Winning a Grand Slam title is the ultimate prize in tennis. Players have to win seven best of five matches in a row to make it through. And while players slave away for years in search of Slam glory, some never quite grasp it.
From the classy Miloslav Mecir to the controversial Marcelo Rios, we look at some of the best players in men’s tennis who never won a Grand Slam:
Highest world ranking: 3 (March 2006)
Best Grand Slam performance: 2002 Wimbledon final.
Other highlights: Four semi-finals (2003 US Open, 2004 French Open, 2006 Australian Open, 2006 French Open)
Career titles: 11
Win-loss record: 383-192
David Nalbandian’s backhand was one of the best in the business. The Argentine’s clean shot-making set him apart even though he struggled to perform consistently against a generation that was putting greater emphasis on fitness. Nalbandian’s victory at the 2005 Masters Cup, when he defeated Roger Federer in a thrilling final, remains the brightest jewel in his crown.
Highest world ranking: 8 (April 1999)
Best Grand Slam performance: 1998 US Open final, 2003 Wimbledon final
Other highlights: Part of Davis Cup winning Australian team in 1999, 2003
Career titles: 11
Win-loss record: 313-204
The 6’5 Aussie was the last of the big, power servers to make it big at Wimbledon.
Philippoussis broke through in 1998, when he defeated Tim Henman, Thomas Johansson and Carlos Moya to make it to the US Open final as an unseeded player. He went down to third seed Patrick Rafter in the summit clash.
One of the biggest wins of his career came at Wimbledon 2003, when he served 46 aces and fought back from 1-2 down to defeat second seed Andre Agassi 6-3, 2-6, 6-7, 6-3, 6-4 in the fourth round. Philippoussis came across a young talented Swiss, named Federer, in the final. It turned out to be a break out party for Federer, who defeated Philippoussis 7-6, 6-2, 7-6 and won five Wimbledon titles in a row.
The Australian, who enjoyed his life off-court and took up dangerous hobbies like surfing, could have achieved a lot more but for the injuries that marred his career.
Highest world ranking: 4 (May 2015)
Best Grand Slam performance: 2010 Wimbledon final.
Other highlights: Five semi-finals (2010 French Open, 2012 US Open, 2014 Australian Open, 2015 Australian Open). Part of the Davis Cup winning Czech team in 2012, 2013.
Career titles: 13
Win-loss record: 640-342
The 6’5 Czech was is one of the biggest and cleanest hitters of the tennis ball. Berdych played his entire career in the shadow of the Big 3 (Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic) and still managed to create moments of brilliance.
Berdych came to the fore in 2010. He defeated Andy Murray in the fourth round of the French Open en route a semi-final finish, his best at a Grand Slam till then.
At the next major, the 2010 Wimbledon, Berdych sent defending champion Federer packing. He struck 51 winners during his 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 victory over the Swiss in the quarterfinals. Berdych then knocked out Novak Djokovic in the semi-final to set up a summit clash against Rafael Nadal. But he lost in straight sets to the Spaniard.
Highest world ranking: 3 (July 2013)
Best Grand Slam performance: 2013 French Open final
Other highlights: Four semi-finals (2007 US Open, 2011 Australian Open, 2012 US Open, 2013 Australian Open), Part of Davis Cup winning Spanish team in 2008, 2009, 2011
Career titles: 27
Win-loss record: 734-377
Ferrer holds the record for winning the most number of Tour matches without having won a Grand Slam title. He was a regular in the second week of majors and remains one of the more underrated players.
The 5’9 Ferrer could chase a ball to any corner of the tennis court and still find enough time to ping it back. He didn’t have the biggest game, but he had the heart of a counter-puncher.
Not surprisingly, the Spaniard’s best performance came at the French Open when he reached the final in 2013 without dropping a set. Only the best player on clay in history, Rafael Nadal, could stop his momentum. Nadal defeated Ferrer in straight set to win his eighth French Open title.
Highest world ranking: 4 (February 1988)
Best Grand Slam performance: 1986 US Open final, 1989 Australian Open final
Other highlights: Two semi-finals (1987 French Open, 1988 Wimbledon), Gold medal in men’s singles at 1988 Olympics
Career titles: 11
Win-loss record: 262-122
Mecir was one of the prominent players as tennis made a transition from wooden racquets to metal and then graphite composite ones. True to a generation that had grown up using wooden frames, Mecir’s game was all about touch and finesse. The 6’3 tall Slovak earned the nickname ‘Big Cat’ for his stealthy footwork and deceptive play.
He had a great run at the 1986 US Open, defeating Mats Wilander in the fourth round, Joakin Nystrom in the quarters and Boris Becker in the semi-finals to make the summit clash.
Unfortunately for Mecir, he came against the steeliest player of his generation, Ivan Lendl in both the Grand Slam finals and failed to win a single set on both occasions.
Highest world ranking: 4 (November 2010)
Best Grand Slam performance: 2009 French Open final, 2010 French Open final
Other highlights: Three quarterfinals (2009 US Open, 2010 Wimbledon, 2010 US Open)
Career titles: 10
Win-loss record: 310-170
Soderling’s claim to fame is that he is the first person and one of only two players to beat Nadal at French Open. It wasn’t just that he beat Nadal in the fourth round at the 2009 Roland Garros but the way that he did it that remains permanently etched in the minds of tennis fans.
Nadal, the King of clay, had extended his winning run to 31 at the French Open. But 23rd seed Soderling, with nothing to lose, cracked 61 winners past the Spaniard to hand him a 6–2, 6–7, 6–4, 7–6 defeat. The Swede, though, went down to Federer in his first Grand Slam final.
Soderling kept up his giant-killing run the next year, this time knocking out Federer in the quarterfinals. He snapped the Swiss’ streak of 23 consecutive Grand Slams. In the final, Nadal exacted revenge, beating him 6-4, 6-2, 6-4. The Swede’s no-holds barred game, that sometimes seemed reckless, made him one of the most lethal players.
In the last couple of years, the Swede has admitted that his career was cut short due to mental health issues.
Highest world ranking: 1 (March 1998)
Best Grand Slam performance: 1998 Australian Open
Other highlights: Three quarterfinals (1997 US Open, 1998 French Open, 1999 French Open)
Career titles: 18
Win-loss record: 391-192
Rios remains the only ATP No 1, and arguably the most talented, not to have won a major.
The Chilean southpaw was the first player to win all three clay-court Masters titles (Monte Carlo, Rome Hamburg) since the format was introduced in 1990. He also completed the Sunshine Double (Indian Wells, Miami Masters) in 1998.
Rios played professional tennis only for 10 years – from 1994 to 2004. The final of 1998 Australian Open, between Rios and Petr Korda, turned out to be one of the most lop-sided in history. Korda won 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 in an hour and 125 minutes.
Though the Chilean was a pure shot-maker he wasn’t quite the strategist and had an unhealthy penchant for controversies.