Before the modern dominance that has been exerted on the French Open by the “King of Clay” Rafael Nadal, the clay court Grand Slam was known for throwing up a surprise or two, particularly in the case of some of the men’s singles champions in the Open Era.
While the Spaniard has won eight of the last nine tournaments played at Roland Garros, supporters may not have been so familiar with some of the names that preceded him on the list of winners, such as Yannick Noah, Albert Costa or Gaston Gaudio.
Some of the greatest and most decorated players to have ever played the game never had the taste of victory in the final in Paris, and ahead of the second Grand Slam of the year beginning on Sunday, we take a look here at the top five players past and present that have never managed to take home the Coupe des Mousquetaires trophy.
Four of the players on the list are American, showing that European players brought up on clay have traditionally favoured well at the tournament, and four of them will look back on the tournament with anguish, as it was the only title that prevented them from winning the career Grand Slam.
5) Arthur Ashe
A three-time Grand Slam champion, the Virgina-born player never made it beyond the quarter-finals, with his two appearances in the last eight coming in 1970 and 1971.
While he was the first black player to be selected for the United States Davis Cup team, his other career achievements included winning the US Open in 1968, Australian Open in 1970 and Wimbledon in 1975, and he is still the only black player to have won the men’s singles title at all three of those tournaments.
Ashe died from AIDS related pneumonia in 1993 at the age of 49, and he is remembered as one of the greatest players of his generation.
4) Novak Djokovic
The Serbian is likely to be cursing his luck that the peak of his career has come at the same time as eight-time champion Nadal, who has knocked him out of the competition five times, including the final in 2012.
The 27-year-old has reached semi-finals five times, with three of those ending in defeat to Nadal, and victory at Roland Garros would be the icing on the cake for a career that has seen him win six Grand Slams across the other three tournaments.
He will fancy his chances this year, and the world number two can take confidence from his victory over the Mallorcan in the final of the Rome Masters last week.
3) Jimmy Connors
Connors’ trophy cabinet can boast eight Grand Slam titles, with five of those being at the US Open, but no French Open titles.
The semi-finals proved to be a stumbling block for him at the main event of the clay court season, as Andy Roddick’s former coach lost all four that he reached between 1979 and 1985.
A two sets to one lead over Vitas Gerulaitis in their semi-final in 1980 was the closest he would get to a final, and it is the only honour missing from a career that also included a Davis Cup winners medal and two Grand Slam doubles titles.
2) John McEnroe
Even McEnroe himself must have been mystified that he never quite made it over the line in his quest to become the first American to win the tournament in the Open Era, particularly in the 1984 final.
The tennis world was shocked when the New Yorker lost to Ivan Lendl from being two sets up, in a year where he held a win-loss record of 82-3, and Lendl won his first Grand Slam final at the fifth time of asking.
McEnroe won the US Open four times and Wimbledon three times, but a semi-final loss to Mats Wilander in 1985 was the closes he came to another French Open final.
1) Pete Sampras
Roger Federer is the only man to have won more Grand Slams than Sampras, whose total of 14 places him as one of the greatest players in history, and our choice for the best to have never won the French Open men’s singles title.
While he may have won seven Wimbledon titles in the space of eight years, his form at Roland Garros never came close to replicating that, as his only semi-final appearance came in 1996, where he lost to Yevgeny Kafelnikov.
Some of his defeats at the tournament included shock losses to Ramon Delgado in the second round in 1998 and Andrei Medvedev at the same stage a year later.
His final Grand Slam win came in 2002 at the US Open, and he was top of the list of men with the most majors when he retired that year.
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