Dan Marino retired from the NFL with numerous records, including most touchdown passes and most yards passing. And, no Super Bowl championships. Many consider Ted Williams the greatest hitter in baseball history. Williams hit 521 home runs and batted .406 in 1941. Williams never won the World Series. These names stand out through years of discussions of best players who did not win championships. In modern tennis there is a whole cadre of non-champions. The generation of Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic have made that the case.
As tennis heads to Flushing Meadows next week, the attention will be on Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic as the Big Three look to continue their dominance at the Grand Slams. Also in the spotlight will be the next generation and twenty something stars like Dominic Thiem, Nick Kyrigos, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Sascha Zverev. Quietly in the shadows will be an unlucky seven players. Federer, Nadal and Djokovic continue to leave a lost generation of almost stars. These world class players have gotten close, but never won a Grand Slam event.
It is well reported that the Big Three dominated and continue to dominate at the Slams. They have combined to win 53 of the past 63 Grand Slams. In arguably their most dominant run from the 2005 French Open to Wimbledon in 2012 the Swiss, Spanish and Serbian trio won a staggering 29 of 30 Grand Slam tournaments. Yes, 29 of 30.
Who are the Lost Generation?
Amazingly, the dominance of the Big Three leaves a trail of near superstars who could never will a single Grand Slam. Seven players meet the Lost Generation criteria, Grigor Dimitrov, Milos Raonic, Kei Nishikori, Tomas Berdych, Kevin Anderson, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and the now retired David Ferrer. Each is at least 28 years old, reached a Grand Slam semifinal or better and reached a top 5 world ranking, but never won a slam.
Golf pundits and fans often tag a player as the BPWNWAM (Best player who’s never won a major). Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, and Davis Love III carried this tag for significant stretches of their career. Tennis has an unlucky seven who may have dominated if they played in another era. Here is how close each near star came, only to be turned away. The Lost Generation:
Reached world #3 in 2017.
Closest Call: Narrowly bested by Nadal in epic 5 sets in 2017 Australian Open semifinal.
Where is he now? Languishing at world #74.
Reached world #3 in 2016.
Closest Call: Beat Federer in the Wimbledon semis in 2016 only to lose final to Andy Murray.
Where is he now? World #20, off his peak but still a threat when healthy.
Reached world #3 in 2014.
Closest Call: Reached five Grand Slam semifinals, but only one final, at the 2013 French Open, where he lost in three quick sets to Nadal.
Where is he now? Retired.
Reached world #4 in 2015.
Closest Call: Defeated top seeded Djokovic in the 2014 US Open semifinals only to lose to Marin Cilic in the final.
Where is he now? #5 in the world, could breakthrough with mix of skill and luck but would be tough.
Reached world #4 in 2015.
Closest Call: Defeated Djokovic in 2010 Wimbledon semis, then lost final to Nadal in three sets.
Where is he now? Dropped out of top 100, using protected ranking to play 2019 US Open. Best days are gone.
Reached world #5 in 2012.
Closest Call: Was not seeded when he dusted off Nadal in 2008 Australian semis only to lose to Djokovic in final after taking the first set.
Where is he now? Still grinding at world #64 but his Slam chances are in his past.
Reached world #5 in 2018
Closest Call: Only Lost Gen member to make multiple Grand Slam finals. Lost 2017 US Open to Nadal and 2018 Wimbledon to Djokovic, without winning a set in either match.
Where is he now? After a great few years has fell off a bit, still #14 in the world, best chances probably gone.
What might have been.
With arguably the three best players in history nearly matching each other trophy for trophy, they leave very little room at the top. The Lost Generation is probably past their time while the Big three continue to win. Likewise, almost Lost Gen members like John Isner, David Goffin, Richard Gasquet and Gael Monfils sit with empty spaces in their trophy cases (each has never reached world top five status).
Murray and Wawrinka forged their own success, nabbing 3 slams each in the last several years. Cilic took the 2014 US Open with a win over Federer in the semis and Nishikori in the final. Juan Martin del Potro was the one exception during Federer, Nadal and Djokovic’s run of winning 29 of 30. The Argentine stopped the 18 slam streak when he amazingly defeated Nadal and Federer on consecutive days to win the 2009 US Open. But injuries have wrecked his career and the Big Three moved on to take the next 11 slams.
In 2019 it is again the world of Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic; everyone else is on the outside looking in. Some new names might be knocking at the door, but at this point, nobody can hear them. The Big Three, now each well past 30 years old, have won the last 11 slams. Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have overcome injury and age to maintain megastar status, while the lost generation and others can only watch.
Embed from Getty Images