Photo credit: Sports Then and Now
In a world where we only remember the winners, we will never be able to size up the true talents and potential of those who could win, but never win. This article serves to momentarily direct our attention and thoughts to the players conventionally given the lesser (if not none) of our attentions. Selected on our list are 4 of such players, for the greatness of their unrealized potentials.
"Wait! What, are you kidding me?' was the reaction I got when I told a friend of mine that David Nalbandian was a finalist at the Wimbledon championships, in 2002. It is precisely due to the assumptions such as that which was behind that reaction of his, that this blog article needs to written. I am willing to hazard the (probably not reckless) guess that 90% of the tennis world would believe that David Nalbandian would reach such heights. After all, in recoverably recent memory, David Nalbandian has not gone past the third round of any grand slam. So how does that figure? He was, to put it shortly, he is the victim of time. His Wimbledon 2002 final with Lleyton Hewitt (another tragic figure in the same way, except that he has won 2 grand slams) is highly symbolic of this 'menace of time' that preempted any display of greatness from the Argentinian. 2002 was the year just before Federer won his first Wimbledon and well... ushered in the Golden Age of Tennis (which we believe also caused a general spike in the standards of professional tennis players in general) It is telling that Nalbandian reached his last grand slam semi final in 2006, the year before the likes of Nadal, Murray and Djokovic started going far in the grand slams. We must not forget that this powerful and accurate striker from Argentina has won two Masters 1000 tournaments, reached the semifinals or better of all four grand slams, and was formerly world number 3.
Overshadowed by compatriot and greater great Rafel Nadal, David Ferrer is often not included into any consideration concerning the evaluation of possible grand slam champions. A dogged competitor who consistently goes deep into grand slam tournaments we all know he is, but he also (as conventionally believed) lacks just that one thing that could let him win that ultimate prize. David Ferrer however, has showed us at times that somehow, he could beat the giants and establish for himself a place people never dreamed of. Ferrer has stunned Nadal in the 2011 Australian Open quarterfinals in straight sets and beaten Murray at the Rolland Garros quarterfinals in 2012. One may discount Ferrer's 2013 Rolland Garros finals appearance as one match too far, for the reason that he was facing Nadal on the other end, but Ferrer has shown that he could beat Nadal on the the surface on which he is always supposed to beat anyone else (apart from Djokovic) - David Ferrer stunned Nadal in straight sets at the 2014 Monte Carlo quarterfinals! This statistic is aptly revealing of the massive potential that David Ferrer holds inside of him, repressed - he holds the distinction of winning the most matches on the ATP world tour without having won a grand slam!
Wimbledon 2010 - to what must have been his massive disappointment - came and went like a dream for Tomáš Berdych. It did led to his emergence onto the highest stage of the mens' professional game, but not to that very top level as seemingly portended by that superb run of his. It was a stunning tournament for the then 25-year old Czech. In sweeping momentum, he humiliated Federer like never before in four sets on a court he has never before lost in seven years, then swiping aside Djokovic in straight sets before losing Nadal but not before giving some dogged resistance (the 3 sets Nadal took to beat Berdych belied the scale and quality of resistance he faced.) The loss to Nadal could be explained away by the fact that 2010 was Nadal's year, during which he swept aside almost every foe whom he faced, except that Wimbledon 2010 was also a one-off sprint of a kind on Berdych's part. This match is significant for the purpose of this article insofar as it signifies Berdych's talent at reaching the semifinals of grand slams - a talent which could bring him a grand slam title if he was just a little more consistentin his performance. Berdych repeated the Federer upset in the 2012 US Open quarterfinals before losing to eventual-champion Murray in the semifinals. He is almost always reaching the quarterfinals and semifinals of the grand slams since Australian Open 2011 quarterfinal loss to Djokovic, where he would lose to any one of the 6 players who currently dominate the game (the Great Four, Wawrinka and Cilic). How depressing it is to be a semifinalist, to be shot down as soon as you get in sight of the trophy!
Tsonga is on this list for the same reason that Berdych is - is the consistent quarter-finalist/semifinalist, albeit one less consistent than Berdych. Even his story parallels that of Berdych - his earliest perceptible grand slam appearance was a grand slam final (the Australian Open 2008) before he settled down gradually into the 'quarter-finalist/semifinalist'. Like Berdych, he has carried off upsets over one of the Great Four and also very-near upsets - he upset Nadal in straigt sets in the 2008 Australian Open semifinals, beat Djokovic in the 2010 Australian Open 2010 quarter finals, beat Federer in the 2011 Wimbledon quarterfinals and had four match points against Djokovic in the 2012 Rolland Garros quarterfinals. Again, the statistics demonstrate the huge potential that could have spilled over into a grand-slam win for arguably the best offensive base-liner in this age of tennis. Tsonga has reached the quarterfinals of every single grand slam tournament (he reached the semifinals of every grand slam apart from the US Open), is the first and one of only three players who have grand slam wins against each of the Great Four, holds 2 Masters series titles to his name (the 2008 Paris Masters and the 2014 Canadian Open), and was runner-up to the the ATP World tour finals of 2011. We believe what held him back from winning a slam is what we (not jokingly) call the 'curse of the offensive-baseliner'. An offensive base-liner by nature is much less consistent given that his shots are generally hit closer to the line than normal. Defense is the best offense in tennis, a defender's game requires less (mental) effort given the more reflexive nature of his game, and thus his concentration (a crucial ingredient for optimal performance in tennis) is less likely to slip as compared to the aggressive player always constantly seeking to pull off deliberately targeted shots. Who knows, he might just win a slam if he had played slightly more against his nature!
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