5 Times Tennis Players Missed Out on a Grand Slam
Five Times Tennis Players Missed Out on a Grand Slam
Rafa Nadal has opted against defending his US Open title this year due to fears about travelling to New York during the Covid-19 pandemic. World number one Ashleigh Barty is also skipping the tournament, along with world number two Simona Halep and a host of other big names. We have delved into the history books to find five more examples of famous players missing Grand Slams despite being fit:
Smith Boycotts Wimbledon
Defending champion Stan Smith was among 81 players to boycott Wimbledon in 1973 to protest the suspension of Nikola Pilic. The Yugoslav Tennis Association suspended Pilic after claiming he refused to take part in a Davis Cup tie for his country against New Zealand earlier that month. The International Lawn Tennis Federation (ILTF) supported the nine-month suspension causing an outcry. The ILTF later reduced the ban to one month, but that meant Pilic – the number one Yugoslav tennis player – would not be able to play at Wimbledon.
The recently created Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) said that all of its members should boycott the tournament if Pilic was prevented from competing. That resulted in 81 of the top players pulling out, including defending champion Smith. In total, 12 of the 16 men’s seeds withdrew. Three ATP players – Ilie Nastase, Roger Taylor and Ray Keldie – played in spite of the boycott, and the ATP disciplinary committee fined them for taking part. Nastase argued that the Romanian army had forced him to take part, although his appeal was unsuccessful. One theory suggests that Nastase lost his fourth round clash on purpose in support of the boycott. A number of unknown players ended up taking part at Wimbledon instead that year in order to make up the numbers, and Jan Kodes ended up winning it.
Federer Skips French Open
Federer decided to skip the entire clay court season in 2017 and 2018, meaning he missed the French Open twice in a row, despite being fully fit. It seemed like a sensible decision, as Nadal is remarkably dominant at Roland-Garros, and Federer’s sole French Open triumph came all the way back in 2009. He is a lot stronger on grass and clay, so he decided to preserve his energy for more realistic challenges. The Swiss won the Australian Open in 2017 and 2018 along with Wimbledon in 2017, so he can justify his decision to skip the clay court season.
Nadal breezed to victory in both years and he probably would have swept Federer aside on his favoured surface if they had come face-to-face. Federer decided to play at Roland-Garros in 2019 and he went all the way to the semi-finals, but suffered a straight sets defeat to Nadal. The Spaniard went on to beat Dominic Thiem in the final, clinching a record-breaking 12th French Open title. He is now the clear favourite in the tennis odds on the 2020 French Open, and he will certainly be fresh after deciding to miss the US Open.
Hay Fever Causes Lendl to Swerve Wimbledon
Ivan Lendl decided to skip Wimbledon in 1982 after declaring that “grass is for cows”. The Czech star had won more matches than other player that year, but he claimed that playing at Wimbledon would trigger his hay fever. The press speculated that he simply did not want to put in the requisite effort to adapt his game to the surface. He was never comfortable at the net, his first serve was inconsistent and he hated the low and awkward bounce that grass would produce.
Lendl had lost to the unheralded Charlie Fancutt in the first round at Wimbledon in 1981, and commentators speculated that he was keen to avoid a repeat. Defending champion John McEnroe said: “He’s never going to learn how to play on this stuff by avoiding it, and if you want to be the number one player in the world, you have to win the major titles.” Lendl did ultimately work on his grass game, and he ended up with an 81-25 record on grass. He reached the Wimbledon final twice, but lost to Boris Becker in 1986 and Pat Cash in 1987, and it was the only Grand Slam he did not win.
Agassi Skips Australian Open to Rest
Andre Agassi disappointed Australian Open organisers when he opted out of the tournament in 1997. He first played in the event in 1995, when he beat Pete Sampras in a four-set final to clinch the title. The following year he reached the semi-final, where he lost to Michael Chang in straight sets. At the time, he blamed the defeat on windy conditions in Australia, but he later admitted that he lost on purpose as he did not want to face Boris Becker in the final.
He then took the shock decision to avoid the Australian Open entirely in 1997, claiming he needed to rest. Sampras defeated Carlos Moya in straight sets to win the title, but Agassi might have prevailed had he bothered to play. He later confessed that he had started using crystal meth in 1997, but he began a rigorous conditioning programme the following year and returned to the summit of the sport. Agassi went on to win the Australian Open in 2000, 2001 and 2003, making it his most successful Grand Slam event.
Pregnancy Stops Williams Extending Her Dominance
Serena Williams coasted to victory at the 2017 Australian Open. She did not drop a single set en route to the final, where she overcame her sister, Venus. That made Williams the most successful player in the Open Era, ahead of Steffi Graf, and left her just one Grand Slam behind Margaret Court in the all-time stakes. She then revealed that she had been pregnant at the time, making her victory all the more remarkable.
Williams then had to take a lengthy break from the sport, during which she gave birth to a healthy daughter. It meant she was unable to extend her dominance over the women’s game, and several players won their first Grand Slams when Williams was missing. She has reached four Grand Slam finals since returning to action in 2018, but she is yet to draw level with Court as the most successful player in history, although she remains in the hunt for glory at the current US Open.