Who are those tennis players who should, and could have won a Grand Slam title because they were good enough to but failed in their endeavour?
While tennis boasts of what is among the busiest and most involved sporting calendars globally, just like every other sport it has its most coveted prize.
While some may argue that is possibly Wimbledon, none can argue that the four majors together in their own way, form the ‘creme de la creme’ of the sport, and thus the focus on the Grand Slams or the ‘majors’ as we know them.
The last decade and a half has seen the sport dominated like no other era with the presence of ‘Big Three’, i.e Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, with them winning 55 slams (and counting) among themselves. What that has effectively done is taken away from players the opportunity to win majors that they would have possibly otherwise won had they not been part of this ‘Golden Era’.
We look at the Top five players on the ATP Tour in recent times not to win a major due to a host of reasons, partly due to the presence of the quality of players such as the Big Three.
Spain’s David Ferrer holds the unique distinction of winning the most number of ATP matches without winning a Grand Slam title. A clay court specialist, Ferrer is a former French Open finalist (2013), has a career high ranking of number 3 in the ATP rankings, and is a winner of ATP 250/500/1000 level tournaments.
Ferrer was a semi-finalist at all the majors except Wimbledon, although his record on the slow clay has been significantly better than that on other surfaces.
Unfortunately, his peak years on clay collided with the Kling of Clay and the best player ever on the surface, Rafael Nadal, winner of 12 French Open titles.
The presence of Nadal has been a clear factor in preventing Ferrer from winning a major, at least on clay. As mentioned, the older Spaniard came closest to a Grand Slam title at Roland Garros in 2013, where he lost the final to none other than Nadal himself.
Argentina’s David Nalbandian had a career that started around the same time as that of Roger Federer. Beginning his career in 2000, the Argentine became the first man from his country to reach the semi-finals of all majors. His best major achievement was being runner-up to Lleyton Hewitt in the 2002 Wimbledon final, and his highest career-ranking, being number three in the world in 2006.
Winner of two Masters 1000 titles, Nalbandian’s best achievement probably lies in winning the erstwhile Tennis Masters Cup in 2005, defeating the then invincible world number one Roger Federer in the final.
The Argentine also has the rare and unique distinction of defeating Nadal, Djokovic and Federer in the same tournament in Madrid in 2007.
With his career peaking in the mid 2000s, around the time that Federer was at his sublime best, Nadal was proving himself to be the first real threat to the Swiss, and Djokovic quickly moving up the ranks, it was unfortunate that a player as talented and exciting as Nalbandian was never able to win a major.
Chilean Marcelo Rios has the unique distinction of being the only world number 1 one ranked player in the Open era never to win a major tournament.
Rios was world number one for six weeks in 1998. Despite never winning a major tournament, he had a career that had distinct and noteworthy achievements.
The former world number one held the top ranking at both the junior and senior level. He was also the first individual to win all three clay court ATP Masters 1000s since the beginning of the format.
In 1998, Rios became the third player after Pete Sampras and Michael Chang to win the Sunshine Double Masters, which was the same year he became the top ranked player in the world.
In 1998, he was runner-up to Petr Korda at the Australian Open and despite coming in to the French Open that year as a strong favorite, he was defeated by Carlos Moya in the last eight, who then went on to win the title. At the age of 27, in 2004, Moya prematurely retired after a host of back and related injuries.
Interestingly, there was news on Rios planning to make a comeback to the Challenger circuit but that looks to have fizzled out for now.
With a career that lasted close to 15 years, Tim Henman remained Britain’s hope to win a major and win Wimbledon in particular , after going most of the 20th century without a winner, since Fred Perry in 1936.
With his serve and volley game, Henman was a six-time Grand Slam semi-finalist, making the semi-finals at Wimbledon four times.
Henman reached an all time high of world number four in the ATP rankings on a few different occasions during his career. While he dashed British hopes a few times, he did give them plenty to cheer for as well, with the ‘Henman Hill’ viewing point at Wimbledon named after him.
What Henman is more remembered for (not too favorably) is leading unseeded Goran Ivanisevic two sets to one in the 2001 semi-finals, before a rain delay, only to come back the next day and lose in a decider. With Ivanisevic going on to win the tournament and his only major, Henman and Britain were left to rue what could have been.
If there was power generated easily on a forehand, there was none more effortless than Czech Tomas Berdych. Making his debut in the early 2000s, Berdych’s career spanned more than 15 years, during which he was a consistent member of the top ten rankings for a considerable period of time.
Although his biggest career achievement was winning the 2005 Paris Masters unseeded, Berdych had several other high points as well. With a career-high ranking of number four, the Czech reached the semi-finals of all four majors and was runner-up to Nadal at the 2010 Wimbledon finals, after defeating Roger Federer in the last eight and Novak Djokovic in the final four.
Berdych has had some intriguing contests with Federer, including as recently as Indian Wells 2017.
The Czech remains one of the strongest examples of a player who had everything needed to win a major, but his prime years coincided with the Big Three, and unlike the likes of Wawrinka, Del Potro and Cilic, the ‘Big Berd’ was not able to pierce through unfortunately.