The legends of the tennis world think of winning a career Slam, that is, to win all four of the Grand Slam singles titles in a career. Winning all of the Grand Slams and mastering all surfaces truly allows a player to put his mark on history. The most recent members of this small club are Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. Nadal joined with the U.S. Open title in 2010 while Federer needed the French Open title in 2009 to accomplish this rare feat. As we eagerly await the start of the French Open next week, here are five greats who won the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the U.S Open, but could never master the red clay at Roland Garros.
Pete Sampras, United States – Sampras is the most obvious to lead this list. Sampras won an unprecedented 14 Grand Slam singles titles (since eclipsed by Roger Federer) but could not capture the title at the French. The fabulous skills that helped Sampras win a record seven Wimbledon titles just didn’t quite translate to clay. Sampras did win one noteworthy title on clay (Rome, 1994), but the deepest he made it at the French Open was a trip to the semifinals in 1996, where he lost to eventual champion Yevgeny Kafelnikov.
John Newcome, Australia – The Tennis Channel recently came up with its list of the 100 greatest tennis players of all time. Newcome ranked 31st on that list, which included men and women. The list placed Newcome as the 18th best male player ever. Newcome won a total of seven Grand Slam titles, five coming in the open era. He also took over the #1 ranking in 1974. Though Australians dominated the French Open in the 1960s, winning seven times, Newcome was never able to take the crown.
Jimmy Connors, United States – The lefty from Belleville, Illinois won 109 singles titles and took the #1 ranking several times from 1974 to 1983, but he came up short at the French. Connors won a record five U.S Open titles (later tied by Pete Sampras and Roger Federer) and two Wimbledon crowns among his eight major titles, but like all on this list, couldn’t get the job done at Roland Garros. Connors made the semis four times, most recently in 1985, but could never make the final.
Boris Becker, Germany – Becker was consistent in his clay court results – not one of his 49 career singles titles came on clay, according to his career results on the ATP web site. Becker won Wimbledon three times, the Australian Open twice and the U.S. Open. He was able to make clay-court finals in big tournaments like Monte Carlo (three times), Rome and Hamburg (then a Masters series event) but like Connors before him, Becker lost in each of his trips to the French Open semifinals, most recently in 1991, when he lost to Andre Agassi.
Novak Djokovic, Serbia – Unlike the others, Djokovic, of course, can remove his name from this list. With the level of play we have seen from the Serb over the last two years it would be foolish to think he will never win this event. He has won seven titles on clay, including Rome twice and Madrid. But he has never made the final of the French Open. Even last year, when Djokovic was putting together a season for all time, he lost to Federer in the semifinal of the French Open.
Brad Boeker has been a fan of professional tennis for over 30 years. He coaches high school tennis in Illinois.