Jankovic, Dementieva, Casals… The 10 greatest (retired) female players who never won a Grand Slam tournament

From Pam Shriver to Helena Sukova, history is littered with top players who were never able to win a Grand Slam title

Winning a Grand Slam title is not easy. Since the professional era began in 1968, only 55 women have managed to win one, thanks in no small part to the fact that Serena Williams, Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert have won 82 between them.

A host of outstanding players have fallen short, some coming closer than others. Tennis Majors has put together a list of some of the best players who never quite managed to get over the line.

10. Pam Shriver, brilliant doubles player, stifled by Navratilova and Evert

  • Country: United States
  • Best ranking: 3
  • Best Grand Slam: RU US Open 1978

When Pam Shriver reached the final of the US Open as a 16-year-old, it would have taken a brave person to suggest she would end her career without a Grand Slam title in singles. But the tall American was unfortunate to be playing her tennis in the same era as Navratilova and Evert. She won 21 singles titles but in doubles, she won 112 doubles titles, including 21 Grand Slams.

The nearest miss: US Open final, 1978, beaten by Chris Evert

Shriver was still officially an amateur when she played the US Open in 1978 but she was already good enough to be seeded No 16. And she quickly made a name for herself as she made her way to the semis, beating Evert’s younger sister, Jeanne, in the process.

A strong serve and volleyer with an unorthodox forehand, often hit with sidespin, Shriver’s crowning moment came when she beat then world No 1 Navratilova 7-6, 7-6 in the semi-finals. Her opponent in the final, though, was Evert, who had won the title in each of the two previous years. Evert may also have been keen to exact some revenge for her sister. It was tight, as she recalled in a conversation with Forbes many years later.

“It was a close straight-sets match,” she said. “I can remember… my primary thought was: ‘Oh my God, don’t be blown out. Please, please, please let it be a competitive match. Don’t be embarrassed and get crushed’. “I think I played well enough, if Chrissie had had a bit of a down day, I could have won that match. But my primary concern was to be competitive and not be embarrassed.”

9. Elena Dementieva, elegant Russian, hampered by serving difficulties

  • Country: Russia
  • Highest ranking: 3
  • Best Grand Slam: RU 2004 French Open, RU 2004 US Open

A superb athlete with a brilliant backhand, Elena Dementieva was a consistent, brilliant baseliner, who looked set to win a number of the biggest titles. In 2004, she reached two Grand Slam finals, in Paris and New York, but was beaten by fellow Russians, Anastasia Myskina at Roland-Garros and Svetlana Kuznetsova at the US Open.

The nearest miss: Runner-up at Roland-Garros and US Open in 2004

Seeded ninth in Paris in 2004, Dementieva beat Amelie Mauresmo on her way to her first Grand Slam final and she went into the match with Myskina with plenty of hope, level at 4-4 in their previous eight meetings. But the match unfolded in the worst possible way for Dementieva as her serve, always an area of her game that could be brittle, fell apart, her ball toss way too far to the right. At one stage, a distraught Dementieva yelled: “I hate my serve” and Myskina went on to win the match 6-1, 6-2.

She had another chance at the US Open later that year, where victories over Amelie Mauresmo and Jennifer Capriati took her to the final. Against Kuznetsova, she had her chances, twice leading by a break in the second set only to lose out 6-3, 7-5. “I wasn’t able to play my best tennis today,” she said. “But Svetlana played a great game and deserved to win. It’s been a great tournament for me. I played some good tennis and I am not that disappointed. She just played better than me.”

8. Dinara Safina, world No 1, three Grand Slam final losses

  • Country: Russia
  • Highest ranking: 1
  • Best Grand Slam: RU French Open 2008, RU Australian Open 2009

Dinara Safina was another hard-hitting Russian player, with a fine serve and bold groundstrokes. The younger sister of Marat Safin, she reached three Grand Slam finals, twice in Paris and once in Australia, but on each occasion, was unable to produce her best tennis. Her volatile temperament occasionally caused her issues but she was good enough to win 12 singles titles and she also reached the semi-finals at Wimbledon and the US Open.

Dinara Safina, Wimbledon 2009 – © Imago / Panoramic

The nearest miss: Runner-up to Svetlana Kuznetsova in the 2009 French Open

Though she lost her first Grand Slam final to Ana Ivanovic at the French Open in 2008 and to Serena Williams in the final of the Australian Open the following January, it was later in 2009 when Safina had her biggest chance of glory.

She arrived in Paris for the 2009 French Open as the world No 1, high on confidence, having won the title in Rome and reached finals in Madrid and Stuttgart, also on clay that spring. She dropped just five games in her first four matches and though Kuznetsova had won the title in 2004, many felt Safina had a great chance. But she struggled throughout and finished the match with a double fault.

“I beat myself,” Safina said. “I have to learn to relax when I get to a slam final and just play my normal game. It was a bad match for me, but there are so many matches in life. I will be fine tomorrow.”

7. Mary Joe Fernandez: Junior star; three Grand Slam finals

  • Country: United States
  • Highest ranking: 4
  • Best Grand Slams: RU Australian Open 1990, 1992, RU French Open 1993

A brilliant junior, Fernandez was an elegant, consistent baseliner whose only problem was that she arrived on the scene at the same time as Steffi Graf and Monica Seles were ripping things up on the WTA Tour, sharing all the big titles. She reached three Grand Slam finals, twice in Australia, and once in France, and lost out twice to Graf and once to Seles. She won seven titles in her career in singles and was also a fine doubles player, winning 17 titles, including two Grand Slams.

The nearest miss: Roland-Garros 1993, losing to Graf in three sets

Well-beaten by Graf in Australia in 1990 and then by Seles in Melbourne two years later, Fernandez beat Gabriela Sabatini and then world No 1 Arantxa Sanchez Vicario on her way to a third Grand Slam final in Paris in 1993.

Her opponent in the final was Graf, who had not won the title in Paris since 1988. This time Fernandez was very much in the match, taking the first set and then leading 2-0, with chances to extend her lead to 3-0 in the third. But Graf had never lost to Fernandez before (and would go 17-0 by the end of her career) and she rebounded to win 4-6, 6-2, 6-4.

6. Helena Sukova, tall Czech, lost four Grand Slam finals

  • Country: Czech Republic
  • Highest ranking: 4
  • Best Grand Slams: RU Australian Open 1984, 1989, RU US Open, 1986, 1993

Before Ivan Lendl and Andy Murray, there was Helena Sukova. The tall Czech was a fine serve and volley player and good enough to win nine Grand Slam doubles titles – completing the career Grand Slam. Perhaps unlucky to be playing in the same era as Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, she came close on four occasions, like Lendl and Murray, but unlike those two, she never quite managed to get the job done in the finals.

The nearest miss: 1984 Australian Open: Beats Navratilova, denied by Evert

The closest Sukova came to winning a Grand Slam title came on the grass at Kooyong in 1984, when she beat Martina Navratilova in the semi-finals, ending her 74-match winning streak and ruining her hopes of completing the calendar-year Grand Slam (the Australian Open was played at the end of the year in 1984).

In the final, she faced Chris Evert, one of her nemeses throughout her career. Evert had won all eight of their encounters at that stage (17-2 by the end of their careers). Sukova took the first set on the tiebreak but Evert found her range and wore her opponent down to win 6-7, 6-1, 6-3.

“Chrissie just started to pass me so much better,” Sukova said. “She just hit so many passing shots down the line or just a couple of inches away from the line.”

5. Agnieszka Radwanska: Brilliant junior; master tactician

  • Country: Poland
  • Highest ranking: 2
  • Best Grand Slam: RU Wimbledon 2012

Agnieszka Radwanska was one of the most enjoyable players to watch on the women’s Tour. Always capable of something different, what she lacked in pure power, she made up for in tennis smarts. She won 20 singles titles in her career, won more than $27 million in prize money and reached the semi-finals or better at five Grand Slam events.

The nearest miss: Runner-up to Serena Williams at Wimbledon in 2012

Few people gave Radwanska much of a chance against the all-conquering Serena Williams at Wimbledon in 2012, but the Pole was arguably at her best on grass and her slice and dice game gave the American a lot to think about. Williams raced through the first set, thundering winners everywhere but Radwanska levelled and for a moment at the start of the third set, it seemed like a first Polish women’s champion was a real possibility. But Williams regrouped to win 6-1, 5-7, 6-2.

4. Jelena Jankovic, Serbian baseliner, world No 1

  • Country: Serbia
  • Highest ranking: 1
  • Best Grand Slam: RU 2008 US Open

Before there was Novak Djokovic there were two women leading the way for Serbia, Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic. But though Ivanovic won the French Open, Jankovic never quite managed to win one of the big four, though she did also claim the No 1 ranking in a career that saw her also win 15 titles.

The nearest miss: Runner-up to Serena Williams in the 2008 US Open

Just when it looked like Jankovic would finally get her hands on a Grand Slam trophy, and shush those saying she was not good enough to be a world No 1, she ran into Serena Williams at the wrong time. Having already made the semis in Australia and at Roland-Garros that year, Jankovic was in the form of her life and reached the final in New York with wins over Caroline Wozniacki and Elena Dementieva along the way. Jankovic had four set points to force a decider but Williams held on to win 6-4, 7-5 and regain the No 1 ranking. It was to be Jankovic’s last chance; she made just one more slam semi-final.

“I gave her a lot of gifts when it was crucial,” Jankovic said. “I had a lot of chances, so many set points, so many things to win that second set and go into a third. I let my opportunities go away.”

3. Vera Zvonareva, volatile Russian baseliner

  • Country: Russia
  • Highest ranking: 2
  • Best Grand Slam: RU Wimbledon, US Open 2010

Had it not been for a little bad luck in the opponents she faced in the biggest matches, Vera Zvonareva would have surely won a Grand Slam title. Serena Williams beat her to win Wimbledon in 2010 while a rejuvenated Kim Clijsters crushed her in the US Open final the same year. Volatile and emotional on court, Zvonareva was also enormously resilient and her backhand, in particular, was a thing of beauty. She won 12 titles in her career and after a break to have a baby, she is still going, though her days of chasing Grand Slam titles are surely over.

The nearest miss: Runner-up to Kim Clijsters in the 2010 US Open

In truth, it’s hard to call either of Vera Zvonareva’s two Grand Slam finals near misses, since she was well-beaten in both, first by Williams at Wimbledon and then by Clijsters in the US Open final. But Zvonareva had beaten Clijsters at Wimbledon that year and again in Cincinnati, each time in three sets, so must have thought she had a real chance. Instead, Clijsters wiped her off the court with a typically-dominant performance as she won the title for the third time.

“She didn’t really give me chances to get into the match,” Zvonareva said. “But I also think that physically today she was just much better.”

2. Rosie Casals, outgoing American, member of Original 9

  • Country: United States
  • Highest ranking: 3
  • Best Grand Slam: RU US Open 1970, 1971

Rosie Casals will forever go down in history as one of the Original 9, the nine women who joined forces to set up the WTA Tour in the 1970s. And the American was a brilliant player, prolific in doubles, where she won 112 titles, including nine Grand Slams, along with three mixed doubles slams. In singles, she was twice a finalist at the US Open but though she was close, she could not win the big one.

The nearest miss: Runner-up to Margaret Court in the 1970 US Open

In her first Grand Slam final, Casals took on the legendary Australian Margaret Court, who needed victory to complete the coveted calendar-year Grand Slam. Court won the first set easily but Casals hit back well to force a decider only for Court to pull away in the third for a 6-2, 2-6, 6-1 win and a big piece of history.

1. Andrea Jaeger: American baseliner, teenage sensation

  • Country: United States
  • Highest ranking: 2
  • Best Grand Slam: Runner-up French Open 1982, Wimbledon 1983

Had it not been for Martina Navratilova, Jaeger might have been one of the youngest ever players to win a Grand Slam title. Just 17 when she made the French Open final and 18 the following year at Wimbledon, she was threatening to nudge her way in at the top of the game when a serious shoulder injury forced her to retire at the age of just 19.

The nearest miss: Runner-up to Martina Navratilova at the French Open in 1982

Clay was Navratilova’s weakest surface and the hard-hitting Jaeger had stunned clay-court queen Chris Evert in the semi-finals. The teenager had a set point in the first set tiebreak but could not convert and Navratilova ran away with the second to clinch a 7-6, 6-1 victory, though Jaeger said Navratilova had been receiving illegal coaching from the stands on almost every point.

‘It sort of blew my concentration,” The New York Times quoted Jaeger as saying. ”It’s difficult to be playing three people at once.”

People in this post

Your comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *