The One Loss Each of Tennis' Top Stars Will Never Forget

Jake Curtis@jakecurtis53Featured ColumnistJuly 24, 2013

The One Loss Each of Tennis' Top Stars Will Never Forget

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    Even the best players in the world have at least one loss that haunts them, one they will never forget.

    A number of today's stars suffered humbling losses in the 2013 Wimbledon tournament. It makes you wonder whether any of those defeats ranks as the toughest loss in that player's career.

    We chose 10 current tennis stars and attempted to pinpoint the one loss that would be the most difficult to erase from their memory. It could have been the magnitude of the upset that makes it unforgettable, or it could have been other circumstances that keep the loss in mind. 

    The five men selected are the top five ranked male players. That includes the so-called Big Four of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic, as well as No. 3-ranked David Ferrer, the only player outside the Big Four to reach the finals of one of the past 12 Grand Slam events.

    Four of the five women chosen are the top four ranked players: Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, Victoria Azarenka and Agnieszka Radwanska. The fifth is Venus Williams, whose ranking has slipped into the 30s because of health issues, but who remains a star and hopes to play in the upcoming U.S. Open.



Venus Williams, 1999 French Open

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    Although injuries and illness have limited Venus Williams' success recently, she still qualifies as one of tennis' stars. 

    She has won seven Grand Slam titles and got to at least the quarterfinals of three majors in 2010. She is hoping to be healthy enough to play in the 2013 U.S. Open and will be a threat if she does.

    But, of course, that does not make her immune to a loss that's difficult to forget. The match that will eat at Williams was a fourth-round loss to Barbara Schwartz in the 1999 French Open.

    The fact that Williams, then seeded No. 5, lost to player ranked 125th was bad enough. But blowing a triple match point in the second set against an overmatched opponent is difficult to get past.

    Williams was on the verge of ending a relatively routine match when she led 6-2, 6-5 and had a love-40 lead on Schwartz's serve in the 12th game.

    Williams let all three match points slip away, then lost a long tiebreaker, 9-7. She eventually lost the match 2-6, 7-6, 6-3.

    Williams' loss was particularly perplexing because she had won her previous two tournaments, both on clay, beating No. 1 Martina Hingis, No. 3 Arantxa Sanchez Vicario and No. 4 Mary Pierce (twice) in the process.


David Ferrer, 2006 Davis Cup

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    David Ferrer seldom wins matches he is not expected to win, but rarely loses matches in which he's favored. As a result, he probably does not have many losses that haunt him.

    One defeat that he surely can't forget, though, came in a 2006 Davis Cup match against Belarus.

    Ferrer is 23-4 in Davis Cup singles matches, but he was playing his very first Davis Cup singles match for Spain in February 2006 when he faced Vladimir Voltchkov in a first-round Davis Cup match.

    Ferrer was ranked 10th in the world at the time and had reached the round of 16 at the Australian Open the month before. Voltchkov was ranked 301st, had not beaten a player ranked in the top 150 in more than a year and had lost to five players ranked outside the top 200 in that span.

    But the circumstances favored Voltchkov. Not only did he have the support of the raucous crowd in Minsk, Belarus, but the fast surface greatly favored Belarus' players.

    "The surface they have chosen doesn't allow you to play tennis," Spain captain Emilio Sanchez Vicario said before the contest, according to a Reuters story. "If it's new it's fine but if it's old ... it is like ice. But it is natural for opponents to choose a surface that will make it as hard as possible for you."

    Also, Spain was playing without injured Rafael Nadal.

    Ferrer lost to Voltchkov 6-3, 6-4, 6-3, and Spain, which had won the Davis Cup in 2004, lost in the first round for the second straight year.

Agnieszka Radwanska, 2008 Miami

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    Agnieszka Radwanska's 2008 loss in Miami probably lingers in her memory longer than her retirement from a match in New Haven did in 2012.

    Certainly the loss in New Haven, Conn., is not one she can erase easily. Radwanska was ranked second in the world when she faced qualifier Olga Govortsova in her opening match of that tournament. Govortsova, who was ranked 82nd, dominated the match, and led 6-0, 2-1 when Radwanska retired from the match, citing a shoulder injury.

    She said later she wanted to make sure her shoulder was healthy for the upcoming U.S. Open, according to

    There was no injury excuse in 2008, when Radwanska, then ranked 16th, lost to 15-year-old Michelle Larcher de Brito, a wild-card entrant in the Miami event. De Brito was ranked 255th and had not beaten a player ranked among the top 120 in the eight tournaments she played over the previous 12 months.

    But she got the better of Radwanksa 2-6, 6-3, 7-5.


Andy Murray, 2011 Miami

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    All of Andy Murray's losses at Wimbledon in his home country are difficult to forget, and losing the 2012 Australian Open to Novak Djokovic after being ahead two sets to one must have been hard to swallow.

    However, it may have been a lesser tournament in 2011 that provided Murray with his most distressing moment.

    Murray had been a finalist at the 2011 Australian Open before losing his opening match of his next three tournaments. Losing to Marcos Baghdatis in his first match after the Australian Open was not a big deal. But losing his next match at Indian Wells to Donald Young, ranked 143rd, did not look good for Murray, who was ranked No. 5 at the time.

    The problems increased in Murray's next match two weeks later, when 118th-ranked Alex Bogomolov Jr. raced out to a quick 4-0 lead en route to a 6-1, 7-5 victory over Murray in Miami.

    “In practice I have been competing well, especially this week, chasing everything down, playing a lot of good points and feeling good," Murray said afterward, according to the Sony Open Tennis website. "Then in the matches I haven't been able to get it going at all.”

    A second straight loss to a player ranked outside the top 100 is not easy to forget.


Maria Sharapova, 2008 Wimbledon

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    Two losses at Wimbledon no doubt stay with Maria Sharapova.

    Her 6-3, 6-4 second-round defeat at the hands of Michelle Larcher de Brito in 2013 won't be forgotten anytime soon. Sharapova was ranked No. 2, and she lost to a player ranked 131st whose only main-draw win in her previous 10 tournament came against someone ranked 275th. Plus the slippery conditions made the match more annoying, as Sharapova fell three times.

    "I just wasn't there," Sharapova said afterward, according to USA Today.

    Nonethless, Sharapova's 6-2, 6-4 second-round loss to Alla Kudryavtseva in the 2008 Wimbledon probably holds a darker place in her memory.

    Kudryavtseva was ranked 154th. Her only win in her previous six tournaments had been against a player ranked 206, and she had lost to a player ranked 305th a month earlier.

    But unlike the 2012 loss, Sharapova could not rationalize the 2008 loss based on court conditions. Sharapova made 22 unforced errors and double faulted eight times in just 18 games. She double faulted three times in one game to help her opponent win the first set, then double faulted at deuce at 4-5 of the second set to give Kudryavtseva the only match point she needed.

    "I can't really be happy about anything today," she said afterward, according to The Guardian.

    What made the 2008 loss more significant was that the No. 3 seeded Sharapova was considered the favorite to win Wimbledon that year, at least according to the bookies, The Guardian reported. Serena Williams was the clear favorite in 2013. 

Novak Djokovic, 2010 French Open

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    Novak Djokovic has reached at least the semifinals in 13 straight Grand Slam events, but the last time he failed to get that far may haunt him forever.

    That came in the 2010 French Open. The No. 3 seeded Djokovic seemed to be cruising through his quarterfinal match against Jurgen Melzer, ranked 27th. Djokovic was sharp while winning the first two sets 6-3, 6-2. Suddenly, and without warning, the wheels fell off for Djokovic, who wound up losing 3-6, 2-6, 6-2, 7-6, 6-4.

    What made the loss particularly distasteful for Djokovic was that he thought he got a bad call on a critical point.

    With Melzer serving at 5-4 in the fifth set, Djokovic hit a shot he thought was good, which would have given him a love-30 lead. It was called out. Djokovic asked the umpire to look at the mark, but he refused. The Reuters report on the match stated the ball appeared to be good. But instead of 0-30, it was 15-15, and Melzer held serve to close out the match.

    "I don't know why the chair umpire got that decision wrong," Djokovic said, according to the Reuters story. "And there was another ball on 4-4, my advantage, as well, and the ball was out."

Victoria Azarenka, 2009-2010 Australian Open

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    Two matches at the same event against the same opponent in consecutive years seem to meld into one traumatic loss for Victoria Azarenka.

    We won't attempt to separate them, just list them as one nightmare.

    In the round of 16 at the 2009 Australian Open, Azarenka, then ranked 13th, won the first set against second-seeded Serena Williams. But her chance for an upset vanished early in the second set because of illness. Trailing 2-3, Azarenka called for a medical timeout as she began getting dizzy. She lasted little more than a game after that as she stood in the shade on wobbly legs between points. She cried when she decided to retire from the match trailing 4-2 in the second set.

    "I started feeling really sick in the morning, I woke up at 6 a.m. and I was throwing up all morning. I just felt so weak," Azarenka told reporters afterward, according to Reuters.

    That's a bad memory that will linger. It did not get any better when she faced Williams in the 2010 Australian Open quarterfinals. The seventh-seeded Azarenka was on her way to an upset of the No. 1 ranked Williams, leading 6-4, 4-0 after holding her serve at love.

    Williams rallied to force a second-set tie-breaker, and Azarenka blew a 3-1 lead in the tie-breaker. Williams ultimately won 4-6, 7-6, 6-2.

    Azarenka and Williams have met seven times in Grand Slam events, and Williams has won all seven.

Rafael Nadal, 2013 Wimbledon

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    Three matches must stick in Rafael Nadal's craw.

    The first was his fourth-round loss to 23rd seeded Robin Soderling at the 2009 French Open. That four-set defeat remains Nadal's only loss in his nine French Open tournaments. Nadal had beaten Soderling 6-1, 6-0 on clay just a month earlier in Rome.

    The second memorable defeat was his five-set loss to 100th-ranked Lukas Rosol in the second round at Wimbledon in 2012. Nadal caused a commotion when he bumped into Rosol during a fifth-set changeover, which Rosol thought was intentional, according to an report. Giving the match an additional negative vibe for Nadal was that it was his last match for seven months because of a knee injury.

    Nadal's third defeat of note was his 7-6, 7-6, 6-4 loss to Steve Darcis in the 2013 Wimbledon. Five things probably make it the most difficult loss for Nadal to dismiss mentally.

    First and foremost, Darcis was ranked 135th in the world, and had done virtually nothing in 2013 to that point.

    Second, it was Nadal's first loss in the first round of a Grand Slam event.

    Third, Nadal was hot. He had reached the finals of all nine tournaments he had played in 2013, winning seven, and was riding a 21-match winning streak.

    Fourth, Nadal lost in straight sets, unable to come up with the important points in the first two tie-breakers and going rather meekly in the third.

    Finally, he finished the match with a slight limp, suggesting the knee injury that had sidelined him for seven months a year earlier was still a problem and could affect him the rest of his career.

Serena Williams, 2012 French Open

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    Although Serena Williams' fourth-round loss to Sabine Lisicki in the 2013 Wimbledon certainly stung, it probably did not produce the lasting impression that Williams' first-round loss to Virginie Razzano in the 2012 French Open did.

    Razzano beat Williams 4-6, 7-6, 6-3, and Williams had tears in her eyes when she talked to the media afterward, according to the account posted by

    It was the first and only time Williams lost in the first round of a Grand Slam event. And this one came against a player ranked 111th in the world who proceeded to lose in straight sets in the next round to 88th-ranked Arantxa Rus.

    But what will stick with Williams most is that she collapsed when she was on the verge of winning. After winning the first set, Williams led 5-1 in the second-set tiebreaker, leaving her just two points from victory. However, she then lost 13 consecutive points and never recovered.

    Williams was the first to flinch in the match's 23-minute final game in which she saved seven match points but blew five break points on Razzano's serve at 5-3.

    "I've been through so much in my life, and ... I'm not happy, by no means," said Williams, her eyes welling with tears, in the account posted on "I just always think things can be worse."

    Perhaps the humbling loss provided motivation for Williams, who then won an Olympic gold medal and three of the next four Grand Slam events.

Roger Federer, 2003 Davis Cup

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    It's easy to point to Roger Federer's epic five-set loss to Rafael Nadal in the 2008 Wimbledon finals as one that will live on in his memory. But that is considered one of the best matches in history, so, despite the disappointment of losing, that owns a relatively comfortable space in his memory banks.

    There are three other losses he'd like to erase from his thoughts.

    A straight-set loss to 18-year-old, 154th ranked Mario Ancic in the first round of the 2002 Wimbledon, when Federer was seeded seventh, has to still rankle Federer. And his second-round loss to 116th ranked Sergiy Stakhovsky in the 2013 Wimbledon was not only a major upset but ended a run of 36 straight Grand Slam events in which Federer had reached at least the quarterfinals.

    However, the one loss he is least likely to forget came in a 2003 Davis Cup match against Australia in Melbourne.

    With Switzerland trailing 2-1, Federer needed to beat Lleyton Hewitt in the first match of Day 3 to force a deciding fifth match.  

    Federer had won 10 straight Davis Cup singles matches, and was cruising to victory over Hewitt, leading 7-5, 6-2, 5-3, according to a World Tennis excerpt from Rene Stauffer's book The Roger Federer Story: Quest for Perfection.

    He was just two points from victory when everything changed. Hewitt won the third set in a tie-breaker, and the fourth 7-5. It got chilly in the final set, and, according to Stauffer's book, Christine Ungricht, the President of Swiss Tennis, complained the Australians had intentionally left the retractable roof of the Laver Arena open to give Hewitt an advantage in the colder conditions.

    Federer ultimately lost 5-7, 2-6, 7-6, 7-5, 6-1 to give Australia the clinching point. Federer did not show up for his post-match media interview until two hours later. He then said, according to the Stauffer book,  “I couldn’t be more frustrated.”