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With Wimbledon fast approaching, it would be interesting to take a look at some of the best players who excelled at Wimbledon, but never managed to lift the trophy in the last 30 years.
Ivan Lendl – Ivan had a very good grass court record. He made it to two finals in 1985 and 1986 plus semi finals in 1983, 1984, 1988, 1989 and 1990. You won’t get a much better record than that plus there have been players who have won Wimbledon with nowhere near as good an overall record of wins. Lendl lost in straight sets to a brilliant Boris Becker in 1986 and Pat Cash in 1987.
Lendl had many attributes to win Wimbledon including a big serve and athleticism but the criticism was that he changed his game for the grass by serving and volleying and should have played his natural game instead. Tough because back then everyone came to the net and the grass courts weren’t as playable for baseline Tennis as they are now.
Pat Rafter – Pat Rafter did not have his best results at Wimbledon until towards the end of his career. A contemporary of Sampras and Ivanesivic, Rafter took to the grass courts from 1998 onwards – up until that point, Rafter was a hard court player due to the big kick serve and even bounce hard courts offered his game.
One can argue Rafter was unlucky; in 1999 he lost in the semi final to an inspired Andre Agassi. In 2000 Rafter played the best match of his career beating Agassi in 5 sets in the semi final but came up against Sampras in the final. Even though Rafter won the 1st set on a tiebreak, Sampras was always threatening to run away with the match with persistent good returning, which he eventually did after turning around the 2nd set tiebreak.
In 2001, Rafter came from behind twice to defeat Agassi in a 5 set thriller in the semi final and then played one of the best matches of the Open era against Ivanesivic in an amazing 5 set final with both players desparate to win after Sampras’ demise. Both players deserved to win but Goran came through 9-7 in the 5th to avoid been included in this discussion!
Rafter had all the physical and mental attributes to win Wimbledon but maybe just didn’t have the little bit of luck needed at the highest level to pull it off.
Andy Roddick – Perhaps I’m too quick to include Andy here because he’s still on the Tour and not yet 30 years old. But you wonder if his last chance has gone after blowing the 2nd set tiebreak last year against Federer in the final. Roddick has been to three finals, each time losing to Roger Federer so one can argue that he has been slightly unlucky.
However, I can also argue that out of everyone in this list, Roddick is the least talented and relies too much on his serve. He doesn’t possess the athleticism of the other players mentioned, and his return game is the least effective. The media is always focused on the serve but if you cannot return serve well, winning Wimbledon is impossible.
As Sampras has always said, it’s the return of serve that wins Wimbledon – otherwise we would see Karlovic and Rusedski win Wimbledon if it was just about the serve.
Roddick still has time so lets see what happens.
Tim Henman – Henman is an interesting choice because he never actually made a final. But he did make it to four semi finals from 1998 to 2002.
Henman had a lot going for him. He was very athletic, he had fanatical home support and had a very nice return game. His best chance came in 2001 when he had Ivanesivic on the rack in the 3rd set but the rain came and changed everything. He also gave Sampras a good match in 1999, taking the 1st set but Sampras’ experience proved too much in the end.
In my view the reason Henman never won Wimbledon was he simply did not have the power to go with his athleticism. His serve wasn’t strong enough consistently, he was never able to serve many aces or unreturnables, so he always had to work hard, and eventually that takes its toll against the best players – in other words, Henman wasn’t able to intimidate the opposition into mistakes.
Mark Philippoussis – Mark made it to the final in 2003, losing to Roger Federer who won his first Wimbledon. Roger was the better player that day, and even though there were two tiebreaks, Roger’s return game made the difference.
Mark had many gifts, he was physically imposing and had one of the biggest and best serves in the game. Unfortunately Mark had many injury issues, and the word is that he didn’t have the discipline to work hard enough on his game to get the best out of himself. Therefore you can argue that Mark was a wasted talent – unfortunately for him.
Justine Henin – Like Roddick, Justine is still on the tour, having come out of retirement with the goal of trying to win Wimbledon. Justine has been to two finals and one semi final, losing to Venus Williams in 3 sets in 2001 and Amelie Mauresmo in 3 sets in 2006.
Justine has a beautiful game for grass, she’s athletic and not afraid to attack the net or serve and volley. Plus Justine can use the slice to keep the ball low against the many two handers out there on the backhand side. What has prevented Henin winning Wimbledon up to now? In my view Justine has the same issue as Henman, her lack of power so far has made the difference and prevented her from being able to able to conquer Wimbledon.
Lets see what happens this year.
Arantxa Sanchez Vicario – Arantxa has a record similar to Lendl, finalist twice and semifinalist on a few occasions. Arantxa faced Steffi Graf in 1995 and 1996. In 1995 Arantxa gave everything but there was an incredible 9th game in the 3rd set which last almost 25 minutes, Steffi was bale to eventually break and serve out for the title. In 1996 Steffi was always in control.
Arantxa was a crafty and intelligent player who was tactically aware. She won the French Open 3 times and the US Open beating Graf in a great final in 1994. But again, at Wimbledon, Arantxa just lacked the power and athleticism of her rivals including Graf, Novotna and Navratilova.
I would like to finish the article with a few honourable mentions who had the game to win Wimbledon and managed to win after coming so close on many occasions. They are Goran Ivanesivic, Jana Novotna and Amelie Mauresmo.
Sabatini without a doubt should be up there. Gaby even has more SF (3-1) showings at Wimbledon than Sanchez Vicario, and was just 2 points away from winning it in 1991 in the final..
I would not certainly include Philipoussis, the guy just reached past the QF round at Wimbledon just once. That would be similar to saying that Nalbandian should have a Wimbledon title by now. Hmm. Mark had the serve and power, he really lacked the physical atheticism to win at Wimbledon. He got to two slam finals though, probably i can understand why you choose him.
Nice work btw, great job!