulbis at that time. He briefly delivered on his promise too, reaching the semifinals at Roland Garros in 2014.
Ever since, however, Gulbis has struggled to maintain his consistency. He has sporadically displayed the levels that almost led to bagelling Rafael Nadal on clay (yes, you read that right), but never for more than a match or two.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Ernests Gulbis has shown a rather lackadaisical attitude towards training in the past. He once even blatantly disregarded his team's advice on diet and recovery.
In 2021, Gulbis owns a 0-2 record on the ATP tour; he has only reached the main draw of a tour event six times this year, losing all his other matches in the qualifying stages. At 32, the Latvian is arguably in a more dire situation than any of the other players on this list.
Being at the precipice of his physical prime, Gulbis needs to rekindle his love for the sport and utilize his remaining years on tour if he hopes to finish his career on a high. It's not implausible for him to do that, but the odds are not in his favor.
Whether Gulbis' case was one of money getting to his head or talent being mired in poor work ethic, it's safe to say that his name is amongst the first to be mentioned when talking about talent and mediocrity. And for good reason.
1) Nick Kyrgios
If there's one list that Nick Kyrgios has every right to be on, it's this one - a list of players who have largely disappointed on the ATP tour after promising starts.
Born with a talismanic talent for the game, and now at 6'4" gifted with a formidable build, the Aussie had everything he needed to have a successful tennis career. Indeed, Kyrgios is one of the few active players to have registered a match win against each of the Big 3.
Avid tennis fans will remember a 19-year-old Nick Kyrgios dismantling Rafael Nadal's game at the 2014 Wimbledon Championships - a surface that has predominantly suited experienced players. It is fascinating to see the level that Kyrgios brings to a tennis court when playing the biggest names in tennis. In contrast, many of his peers wilt under the pressure of playing against Nadal or Novak Djokovic.
Kyrgios has become infamous for his comments in the media, which include verbally abusing fellow players and on-court staff. His uninspiring approach to training (he has publicly stated he doesn't need a coach since he doesn't train), conflated with several gratuitous inclusions in the papers, have made him a polarizing, if not outright unpopular, figure on tour.
At 26, Nick Kyrgios is at a critical juncture of his professional career. Given his current fitness levels, he might have just a few years of his physical prime left to leave a lasting impression on the tour.
Kyrgios has the time to make amends, but if previous instances serve as any indication, it's unlikely that the mercurial Aussie will be remembered as anything more than a showman with a bloated ego.
Be it a deluge of unfortunate injuries or a veritably unhelpful attitude towards the game, these players have all had largely ordinary careers. All of them have had their highs and lows, and while some of them are making a concerted attempt to change their storylines, others just don't seem to have the will to win.
And that is a true shame, given their prodigious talent.