Besides Novak Djokovic winning the Australian Open in 2008, it seems the Slams in the past few years have belonged almost completely to Roger Federer and, more and more, Rafael Nadal—but not much besides those two.
Federer’s decline seems much more obvious this year, while Nadal, although winning three out of the last four grand slams, seems beatable off the clay, if he’s played correctly. Things seem a bit more open, and more players can join the chase for the big titles, even those who haven’t won one in their career.
Here’s my list of the best six players today without a Slam title and their future chances of winning one.
Andy Murray, United Kingdom
Current ATP ranking: Fourth.
Career singles titles: 11, 10 of them on hard courts, one on carpet. three titles in 2009.
Grand Slam Bests: Australian Open—fourth round (2007, 2009); French Open—third round (2008); Wimbledon—quarterfinal (2008); U.S. Open—final (2008).
Boasting a 26-2 record, the almost 22-year-old Scottish player is the latest hope for the Brits to finally win Wimbledon for the home team.
He has already reached two Masters finals this year, winning one in Miami vs Novak Djokovic and losing one to Rafael Nadal in Indian Wells.
Despite his lack of success on clay so far in his career, he has reached the Monte Carlo Masters semifinal, where he has lost to Rafael Nadal, who hasn’t lost in Monte Carlo for 26 straight matches, which might signal he is to be considered a contender for the upcoming Roland Garros.
He will surely be one of the top contenders for a win in Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, where he reached the finals last year.
My bet: With Federer looking less and less capable of constantly showing his old form, count on Andy Murray to get his first Grand Slam by the end of 2009 or early 2010. What happened this Australian Open was just a glitch. Murray is the real deal.
Juan Martin Del Potro, Argentina
Current ATP Ranking: fifth.
Career singles titles: five, two on clay and three on hard courts. One title in 2009.
Grand Slam Bests: Australian Open—quarterfinal (2009); French Open—second round (2008); Wimbledon—second round (2007,2008); U.S. Open—quarterfinal (2008).
The 20-year-old Argentinian beat Rafael Nadal in the Miami Masters’ quarterfinal, a win that brought him further into the spotlight than ever before, and his growing talent has gotten a lot more media time than ever before. This year seems like his breakout year, and he is expected to be a major force at Roland Garros.
The only problem? Rafa—Nadal to you and me—who just seems unbeatable on clay at the moment. But Del Potro has beaten him recently, maybe he has his magic number?
My bet: No Grand Slam for Del Potro this year, but he’s only 20, and if he keeps progressing like he has in the past 16 months, we will see him getting a big trophy or two. He has to improve his record against the top ranked players, as he is 1-13 against Federer-Nadal-Murray-Djokovic.
Gilles Simon, France
Current ATP Ranking: seventh.
Career singles titles: five, three on clay and two on hard courts. No titles in 2009.
Grand Slam Bests: Australian Open—quarterfinal (2009); French Open—second round (2007); Wimbledon—third round (2008); U.S. Open—third round (2008).
The Swiss-born French player had his profile rise in 2008 by beating both Nadal and Federer in tournament play, but he has yet to thrive on the momentum, and his trophy cabinet is void of one in 2009 as of yet.
Already 25, Simon is considered a late bloomer, winning his first title five years after first going pro.
He did put on his best Grand Slam appearance in Australia this year, reaching the quarterfinal only to be knocked out in 3 sets by Rafael Nadal. Can he produce a better performance in this year’s Roland Garros, where he hasn’t exactly been dazzling?
My Bet: Although Simon is extremely talented and, on a good day, can beat anyone on any court (well, maybe not grass), he isn’t consistent enough and doesn’t step up when he’s on a big stage, whether it’s a Masters or a Grand Slam.
With Murray and Djokovic and of course Nadal and Roger and other youngsters, I don’t see Simon winning a Slam before he retires.
Gael Monfils, France
Current ATP Ranking: 10th.
Career singles titles: One, on clay. No titles in 2009. He also has four Challenger titles.
Grand Slam Bests: Australian Open—fourth round (2009); French Open—semifinal (2008); Wimbledon—third round (2005,2007); U.S. Open—fourth round (2008).
The No. 2 Frenchman and, guess what, he was also born in Switzerland. With Wawrinka and Federer, they could have made an amazing Davis Cup team, no?
Monfils is probably one of the most exciting players on the tour since his arrival on the pro scene in 2004. He made a huge leap in 2005 into the top 50, also winning a title in Sopot, Poland, but since then, he seems more like a young man exploding with potential but not fulfilling it.
But the past year or so has been better for him, reaching the semis in Roland Garros before being outed by Federer and also reached his career bests in Australia and the U.S. Open last summer. He started this year with a win over Nadal in Doha, before losing to Andy Roddick in the final of the tournament.
My Bet: Monfils has long been one of my favorite players on the tour. He’s an entertainer as much as he’s a tennis player, and he’s incredibly fun to watch when his game is on.
The problem is that sometimes he relies too heavily on his athleticism, and that could get the best of him. Nonetheless, Monfils showed last year he can go deep in the French Open and wasn’t far from beating Federer. He can beat Nadal, posing a style that gives the Spaniard a lot of problems.
I see him winning one French Open in the next few years.
David Nalbandian, Argentina
Current ATP Ranking: 15th.
Career singles titles: 10, four on clay and four on hard, two on carpet. One title in 2009.
Grand Slam Bests: Australian Open—semifinal (2006); French Open—semifinal (2004, 2006); Wimbledon—final (2002); U.S. Open—semifinal (2003).
Unlike the rest of players before him on this article, Nalbandian is seemingly past his prime. It seems Nalbandian peaked about four to five years ago. His 2009 form so far has been less than great, except for winning the Sydney tournament in the beginning of the year.
Nalbandian does play beautiful tennis at his best, clean and efficient as some may call it. The problem is it doesn’t come out too often.
My bet: It won’t happen for the Argentinian, who’ll go down as one of the best players to never win a Grand Slam. His ability to beat Federer, Nadal and also Djokovic always keeps him in the shortlist of contenders, but it doesn’t seem like he still has it in him to keep it up for a whole major tournament.
James Blake, United States
Current ATP Ranking: 17th.
Career singles titles: 10, all on hard. None in 2009 and 2008.
Grand Slam Bests: Australian Open—quarterfinal (2008); French Open—third round (2006); Wimbledon—third round (2006,2007); U.S. Open—quarterfinal (2005,2006).
Blake, who will turn 30 by the end of 2009, has the unfortunate luck of being American, and he is expected to succeed like Sampras and Agassi in the 90’s and early 2000’s.
Blake definitely has the talent but just seems to be missing something else, probably drive or killer instinct, call it what you like. Maybe he just doesn’t cope well with great pressure, and his lack of Grand Slam and Masters trophies is good proof of that.
My Bet: Blake has one of the best forehands in the game and is one of the more physically gifted players to step on the tennis court. That’s not enough with the competition being the way it is these days.
Being almost an old man in tennis terms, Blake doesn’t have much gas in the tank probably, despite looking to be fit enough to play like any of the youngsters.
His inability to win in the past two years and his inability to do anything outside a hard court will leave Blake, like Nalbandian, without a Slam in his very impressive career.