Major Misses

Grand Slam titles are the measuring stick of greatness. But who rose the highest without a major to stand on?

WINNING YOUR first major isn't easy. Golf's Phil Mickelson, the poster boy for the Slam-less wonder, has been trying since he turned pro in 1992. The first half of 2003 saw three young tennis players — Juan Carlos Ferrero, Roger Federer, and Justine Henin-Hardenne — get the monkey off their backs before being tagged with the dreaded best-player-not-to-win-a-major label. That got us to thinking about who does deserve that distinction. Limiting ourselves to retired Open-era players, here are our picks for the 10 best players (five men, five women) to finish their careers without a Grand Slam singles title.

He was a gifted if streaky all-courter with a beautiful one-handed topspin backhand. During his 14-year career, Cedric Pioline won five of 12 finals, attained a high of No. 5, and finished 1993 in the Top 10. -- Pic. ALEX LIVESEY/GETTY IMAGES-

Jose-Luis Clerc: This Argentine's record on fast surfaces was mediocre, but on clay, Clerc had a .772 winning percentage, and he could grind with the best. He won 25 titles (21 on dirt), placing him 23rd on the all-time list, compiled a 365-145 win-loss record, and finished in the Top 10 four times. He even had a 7-7 record against Ivan Lendl. Clerc's best chance at a major was at Roland Garros, of course, and he reached the semis there twice, in 1981 and '82, but lost tight matches to Lendl and Mats Wilander.

Mary Joe Fernandez: She won only seven titles during her 15-year career, yet the graceful baseliner from Miami knew how to turn it up in the big events. Fernandez, a former No. 4, always played well in the heat of Australia, where she advanced to the final in 1990 and '92. She also reached the championship match in Paris in '93, losing 6-4 in the third to Steffi Graf, and got to the final four at the U.S. Open in '90 and '92 and Wimbledon in '91.

Brian Gottfried: The Maryland native squeezed as much out of his talent as any player. He won 25 titles, tying him with Clerc for 23rd on the all-time list, reached another 26 finals, and finished in the Top 10 three times (with a high of No. 5). Having made the 1977 French final and '80 Wimbledon semis, Gottfried is one of the few male Open-era players who excelled on both fast and slow surfaces.

Andrea Jaeger: Want to talk talent? The Chicagoan with the flying pigtails was ranked No. 5 when she was only 15. Her penetrating ground strokes took her to the semifinals of the U.S. Open in 1980 and '82, the semis of the Australian in '82, and the finals of Roland Garros in '82, and Wimbledon in '83. Injuries and burnout got the best of Jaeger, who played a full schedule only from 1980 to 83. That makes her eight singles titles and four Top 10 finishes (with a high of No. 2) all the more impressive.

Mary Joe Fernandez won only seven titles during her 15-year career, yet the graceful baseliner from Miami knew how to turn it up in the big events. -- Pic. CLIVE BRUNSKILL/GETTY IMAGES-

Manuela Maleeva-Fragniere: She was the Martina Hingis of her generation, a crafty all-courter known for her anticipation and touch. Maleeva finished in the Top 10 nine times and was ranked as high as No. 3. She was best on hard courts, advancing to the U.S. Open semifinals in 1992 and '93, but she also made the quarters in the other three majors. With 19 titles, she's one of only two Slam-less women, along with Pam Shriver, to make the Top 20 list for most singles titles in the Open era.

Miloslav Mecir: The quick, clever "Big Cat" was one of the most talented players of the 1980s, with an ability to mix speeds, spins, and angles. But Mecir too often came up clawless in big matches. His record in finals was 11-13. Still, before a bad back ended his career in 1990, he finished in the Top 10 three times, reached the '86 U.S. Open and '89 Australian finals, losing to countryman Ivan Lendl both times, and won the Olympic gold medal in 1988.

Tom Okker: He earned the nickname "The Flying Dutchman" for his foot speed. That, along with his windmill forehand and solid volleys, helped Okker net 31 singles titles. In 1968, he lost a five-setter to Arthur Ashe in the final of the U.S. Open, but perhaps more impressive is that Okker, a former No. 2, reached the semifinals at all four Grand Slams.

Cedric Pioline: He was a gifted if streaky all-courter with a beautiful one-handed topspin backhand. During his 14-year career, Pioline won five of 12 finals, attained a high of No. 5, and finished 1993 in the Top 10. His crowning achievements, reaching the U.S. Open and Wimbledon finals in 1993 and '97, respectively, ended in blowouts at the hands of Pete Sampras.

Pam Shriver: When you get to the final of your second major, as 16-year-old Shriver did at the 1978 U.S. Open, you would bank on winning a cabinet's worth of Grand Slam trophies. And Shriver did — in doubles, 22 of them. While she wouldn't make another trip to a major singles final, Shriver finished in the Top 10 nine years running (1980-'88) and won 21 singles titles.

Wendy Turnbull: Along with Margaret Smith Court and Evonne Goolagong, she's the only Australian woman to reach the finals of three different majors: the U.S. Open in 1977, Roland Garros in '79, and the Australian Open in '80. Turnbull parlayed her foot speed and a deft slice backhand into seven titles and eight consecutive Top-10 finishes from 1977 to '84.

Doug Robson

From Tennis Magazine @ 2003 By Miller Sports Group LLC. Distributed by the Los Angeles Times Syndicate Internatioanl.