French Open 2012: Ranking Top 10 Players to Never Win French Open
For tennis enthusiasts looking at the photo of Roger Federer, you're probably thinking I either misread the title for this slideshow, or I'm not from this planet. How could Federer possibly be a part of this slideshow? Well, he is, and he isn't. Let me explain.
The French Open, the pivotal tournament of the clay-court season and the second Grand Slam of the year is a tournament that serves as one of the toughest challenges for tennis players. This surface rigorously tests the mental and physical strength of all who set out to conquer it.
That's why I used a photo of Roger Federer. As we all know there's no doubt, that Federer will go down in history as one of the best players of all time. But, even for a grand tennis champion at the top of his game, the clay does not give any leniency. Up to this point in his career, Federer has only won the French Open one time. He won in 2009.
This is the theme that was so overwhelming as I conducted research for this project. The French Open is indeed the Mt. Everest of the tennis world.
Here, we will take a look at the top 10 players who have never graced the awards ceremony to receive the top prize at Roland Garros. We will look at the top five men and top five women.
Please feel free to share your thoughts and comments. I'm sure there will be some players that you feel deserve to be on this list, so please feel free to share them as well.
*This slideshow will focus on Grand Slam singles titles.
Best Performance at the French Open: Semifinals (2007 and 2011)
Maria Sharapova is one of the most well-known celebrities around the tennis world and the world in general.
She has established herself as a player who has a mental prowess when she plays that very few have been able to penetrate. When she sets her focus in a match, she is in that state of mind until the end—not allowing anything to break her concentration.
Her ability to concentrate on her goals coupled with her play has yielded many titles, but the closest that she has come to winning a title at the French has been the semifinal round.
Just last year, she faced off against China's Li Na in the semifinals. Ranked back-to-back, Li Na was the No. 6 seed and Sharapova was the No. 7 seed. Sharapova was coming into the French Open having just won the Italian Open.
No doubt, having made it within one step of reaching the final, Sharapova was thinking this could be her year to add the French Open title to her mantle of tennis victories. But, a determined Li Na would have other plans. Sharapova would once again have to settle for second best in a semifinal round on the clay courts of Paris.
Sharapova has already repeated part of her performance last year. Once again, she's heading into this year's tournament having won the Italian Open. Will she be in the winner's circle this year at Roland Garros?
One thing is for sure, she's going to give it her all.
Best Performance at the French Open: Semifinals (2007, 2008 and 2011)
2011 could only be described as a whirlwind for Novak Djokovic. He was taking home titles as if he had won a tennis shopping spree. He held three of the four Grand Slam titles in 2011. Yes, three. The only one missing was Roland Garros.
Despite an elevation in his on-court play and a stronger, more reserved mental game, even Djokovic could not conquer the clay in Paris. He was forced to accept another loss in the semifinals to Roger Federer.
Djokovic heads into this year's tournament knowing that a win would be a historical win in terms of him holding all four Grand Slam men's singles title in a 12-month period.
The one obvious obstacle, and a familiar obstacle, is the King of Clay—Rafael Nadal. He is also on track to go down in history with a win at Roland Garros. He would actually surpass Bjorn Borg's clay-court success in Paris, giving him seven titles.
Based upon how these two men are playing so far this year and their determination to win, a final showdown between the two is quite possible.
However, do keep in mind, there are some other players who have displayed their ability to cause an upset, and that list does not just start and end with Mr. Federer.
Best Performance at the French Open: Final (2008 and 2009)
As I have discussed in previous posts, Dinara Safina is one of those players who makes one ask what if when looking over her tennis career. What if, you might ask? Here, the "what if" is referring to a player with so much talent, yet her tennis career does not reflect the level with which the world knows she could play.
The French Open provided much evidence for that case. As shown above, Safina had a good back-to-back run in 2008 and 2009. In fact, in 2008, she defeated several top 10 players, including No. 1 women's tennis player at the time Maria Sharapova.
With everything pointing to triumph in Paris, Safina unfortunately did not have enough left in the tank to defeat Ana Ivanovic in the end. She walked away second best.
Safina would make another comeback in 2009 to no avail and even geared up to try and repeat the final run in 2010. Unfortunately, in an immediate shocker at Roland Garros in 2010, Safina lost to Kimiko Date-Krumm. It was a jaw-dropping moment because, at the time, Date-Krumm was 39 years old and had not played in Paris since 1996, according to a CNN article.
That same article provided a quote from Safina's post-match interview that clearly depicts Safina very shocked by this stunning first-round loss.
Best Performance at the French Open: Quarterfinals (1970 and 1971)
Looking over the life of Arthur Ashe, on and off the court, one can only be in awe of his many, many accomplishments.
He loved the game of tennis from an early age and set out to conquer any and all barriers that may have hindered him, which he did to become one of the greatest of all time.
The French Open, though, posed a barrier like no other. A barrier that proved to be too much for even Arthur Ashe.
But in both matches, it's easy to see, like all the other battles he waged to succeed, Ashe gave it his all, taking both to five sets.
Best Performance at the French Open: Final (2001 and 2003)
Kim Clijsters is a player whom her fellow tour mates know cannot ever be underestimated.
Just this year, the world watched an an injured Kim Clijsters battled back from what seemed to be certain defeat against defending French Open champion Li Na.
First, she was down a set and 5-4 in the second. Li Na had the overwhelming advantage. But Kim fought back and forced a tiebreaker. Facing four match points, her relentless spirit, despite the pain, enabled her to come from behind, force a third set and win the match. There are not a lot of players who have those type of on-court stories.
That type of performance along with holding a record of having won 500 career matches certifies her ability to win. But, like others, there's one very special victory that she has never been able to experience—Roland Garros.
A freak injury robbed her of vying for the French Open title in 2011, and unfortunately, another injury will snatch the opportunity again in 2012. Just last month, the Clijsters' camp announced that she is being forced to pull out of the 2012 tournament due to that nagging hip injury.
This is an extremely difficult pullout for Clijsters because she has also announced that she is going to officially retire following the US Open later this year.
Best Performance at the French Open: Semifinals (1996)
Pete Sampras holds an astonishing 64 career singles titles. It would be unthinkable to even consider him not winning Grand Slam singles titles.
He did indeed have great success at winning Grand Slam titles. It's shocking, however, to know that not only did the French Open singles title elude him, his best performance was reaching the semifinals one time.
In that semifinal match, No. 1 seed Sampras faced off against No. 6 Russian Yuvgeny Kafelnikov. The first set provided contention between the two, resulting in a tiebreaker which Kafelnikov eventually won. But, Kafelnikov erased the contention by winning the next two sets.
And sadly for a player as gifted as Pete Sampras, he would never again get so close to taking home the French Open title.
Best Performance at the French Open: Final (1997 and 1999)
Martina Hingis accomplished a lot in small amount of time. She was able to win not one, not two, not three, not four, but five, yes, five Grand Slam titles. But upon working so hard to come so close in 1997 and 1999, she was not able to close the deal and win the French Open.
Her 1999 final is probably the most memorable when she faced off against one of the greatest in Steffi Graf. Dealing with injuries coming into the French Open, there was uncertainty in the mind of Graf as well as fans about how she would perform on the court.
This seemed as if it might be another Grand Slam victory for Hingis. Unfortunately, it was not to be. What is was, as most of media describes, was dramatic. Hingis had some unusual moments from arguing calls to leaving the court unexpectedly. Time listed this match (along with its weirdness) as one of the greatest moments in French Open history.
Hingis walked away having made a lasting impression in French Open history minus the honor of Grand Slam singles champion.
Best Performance at the French Open: Final (1984)
John McEnroe's one and only chance for a French Open Grand Slam came and went when he faced off against Ivan Lendl. Throughout his tournament matches at Roland Garros in 1984, McEnroe had been a straight-sets winner. His only minor threat came against Jimmy Connors in the semifinals.
Going into the final against Lendl, McEnroe had the momentum, and he used it. He actually won the first two sets. Unfortunately, in a final match that would go the distance of five sets, Lendl was able to pull out the win, taking the final three sets.
McEnroe would go on to play until he retired in 1992, but he would never again come as close to winning in Paris.
Best Performance at the French Open: Final (2002)
Trailblazing, inspirational champion is the description that comes to mind when one speaks of Venus Williams. The tennis titles and barriers that she overcame personally and on behalf of the game of tennis is so vast. She's made a difference across the board.
But, even with all that she has done and her mental and physical prowess on the tennis court, it has simply not been a match for the clay courts of Roland Garros.
She's only one of four active tennis players (her sister Serena joined the club at the 2012 Australian Open) to have achieved at least 500 career wins, and of those wins, Paris is included. However, that one match—the final—still remains elusive.
The photo for this slide shows that in that one match final, up to this point in her career, where Venus had a chance to win it all, not only did she face the unforgiving clay, she also faced one of the best in her sister Serena.
Venus comes into this year's tournament having played well, as she continues to learn how to adapt and cope with health concerns. According a recent ESPN article, it is a day-by-day process.
As always, she is sure to bring her best and give it all for her fans in Paris. And of course, she's sure to see this as another opportunity to possibly add the French Open to her repertoire of wins.
Best Performance at the French Open: Semifinals (1979, 1980, 1984 and 1985)
Jimmy Connor reigns in the tennis world. When looking at his ATP profile, how can one not be amazed at how great of a tennis player this man was. Last year, fellow B/R writer, Lauren Lynch wrote a great piece on him and how he towers above tennis then and even now.
But in all that he was and all that he achieved, he could not overcome the clay courts of the French Open.
In his final attempt, Connors went up against Ivan Lendl. It was pretty much a one-sided match in favor of Lendl. Connors' counterattack against Lendl's game was almost nonexistent.
He would once again come up short losing in straight sets.
This concludes looking at 10 of the best men and women to play the game of tennis who have been unable to hoist the trophy, proclaiming them as singles champion at Roland Garros.
Be sure to stay with Bleacher Report for all the latest information, insight and updates for the 2012 French Open tournament.
Please share your thoughts and list any favorites not discussed in the comments section below.
Delores Smith-Johnson is a correspondent and syndicated writer for Bleacher Report.