Since a 19-year-old Rafael Nadal first had his name engraved on the Coupe des Mousquetaires at Roland Garros in 2005, the Spaniard, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic have claimed all but three of the 35 majors.
It is a dominance well documented, but in world No.19 Gilles Simon’s opinion, his, like any sport, runs in cycles and is on the cusp of another significant shake-up.
Ever the mindful strategist of the game both on and off the court, the Frenchman believes the next first-time winner of a grand slam title may be closer than many realise.
“It was tough to win one because in the last four years the big four just won them every time and it was like no one had a real opportunity to make a difference there. I think this time will be over soon. I think we’re going to have some big changes in the next two years and I will be ready to get the opportunity to do something good,” he said from Kooyong, where he has answered the late call-up to replace Serbian Janko Tipsarevic in the eight-man field.
The likes of Tomas Berdych, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and David Ferrer have been the obvious names bandied about as most likely to join the grand slam elite since Andy Murray joined the list, but Simon is looking further afield.
“There are some very good players but I mean if you look at tennis in the history it’s not always the guy who was No.5 or No.6,” he said. “The tournaments were more open. Even though we had Sampras winning 14 slams, you had Roland Garros, a different champion every year, so the tennis was more open and everybody was hoping and was believing in themself that they would one day do something good and I think that we’re going to come back to this kind of period.”
While 2013 was not the former world No.6’s most impressive year on tour, an offcourt milestone made it one of his finest year’s yet. He and fiancé Carine, welcomed their second son, Valentin, in September.
“It’s not a lot different,” he said of becoming a father for the second time. “The first one was a big change.”
Standing alongside Federer and Lleyton Hewitt as a father of two on tour, Simon joined the pair in Brisbane last week keen to get his 2014 Australian summer campaign off to a solid start.
In a tournament he had reached the semifinals at before, things didn’t quite go to plan.
He fell at the first hurdle to 147th-ranked qualifier Marius Copil.
“Unfortunately I had some trouble with my knee so I couldn’t practise as much as I wanted before the tournament so I felt a bit short on the court that’s why I’m very happy to be here so I will be happy to test myself again,” he said ahead of his AAMI Classic Kooyong debut.
“I think I had a tough day of practice with 40-degree (heat) so I think my body was just not used to it.”
Early preparation, he said, was key to coming from a winter off-season in the northern hemisphere to the brutal environment of an Australian summer.
“The conditions are really different. I was practising in Europe. It was 4 degrees and raining every day. For sure I needed to get used to it and that’s why I wanted to start this tournament,” he said.
“You need to get here (Australia) early to be ready for Melbourne.”
After his Brisbane hiccup, the unexpected call-up to make his Kooyong debut could not have been better timed.
“I just wanted to play more matches ... sometimes it’s just too much playing a tour event. If you play badly you just lose confidence but if you play good then it’s good for the tournament but for Melbourne you end up tired,” he said.
“Yeah I think Australian Open is the slam I play my best tennis so far so I just hope I’m going to play good again this year.”
Semifinal finishes in Rotterdam and Marseille last season were followed by a quarterfinal loss to Tommy Haas in Miami. It marked the 10th time Simon had reached an ATP World Tour Masters 1000 quarterfinal. A runner-up result at Eastbourne was bettered by a title run on home soil at Metz later in the year, where he beat countryman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
At 29 Simon is far from the rising brigade, but with fatherhood keeping his mind fresh, the self-belief remains.
“Goal is always the same, trying to win a big title. I was in the top 10 , the top 15 for four years, five years and what’s missing is a big title in the 1000s or the slams,” he said.
Could he be the one to break the stranglehold at the majors?
“Could be anyone.”