Winning the first Grand Slam is the toughest feat to achieve for some, but replicating that success has proven to be even tougher in the case of six particular players.
Tennis is a game of eras, which has seen various legends stamp their mark on the game we know and love, but the odd surprises come and go with performances that were somewhat out of the ordinary, while never quite matched again. The first name of this list is….
Noah made his biggest impact on the sport in 1983, when he achieved greatness on home soil with victory at Roland Garros. Noah beat the unquestioned favorite Mats Wilander in straight sets, becoming the first Frenchman to win a Grand Slam title in thirty37 years.
The Swede was winner of two Grand Slams at the time, including the Australian Open that same year, before claiming seven titles over the course of his career. France is renowned for producing many great talents such as Fabrice Santoro, Richard Gasquet, Jo-Wilfred Tsonga and Gael Monfils since the days of Noah, but with that said, Noah surprisingly remains the last French player to win a championship.
Noah won his first championship at the age of twenty-two and brought new hope to French fans, but never reached a final again. In fact it took Noah seven years to even come close to matching his exploits of 1983, which was a semi-final appearance in Melbourne.
In his thirteen seasons as a pro, Noah reached ten quarter-finals, but lost on eight occasions. It could be argued more focus was directed towards doubles as the Frenchman enjoyed more success on that aspect of the game.
While a great career nonetheless, it’s fair to say that more was expected from the Cameroonian-born after that Roland Garros stardom.
Ivanisevic is quite possible the best player on this list. The Croatian joined the ATP tour in 1988, and after several quarter-final and semi-final appearances, made his first final at the Wimbledon championships in 1992.
A loss to American Andre Agassi, before another two defeats in Wimbledon finals to the great Pete Sampras, left many on the tour questioning if the big serving Croat could get over the hump.
While Ivanisevic had all the talent needed, he was underachieving on both clay and hard courts, as he never reached a final. However, one more opportunity arose for Ivanisevic at Wimbledon, when he made the final for the last time in 2001.
Ivanisevic met two-time US Open champion Pat Rafter, and after a marathon five set encounter, took his first and only Grand Slam honors with a 9-7 score in the fifth. It was one of the greatest triumph after having missing three previous finals and entering this one as a wild-card.
Now the coach to arguably the greatest player in tennis history Novak Djokovic, Ivanisevic was successful as he went on to claim twenty-two titles in total, but after a severe shoulder problem shortly after winning Wimbledon, Croatia’s number one temporarily retired.
After attempting a return to the sport, it was evident he could not play to the level associated with his prime, therefore leading to the decision of permanent retirement after a defeat to Lleyton Hewitt at the scene of his championship winning venue.
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Johansson is a former world number seven, who was best known for his success in 2002 at the Australian Open. Not a heralded name among worldwide tennis quarters, especially the younger generation of fans, but the Swede beat the supremely talented Marat Safin to claim his only title.
Expectations rose emphatically after the Swede’s victory in Australia, but a knee injury latter that year, put a halt to Johansson’s development as it cost him the remainder of that year and the whole of 2003.
The last time Johansson came remotely close to another Grand Slam final, was in 2005 where he reached the semifinal at Wimbledon losing to eventual runner up Andy Roddick.
A fifteen year career came to a finish in 2009, with very little results to speak of since 2005. Evidently injuries played a role in Johansson’s ability to consistently perform at the highest level.
Let’s not forget a significant role that played a role for Johansson, which were the lofty expectations placed on his shoulders in order to replicate fellow Swedish stars Bjorn Borg, Mats Wilander and Stefan Edberg who all preceded Johansson, and became multiple Grand Slam winners during their careers.
Only a few months after Johansson’s debut final and win, there was another maiden Grand Slam champion in Albert Costa, who was victorious over compatriot Juan Carlos Ferrero. It was a devastating showing from Costa, who lost only one game in the first two sets en route to victory.
It was the type of tennis no one could identify with Costa, who had never been past the quarter-final stage in his nine years previous. Unlike fellow finalist Ferrero, who would go on to win two Grand Slams, Costa never made another final.
The Spaniard made the semi a year later at Roland Garros, but that was the final run of any note. Costa failed to exceed the third round at any of the four tournaments following 2003, before announcing his retirement in 2006.
Costa was considered a late bloomer, and results showed this to be the case, but the unwanted label of a one year wonder could be argued for the Spaniard. Costa cited injuries and a lack of motivation leading to retirement. While never quite seen as one of the very best in his prime, Costa showed on that unique day the potential he had.
Argentina’s Gaudio was as unlikely a Grand Slam winner as there was. A complete clay court specialist who’s best result at any of the majors excluding Roland Garros was a third round appearance at the Australian and US Open.
Not even did he make it past the fourth round at the French open except his winning year. Gaudio produced a stunning run that saw him beat Lleyton Hewitt, David Nalbandian and Guillermo Coria in the 2003 final.
From that year until 2006, Gaudio was a consistent top twenty player, with a top five ranking coming in 2005. However, it was in 2007 that problems started to plague Gaudio, as poor form and injuries heavily impacted the Argentine’s results.
The following year was even worse as Gaudio competed in two solitary matches, once again due to injury. This led to spells of depression during the layoff. And with Gaudio reduced to mainly challenger appearances after that, retirement came in 2011.
Juan Martin del Potro
Last on this list is the most recent champion of these six players, and possible the most naturally gifted player. Del Potro, won the 2009 US Open in a final that many still talk about today.
The brute force of the Argentine shocked the tennis world when he beat Roger Federer in five sets, having already beaten Rafael Nadal two days earlier in straight sets. All eyes were on Del Potro as the future of the sport.
Even without winning another Grand Slam to date, Del Potro has made his mark on the game and been extremely successful. However, the expectations were so lofty and rightfully so due to what he was achieving, it’s hard to feel like the potential shown produced results to match.
After a huge amount of time off injured at the beginning of 2010 with wrist issues. Del Potro came back to good affect, with a return to the top five rankings in 2013, but more problems came for Del Potro shortly after, leading to a two year absence from 2014 until 2016.
On his comeback, Del Potro won silver at the Olympics and became Davis Cup champion, while returning to his first Grand Slam final in almost ten years at the US Open in 2018.
Novak Djokovic was his opponent and won in straight sets. Since then more injuries have impacted Del Potro, this time to his knees, which included a career threatening knee cap injury last season, leaving the perception that the best of Del Potro might never be seen again.