MELBOURNE, Jan 14 (Reuters) - The dominance of the "big four" in men's tennis over the past few years has enthralled crowds around the world.
But while Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal and most recently, Andy Murray, have mopped up the grand slam titles, they have left behind them an underclass of nearly men.
Juan Martin Del Potro of Argentina is the only man, other than the top four, to win a grand slam title since the 2005 Australian Open.
The likes of David Ferrer, Tomas Berdych, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Janko Tipsarevic have all earned places in the top 10 but picking up one of the four majors has proved beyond them.
"If you look at the draw, if you want to win a slam and you have to beat at least three of them, then it's really tough," Berdych said at the Australian Open on Monday after a 6-3 7-5 6-3 win over American Michael Russell in the first round.
"That's how it is. Today's tennis is really, really strong. I think we are in the best era of our sport ever. It's the same for everybody. I think we are all trying our best to break that huge barrier in front of us.
"If this happened for me, then it would be I would say at least 10 times better than it would have been before."
Rather than become frustrated with their lot, the chasing pack seem to have accepted their fate and continue to give their all hoping that they get just one chance.
Czech Berdych and Frenchman Tsonga have both been to grand slam finals but world number five Ferrer has never been able to make it past the semi-finals.
"If you want my opinion, it's that the first four they are better than there ever was," Spain's Ferrer told reporters after cruising to a 6-3 6-4 6-2 win over Olivier Rochus of Belgium.
"In the last years they were in the semi-finals and finals all the time. It's very difficult for a top player to win their first grand slam (with the top four around) but I am trying to do my best every match.
"I never think if I can do semi-final or quarter-final, I am only focused on my next opponent."
Both Ferrer and Berdych have won several million dollars in prize money and will be set for life when they eventually retire.
But rather than be upset that they cannot break through, Berdych said the lack of pressure on them could make them play even better.
"Let's leave all the pressure on them," the Czech said. "Everybody's talking about how many grand slams this guy can win or that one can win.
"You get so much pressure on the court, you don't need to have it around you as well.
"If the day comes, all right. On the other hand, those four guys were able to win grand slams, many grand slams, so probably they deserve it more than us so far." (Editing by Mark Meadows; firstname.lastname@example.org; +44 20 7542 7933; Reuters Messaging:; email@example.com)
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- Tomas Berdych
- David Ferrer