Tennis fans all over the world experience—at one point or another—the typical hope and despair cycle of witnessing a favorite player of theirs rise in hype and then fall flat on their face with a whimper.
These underachievers are and were players we loved to love. Why and where it went wrong, no one really knows.
The best consolation, I guess, is that they still get a mention in tennis circles—even if that mention comes in an article detailing the sport's four biggest underachievers since 2000.
How Tim Henman never won a Grand Slam title remains one of tennis' biggest mysteries of the last decade.
Six semifinal appearances (four at Wimbledon, one at the French Open and one at the US Open) and two quarterfinal appearances (both at Wimbledon) do say a lot about what could have been.
In the early 2000s, he was one of a group of players that kept Roger Federer honest, making a busboy out of the Swiss maestro. At one stage, he even held a 6-1 head-to-head record against Federer. In 2004, he reached a career-high ranking of No. 4 in the world.
With an estimated net worth of around £17 million, there clearly wasn't much Tim Henman didn't achieve—if, that is, of course, the Grand Slams aren't "much."
Andy Murray's predecessor, some might say—but at least Murray has a finals appearance or two to show for himself, no?
When Guillermo Coria reached a career-high ranking of No. 3 in the world in 2004 and got to the French Open final that very year ahead of the likes of Carlos Moya and Juan Carlos Ferrero, his prowess on clay was in open view for all to see. It seemed that he was destined for greatness. Not winning that tournament was to be the biggest failure of his career.
Leading convincingly in the final against Gaston Gaudio two sets to love and serving at 4-4 (40-0) up, Coria lost the set, having been distracted by the crowd's Mexican wave. In the subsequent sets, he suffered from leg cramps and was barely able to move—his serves at times not even reaching the net.
Coria dug deep and regained the upper hand in the fifth set, breaking serve on four occasions. He served for the championship twice but failed to convert on championship point on both occasions. He eventually lost the match.
Coria was never the same player after the loss. His latter career was blighted by several serious injuries, including the proverbial "service yips." In 2006, he took a 17-month break from tennis in an attempt to recover himself.
He returned in 2008 for a largely unsuccessful spell, and in April 2009 he retired from the game, saying he "didn't feel like competing anymore."
The big question: How did Marat Safin end his career with just two Grand Slam titles?
For a man who—at a stage—was the No. 1-ranked player in the world, who won two Davis Cup titles for his country and was touted to be even more talented than Federer, the above question is unanswerable.
Safin beat the great Pete Sampras in three straight sets to win his first Grand Slam at the US Open in 2000 (I mean, can you imagine that?!). He was able to beat Roger Federer in his prime in the 2005 Australian Open semifinal on his way to the title that year.
More impressively, in the final, to show just how mentally and physically strong he could be if he really wanted to be, he beat Aussie Lleyton Hewitt (one of the greatest competitors of all time) in front of a partisan home crowd.
Safin was a very emotional player, and this was mostly a detriment to him. His outbursts often cost him matches and even titles. But enough about him—what about the poor rackets he smashed to oblivion?
Injuries ravaged Safin after 2005—it didn't help either that he seemed determined to avoid working on his game.
In 2008, he became one of a select few players to have reached the semifinals in all Grand Slams—but of what use are semifinals? In November 2009, at the age of 29, Safin retired from the game. In his whole career, Safin only went past the fourth round of the Slams five times (and to think that Federer—at a stage—reached 29 consecutive quarterfinals).
Was there anything David Nalbandian couldn't have achieved had he simply a penchant for consistency?
At his best, it was an accepted truth that he could compete with and outplay the very best in the world. Although he never reached the No. 1 ranking, there were certain times during his career where he was for sure the unofficial best player in the world.
His slew of achievements was impressive. Ultimately, though, they lack that all-important Grand Slam title. Like Safin, he is one of a few players to have reached the semifinal in all the Grand Slam events. He even reached the Wimbledon final in 2002, albeit losing weakly in straight sets to Lleyton Hewitt.
Such, though, was the man's talent that despite injury layoffs and bad form, he defeated Federer in his prime to win the World Tour Finals in 2005—his biggest title to date.
In 2007, he defeated Rafael Nadal in two consecutive tournaments in straight sets. At the Madrid Masters event that year, at the age of 25, he made history by defeating Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Federer to become one of only three players to have ever beaten the top three players in the world in a single tournament.
Nalbandian was (and still is) very talented, but injuries and poor performances at crucial stages have hampered him. He began 2011 ranked outside the top 20 and said he hoped to reach the top 10 at some stage. As of today, he is ranked No. 25.