Monfils, Tsonga, Gasquet and Simon have not risen to that level, and time is running out.
Tsonga and Simon are both 36 (Simon turns 37 in December), and Monfils and Gasquet are 35. They met as top junior players and often trained and traveled together.
“I’ve known these guys since I was 11 or 12 years old,” Tsonga said by phone from his home in Switzerland. “We grew up together. We shared hotel rooms, school, training at the federation center. I remember playing Gilles in an under-12 tournament. What I remember most was that he was half my size and older than me. And I still think that I lost love and love.”
All four were, at one time, ranked within the world’s Top 10 on the ATP Tour. Tsonga reached a career-high No. 5 in 2012 and was runner-up to Djokovic at the 2008 Australian Open. He also reached the semifinals there in 2010, as well as the semifinals twice at Wimbledon and twice at the French Open. He has 18 career ATP titles. Hindered by illness and injuries, including a fight with sickle cell anemia that saps his energy, Tsonga has limited his play this year.
Monfils continues to entertain crowds with his acrobatic play, which features leaps into the air, balls hit through his legs and a smile that radiates across stadiums. A two-time runner-up at the Paris Masters, Monfils was ranked No. 6 in 2016. He has reached the final of an ATP tournament in each of the last 17 years. For him, being the best athlete was not always enough.
“Maybe I’m stronger physically, but tennis is so much more,” Monfils said. “Mentally it’s tougher. I’ve been No. 6 in the world. Those five guys in front of me were stronger than me mentally, but I’ve been stronger than millions of other people.”
Simon hit a career-high No. 6 in 2009, but is currently ranked just outside the Top 100. He reached the quarterfinals in Moscow two weeks ago and has played in the Paris Masters every year since 2006 and reached the semifinals in 2012.
A former semifinalist at Wimbledon and the United States Open, Gasquet has ended the year in the world’s Top 10 four times. Once ranked No. 7, he reached the semis at the Paris Masters in 2007.