Missing Out on the Wimbledon Title…
…and a career slam
When there are discussions about players having missed out on a career Grand Slam, owing to their failure to win one particular tournament, such lists usually include names that failed at Roland Garros. The French Open is more often than not the odd one out.
There are many legendary players who failed to win in Paris and consequently, their collection of major trophies remained incomplete. John Newcombe, Arthur Ashe, Jimmy Connors, Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg, Pete Sampras, Martina Hingis…It is a pretty long list.
That being said, the major tournament held a few weeks after the French Open has also played its part in depriving players of having a complete collection of the four major titles.
It’s a fact. Every player wants to add a Wimbledon title to his/her resume. Whether they admit to it or not is another matter altogether.
While a few notable names like Martina Navratilova, Björn Bjorg, Steffi Graf, Sampras, Venus Williams, Roger Federer, Serena Williams, and Novak Djokovic made a habit of winning at the All-England Club, a handful — Pat Cash, Michael Stich, Richard Krajicek, Conchita Martinez and Marion Bartoli seized the lone opportunity that came their way. As such, The Championships remains the sole Grand Slam title of this initially promising, albeit eventually underachieving lot of players.
Then there are two names who, despite repeated failures, never gave up but rather kept trying till they finally managed to lay their hands on that elusive Wimbledon trophy.
You guessed it right. The reference is towards Jana Novotná and Goran Ivanišević.
It would have been a shame indeed if either of the two had called it quits without winning at the All England Club.
Finally, there are those players who have a handful of major titles to their credit alright but fell short when it came down to winning at SW19. In fact, it is a failure at Wimbledon that ensured there was something missing from their otherwise impressive Grand Slam collection.
As the 135th edition of The Championships gets underway let’s have a look at the players* who won the other three majors but couldn’t complete a ‘Career Slam’ because of their failure to win the biggest of them all.
Ken Rosewall (Australia)
Best results: Finalist (1954, 1956, 1970, 1974)
In a span of two decades, transcending the amateur era to professional tennis, Ken Rosewall played in as many as four finals at Wimbledon.
In 1954, Rosewall, then just 20 years in age, lost in the final to a player who had finished second best twice before (Jaroslav Drobný). While he may have helped the Czech-turned-Egyptian-turned-Briton win that elusive All England title in the third attempt, there was no one willing to return the favor. The legendary Australian went on to win eight major titles but none of them came at SW19.
Rosewall made it to the final on three further occasions, the last as a 40-year-old (in 1974), only to be at the receiving end each time. In his two final appearances, the Australian took compatriot Newcombe to the distance in 1970 but was no match for Connors four years later.
Guillermo Vilas (Argentina)
Best results: Quarterfinals (1975, 1976)
To dismiss Guillermo Vilas as a clay-court specialist would testament to committing hara-kiri. While it is true that the Argentine enjoyed significant success on the slow surface it is also a fact that his record on faster surfaces was pretty impressive.
Vilas won the Masters — the precursor to the year-end ATP Finals — in 1974 (held on grass court that year) and was also a two-time winner at the Australian Open, in back-to-back years (1978–79). It is imperative here to mention that the Grand Slam Down Under was played on the grass courts at Kooyong Stadium back then.
However, at SW19 back to back appearances in the last eight stage were his best results. While it was a five-set affair against American Roscoe Tanner in 1975, the following year witnessed Borg steamroll past him en route to the first of his five consecutive titles.
Vilas’ 15–11 career win/loss record at the All England Club is by far his worst in Grand Slam tournaments. Compare that to his 23–3 record from just five appearances Down Under, and you will understand it was not about the surface.
Hana Mandlíková (Czechoslovakia)
Best results: Finalist (1981, 1986)
Hana Mandlíková had a relatively successful professional career. A haul of four major titles (from eight finals) included two Australian Open titles (1980, 1987), a French Open (1981) and an US Open (1985).
Considering both of her titles in Melbourne were won on grass, she became only the third woman — after the legendary duo of Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova — to win major titles on all the three surfaces. The lone Grand Slam that the Czech missed out on was the Big W.
To her credit, Mandlíková made 11 attempts at the All England Club, reaching the final on two occasions (1981 and 1986), first coming up short against Evert and then finishing second best to Navratilova.
Ivan Lendl [Czechoslovakia (now The Czech Republic or Czechia)]
Best results: Finalist (1986–87)
The “Grass is for the cows” has over the years become a cliché. Ivan Lendl is reported to have uttered the same while deciding to give Wimbledon a miss in 1982, and go on a holiday instead. However, the reality is probably something else. Perhaps no player wanted to win the All England Open as badly as the Czech-born American, considering it would have marked the icing in his almost perfect career.
Lendl reached successive Wimbledon finals in 1986 and 1987, first losing to Becker and then to Cash, in what was a particularly surprising result. Besides, he made it to the last four on five other occasions, ending with a 48–14 career record at the All England Club — better than that of many players who indeed managed to win the coveted title.
Having won the other three majors on multiple occasions, it was his failure to win at SW19 that cost him a career slam.
Lendl albeit achieved success as a coach at Wimbledon. Andy Murray had become the second player in the Open Era (after Lendl) to have lost all his first four Grand Slam finals. Lendl helped the Scot win not only his first major title — at the 2012 US Open — but also his maiden Wimbledon trophy in the following year. In 2016 Lendl rejoined Murray’s coaching team and helped him win at SW19 for a second time.
Mats Wilander (Sweden)
Best results: Quarterfinals (1987–89)
It wasn’t that the Swede was averse to playing on grass. Two Australian Open titles (1983–84) on the grass courts of Kooyong, and a doubles title at Wimbledon — with compatriot Joakim Nyström (in 1986) provide ample proof of his efficiency in the mowed lawns.
It was just that Wilander wasn’t as consistent at Wimbledon as he was in other major tournaments. Three quarter-final appearances (between 1987 and 1989), and a 25–10 win/loss record, hardly justify the credentials of a player who won seven Grand Slam titles and was a former no.1 player.
That being said, Wilander’s best chance was probably in 1988, the year in which he won the other three major titles. He also made it to the last eight stage at Wimbledon that year, winning his first four matches in straight sets, but a certain Miloslav Mečíř ensured he didn’t get further.
Despite the defeat there was silver lining, with Stefan Edberg winning the title to ensure Sweden a complete haul (read a Swedish Slam) that year.
Monica Seles [Yugoslavia (present day Serbia) & United States]
Best result: Finalist (1992)
Monica Seles won nine major titles, four at the Australian Open, three consecutive times at the French Open and two at the US Open.
The lone tournament she missed out on was at the All England Club. However, during her peak years between 1990 and 1993 she did manage to reach the final in 1992. Only that Steffi Graf was too good for her on the day.
An attack from a mentally unstable (German) fan cut short her career in 1993. She did make a comeback two years later but never really made an impact at Wimbledon. In fact, of 53 singles titles, only one came on grass.
A 30–9 win/loss record at SW19 is without doubt her worst among all the major tournaments.
Justine Henin (Belgium)
Best results: Finalist (2001, 2006)
Justine Henin’s immensely successful tennis career earned her seven major titles, including four at the French Open.
While the Belgian missed out on winning Wimbledon, it is sheer coincidence that her first major final appearance came at the All-England Club. She faced American Venus Williams in the 2001 final. Despite taking the second set, Henin failed to win a game in the third. Yeah, it was that bad.
She probably had a better chance in the 2006 final against Amelie Mauresmo. However, after winning the opening set with ease Henin failed to stop the Frenchwoman from beating her in a second major final that year — after the Australian Open.
That being said, Henin had an impressive record otherwise. Between 2001 and 2007 the Belgian reached the semi-finals (or better) on five occasions.
Stan Wawrinka (Switzerland)
Best results: Quarterfinals (2014 & 2015)
It is not as if Stan Wawrinka has an exceptional record at the other major tournaments (151–59 record overall). It is just that he was smart enough to seize all but one of the opportunities that he created, and thereby ended up winning three Grand Slam titles, one each in different tournaments.
Unfortunately at the All England Club Wawrinka could never create a chance that could be capitalized upon.
In 2014, the Swiss player proceeded to have his best-ever run at the tournament, reaching the quarterfinals for the first time, dropping just one set in the process. He faced Federer in the first all-Swiss men’s quarterfinal in Wimbledon history, and the end result was predictable. The more eminent of the two Swiss players won in four sets.
The following year Wawrinka again made it to the last eight, and put up an even better fight before Frenchman Richard Gasquet took the fifth set 11–9.
The Lausanne-born has failed to cross the second hurdle in each of his four subsequent attempts. That Wawrinka has a 20–15 win/loss record at SW19, easily his worst among the four majors, hardly comes across as a surprise.
*Limited to the Open Era (1968 onwards)