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As Carlos Alcaraz was crowned the 2024 Roland Garros champion, his opponent, Alexander Zverev, joined the likes of Casper Ruud, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Robin Soderling, and Mark Philippousis in an unwanted club as a multiple grand slam finalist without a grand slam title. 

Having fallen to Austrian Dominic Thiem in the 2020 US Open despite holding a two-sets-to-love lead (the German also led by a break in the fifth set), Zverev again fell agnonisngly short in his first Roland Garros final. 

Entering the tournament, Zverev was the form player in the draw having won the Rome Masters with likely contenders Djokovic, Sinner, and Alcaraz struggling with injury and poor form alike.  

As the early rounds unfolded, all signs pointed to a deep run for Zverev after he professionally blunted the threat of Rafael Nadal in the opening round and subsequently escaped close calls against Tallon Griekspoor and Holger Rune.  

Yet for as well as Zverev played throughout the French fortnight and, play well he did, in the end, he fell short to Alcaraz who played well below his best tennis.

With time on his side, Zverev, 27, may well get another opportunity for his maiden grand slam.  

He’s at his best on the Parisian clay where he can leverage his superior movement and his backhand cross-court gets more purchase; as demonstrated by his 21-4 record at Roland Garros since 2021.  

Similarly, although to a lesser extent, Zverev has proven himself to be a hardcourt threat with multiple trips to the last four at Flushing Meadows and Melbourne Park.  On the contrary, Zverev is typically able to book a holiday during the second week of Wimbledon.  

That said, grand slam success is never guaranteed and it is entirely possible that we’ve seen the last of Zverev on a final Sunday.  If that proves to be the case, would he be the greatest men’s player to never win a slam?

With a career-high ranking of 2, an Olympic Gold, two ATP Tour finals, two slam finals, eight slam semi-finals, and 22 titles to his name; it’s a compelling case.  But who else has a claim? We look at three contenders. 

Marcelo Rios 

Rios remains the only world number 1 to never win a slam on the men's side as the Chilean’s career was cut down at age 27 due to persistent lower back problems.  

Although he lost his only slam final to Petr Korda (father of Sebastian) at the Australian Open in 1998, Rios was a force to be reckoned with in the late-90s with five Masters titles from 1997 to 1999 among 18 titles from 31 finals across his 10-year career.  

Such was Rios’ quality he retired with winning head-to-head records against the likes of Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, Goran Ivanisevic, Tommy Haas, and Carlos Moya despite his form tailing off once injuries hit the temperamental showman in his mid-twenties. 

A flashy left-hander feared for his shotmaking and creativity, Rios was known for his unsociable and combative approach to tennis that often resulted in locker room run-ins as well as several issues with Johny law.

Tomas Berdych

The Czech and former world number 4 is one of several players from the Big 3 era that could claim to have had a significantly more successful career had they played in another era.  

Berdych fell in the 2010 Wimbledon final in straight sets to Nadal in his lone appearance in a slam final however he made the final four on six other occasions and did so at least once at each major.  Only Zverev has more final four appearances without the ultimate success. 

Such was Berdych’s consistency, he made the quarter-final during a grand slam on a further 10 occasions (including five times at the Australian Open).  

Despite possessing a huge serve and forehand combination to accompany a rock-solid two-handed backhand, Berdych was never able to break through into the top three in the rankings and repeatedly fell at the hands of Federer, Djokovic, Nadal, and Murray with a combined 19-76 record against the quartet.  Ultimately, he lacked the variety and explosiveness to consistently trouble those all-time greats. 

Few players could as confidently state they would’ve had a stronger career had they not been born in the mid-to-late 1980s.  

David Nalbandian 

The Argentine famously holds the record as the only player to successively defeat Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic in successive matches thanks to a career run at the Madrid Masters in 2007 (which was then held on indoor hardcourts).  

Defeated by Lleyton Hewitt in his only grand slam final (Wimbledon, 2002) Nalbandian reached the semi-finals at all four grand slams and won the ATP Tour Finals in 2005. 

With a career-high ranking of number 3 in the world, Nalbandian’s technique was the envy of the pro-tour and his fearlessness was exemplified in his 8-11 record against Federer - all of which occurred during what you could consider Federer’s “prime” years.   

A three-time Davis Cup finalist, Nalbandian, who tried his hand at rally car driving post-retirement, may be considered a slightly unfulfilled talent as his temperamental behaviour often got the better of him - including the time he kicked a line judge at Queen’s which resulted in USD $12,000 fine and police investigation.  

Honourable mentions: David Ferrer, Robin Soderling, Todd Martin, Nikolay Davydenko, and Stefanos Tsitsipas* (still active).

1 Comment

David Ferrer would have had a few slams had he not played in the era that he did. I’m happy he made one slam final.

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