9 Tennis Stars Who Never Won A Grand Slam

FUN FACTS January 16, 2018 By Hugo

Reaching the pinnacle of a sport as physically and mentally draining as tennis isn't easy. In fact, few players will earn enough to make a living from the game, let alone win any of the main trophies because those that do typically have a ranking in and around the top 20.

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As for the ultimate prizes? Well, that's a different story altogether. To win one or more of the four grand slams (the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open), you usually have to be one of the best players in the world to have a realistic chance of competing.

However, there have been remarkably talented tennis players over the years that have fallen just short. Here are nine notable examples.

1. Nikolay Davydenko

With a career-high ranking of 3 in the world, the player Juan Martin del Potro nicknamed "PlayStation" could beat just about anyone on his day, despite being relatively small (5ft' 10") for a sport typically dominated by giants.

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Making four grand slam semi-final appearances, the Russian lost to Roger Federer on three of those occasions, despite his swelling groundstrokes and ability to dominate points from the baseline winning him 21 ATP titles, one of which came at the World Tour Finals. 

Unofficially acknowledged as the 'fifth grand slam', the tournament invites only the best eight players in the world to compete, and Davydenko won the 2009 tournament in convincing fashion, beating the Argentinian Juan Martin del Potro in straight sets. He is also one of the few players to hold a winning record against Rafael Nadal (6-5).

2. Tim Henman

Tiger Tim was effectively a one tournament player, with his best slam results coming at Wimbledon as the baying sounds of 'Come on, Tim' rippled through the Centre Court arena. No doubt spurred on by the chants, four of the Brit's six slam semi-final appearances came at the All England Club.

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Reaching a career high of number 4 in the world, his best chance at a slam came in 2001 when he beat an up-and-coming 19-year-old by the name of Roger Federer in the quarterfinals of Wimbledon. 

The victory would see him face the unseeded Croat and wild card Goran Ivanisevic in the semi-finals. Yet it was a match marred by interruptions, with the rain frequently stalling a contest infamously spread over three days. For Ivanisevic, this allowed him to regain his composure and prevail 7-5, 6-7 (6), 0-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3.

3. Dinara Safina

The younger sister of the two-time grand slam winner Marat Safin, Dinara's skills on a tennis court were equally as impressive as her brother's, with the siblings both reaching number one in the world. Sharing many traits, the two were also notoriously visceral with their emotions though both could have achieved more.

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Unlike her brother, however, Dinara failed to even register a single slam victory, despite reaching three grand slam finals between the years May 2008 and May 2009. These came in the form of three crushing defeats to Ana Ivanovic (French Open), Serena Williams (Australian Open), and Svetlana Kuznetsova (French Open).

In 2011, Dinara turned her back on the sport, and despite attempts at a comeback, she officially announced her retirement from tennis in 2011.

4. Mark Philippoussis

Famed for his good looks as much as his tennis, the former world number 8 and two-time grand slam finalist was certainly someone who could have achieved more had injuries and fitness levels not been an issue. Bursting onto the scene at a young age, by 19, the teenager was the youngest player in the 1995 year-ending rankings, and in the following years, his early results reflected such promise.

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Three years later, for instance, the Scud reached his first slam final at the US Open, losing to fellow Australian Pat Rafter in four sets. Though he lost, many saw the final as a sign the big-serving Aussie had what it took to be one of the sports' best players. However, while winning the odd tournament here and there, the Scud never impacted or threatened the likes of Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, though he was one set up against Sampras in the quarterfinals of Wimbledon before having to retire because of a knee injury, which led the legendary American to admit, "  He was outplaying me. ... I feel bad for Mark because he was playing well enough to win here." 

Philippoussis's only other slam final appearance came in 2003 against Roger Federer in the final of Wimbledon. Losing to the 21-year-old, the victory gave Federer his first slam, and in many ways, marked the beginning of his rise to greatness.

5. David Nalbandian

Despite making the Wimbledon final, a match he eventually lost to Leyton Hewitt, David Nalbandian never fulfilled his potential and was often absent from the later stages of grand slam events. In a 13-year career, he made the fourth round four times, the quarterfinals five times, the semifinals four times and the finals once. Yet contrary to popular belief, tennis extends far beyond four tournaments, and his success in the lesser known ones has never been in doubt. 

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For example, Nalbandian won back-to-back Masters 1000 events in Madrid and Paris, beating both Federer and Nadal. His best moment, however, much like Davydenko's, came at the 2005 Masters Cup (now the ATP World Tour Finals), where he came back from two sets down to stun a usually all-conquering Roger Federer 6-7 (4), 6-7 (11), 6-2, 6-1, 7-6 (3), handing the Swiss only his fourth loss in 85 matches that year.

The Argentine also overcame Federer in the fourth round of the 2003 Australian and U.S. Opens, but in the 2003 U.S. Open semifinals, Nalbandian squandered a two-set lead against fourth-seed Andy Roddick, failing to convert a match point before losing 6-7 (4), 3-6, 7-6 (7), 6-1, 6-3.

6. Todd Martin

Unless you're an American tennis fan, you probably have no clue who Todd Martin is, which is a shame as if it wasn't for him playing in an era where fellow Americans Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi reigned supreme, Martin would probably have won at least one slam. For American tennis in general, however, it was a fantastic era, and despite Agassi and Sampras' dominance, Martin still reached his first-ever major final at the Australian Open in his breakthrough year in 1994. Not that anyone gave him any chance, and they were right not to, as he lost in straight sets to Sampras.

Shutterstock/John Barry de Nicola

Two years later, Martin was favored as a contender, and he was expected by many to clinch a first major when he reached the semi-final of Wimbledon in 1996. 

Being the only seed to reach the final four, Martin capitulated when leading 5-1 in the fifth set against compatriot MaliVai Washington, and he lost the decider in heartbreaking fashion when Washington stunned Centre Court to win 10-8. Three years on, the Gentle Giant reached a first major final at the US Open. That time, it was another compatriot in his way, with 8-time-slam-winner Agassi beating him in five, despite leading by two sets to one.

7. Cedric Pioline

Another name few have heard of is the Frenchman Cedric Pioline. Like many of his contemporaries, his hopes of dominating the slams was quickly shattered by the most feared player in the 90s- Pete Sampras.


The 14-time-slam-winner brushed a helpless Pioline aside in their two final appearances with straight-set victories at the US Open in 1993 and four years later at the manicured lawns of SW19. 

8. Miloslav Mecir

The Slovakian was certainly one of the most consistent players of his era. Surprising Mats Wilander and Boris Becker to reach the 1986 US Open and 1989 Australian Open finals before succumbing to Ivan Lendl in straight sets on both occasions. Nonetheless, Miloslav Mecir reached the semifinals of all four grand slams.


Though perhaps the match that keeps Mecir up at night most is his1988 Wimbledon semi-final defeat. Holding a two-sets lead against third seed Stefan Edberg, the Slovakian would go on to lose 6-4, 6-2, 4-6, 3-6, 4-6.

9. Elena Dementieva

Some players just can't do it, can they? Reaching a mammoth nine grand slam semifinals in 10 years, Dementieva's consistency was never questioned, but like with many top-level players, the mental edge required to go all the way wasn't quite there, and this was first apparent at the 2004 French Open.

Appearing in her first final having upset Lindsay Davenport in the semis, Dementieva collapsed in the final against fellow compatriot Anastasia Myskina (6-1, 6-2).

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Dusting herself off, the steely Rusian would reach a second grand slam final that same year when she reached the final of Flushing Meadows but was undone by another Russian, that time in the mold of the two-time slam winner, Svetlana Kuznetsova. 

Now retired, the preprocessing Russian can take some solace from her two grand slam defeats after winning a single's gold for her country at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

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