Top 5: The Accursed players of Wimbledon

Jul 2, 2014, 12:00:00 AM

Wimbledon, the biggest tournament in the world, has its share of champions forgotten on the doorstep. From Von Cramm to Roddick, through the inevitable Rosewall, retrospective of those who would have given everything not to be part of this Top.

Wimbledon, the biggest tournament in the world. The kingmaker, crowning the greatest tennis player in the world. But for the legend to be complete, it was necessary that it had its share of failures and champions left on the doorstep. From Von Cramm to Roddick, through the inevitable Rosewall, retrospective of those who would have given everything not to be part of this Top.


Gottfried Von Cramm


Roland Garros made him king - Not only did he win it twice, in 1934 and 1936, but he also managed to make the French public love him at a time when the hatred for the German was the most common thing between people from Lille to Marseille - but Wimbledon consistently refused his advances. As Poulidor stuck between Anquetil and Merckx, Gottfried Von Cramm had, it's true, the misfortune to play successively against two wonderful tennis players during the three consecutive finals that he played in London in 1935 and 1936, he lost one against the British legend Fred Perry, while in 1937 he had a ringside seat to witness the rise of the future author of the calendar Grand Slam, Donald Budge. In three finals, Von Cramm never won a single set. A specific regret? Perhaps the second attempt. While he had just defeated Perry in the final of Roland Garros, he suffered from a torn muscle in the first game of their London return match. The match was one sided (6/1 6/1 6/0), the public was sceptical and the German impassive, refusing to give up not to devalue the success of his opponent. At 28, Von Cramm was still in his prime. He still had time to make it for Wimbledon if not for a little an Austrian with a moustache...


Fred Stolle


"The old horse" - a nickname inherited from his late successes in Grand Slam tournaments after losing his first five finals - never had the opportunity to enjoy the green pastures of Wimbledon. Winner at Roland Garros in 1965 and at the U.S. Open in 1966, the Australian imitated the Baron Von Cramm by losing in the final in London three years running. In 1963, in a final between two players who were still playing for their first title in Grand Slam tournaments, he was dominated by the American Chuck McKinley, that he had previously beaten 4 times out of 6. But McKinley, an academic player, who, after graduating, chose to be a banker rather than turning professional, was "on cloud nine" Stolle admitted after his defeat in three sets: "He had me by the throat. At the end, I didn't even know where to serve or what to do with the ball." Unfortunately for him, this first final was probably his best chance: the following two years, he lost to his nemesis, his compatriot Roy Emerson, tightly in 1964 (6/1 12/10 4/6 6/3), then more curtly in 1965 (6/2 6/4 6/4). He wasn't done with his bad karma at Wimbledon, where he still experienced disillusions as a coach, in the only Grand Slam where his protégé Vitas Gerulaitis never played the final, despite a game style made for grass.


Ken Rosewall


6th of July 1974: the American tornado Jimmy Connors blew over the All England Club, hustling game codes as well as those of decorum. He overcame his final victim in only an hour and a half, 6/1 6/1 6/4. Ken Rosewall, almost 40, never won in Wimbledon... and the absence of his name in the prize list seems so inconceivable that it will be largely responsible for the birth of the very concept of "accursed players of Wimbledon!" Twenty years earlier, "the little master of Sydney" was already playing the London's final, defeated by an aging Jaroslav Drobny, not without having missed several equalization balls at two sets all. In the case of a fifth set, his 20 years old legs would have given him an advantage over his Czechoslovak opponent... But time seemed to play in his favour; Ken Rosewall would definitely win Wimbledon soon. In 1956, second final, lost in four sets again, against his friend and doubles partner Lew Hoad. But did he still have time? Yes, of course. he wasn’t even 22 yet... But Ken Rosewall also helped to forge the English curse. Rather than to continue in his quest for the biggest tournament in the world, the sirens of professionalism caught the Australian at the end of 1956, closing at the same time the doors of Grand Slam tournaments. He didn't come back to Wimbledon before 1968, and the Open era. Two years later, at almost 36, he made it to the final on the Centre Court, 14 years after the previous one. And it was once again a compatriot who defeated him: John Newcombe prevailed on a bitter 6/1 in the fifth set. The time was now against Rosewall. In 1974, after his fourth defeat in the final, it was already too late. The era Borg-Connors had already begun.


Ivan Lendl


What player has made more sacrifices than Ivan Lendl to win Wimbledon? At a time when tennis players were the ones who had to adapt their game to the proposed area, and not impose it on standardized surfaces, Ivan Lendl tried everything to win the only major tournament missing from his palmares. Turning into a serve-and-volley madman after crossing the Channel? Check. Challenging (and beating) the experts in the hyper-selective Queen's? Check. Withdrawing at Roland Garros to prepare for Wimbledon? Check. On two occasions, even, preferring somehow the shadow to the prey: the first year he boycotted Paris, in 1990, the title went to Andres Gomez, a player he defeated 17 times in 19 matches! But Lendl had the misfortune to live what was probably the most competitive time on grass ever. He played his first semi-finals at Wimbledon in 1983 and 1984, defeated by the Americans legends McEnroe and Connors. He then managed to reach two finals in 1986 and 1987, each time beaten by acrobats of the volley flying at high altitude, Boris Becker and Pat Cash. Finally, he made a last block of three semis between 1988 and 1990. But to no avail. Becker and Stefan Edberg were on his way. And to drink the cup to the dregs, during his last season in the elite, in 1992, he could only watch Goran Ivanisevic's 30 aces slip under his nose in the course of three sets. Damned fatality.


Andy Roddick


A particular case. Only one man was enough for Wimbledon to say "no" to Andy, and thus for the love story to end badly. This man, obviously, was Roger Federer. Because of him, and only because him, Andy Roddick never won Wimbledon, despite a semi-final in 2003 and three finals in 2004, 2005 and 2009. The 2004 edition could - should - have been the one of Roddick. Still against the Swiss in their rivalry (2 Grand Slams against 1 for Federer), the American won the first set of the final, then at one set all, went 4-2 in the third. But the rain prevented "A-Rod" to drive the point home. Half an hour later, it was a calmer, more accurate tactically and more aggressive Federer, that broke-back and won the set in the tiebreak. The match shifted, the future record holder in Grand Slams triumphed in four sets (4/6 7/5 7/6 6/4). "I closed the door so he went through the window," said the American, annoyed. It was "the" match that could have changed everything in the course of his career. In 2009, he was close to lift the trophy but still found his best enemy on his way... and his past doubts and failures, like this high and "easy" volley sent outside the court limits in the fifth set that ended 16-14. His last feat of arms in a Grand Slam.





Patrick Rafter


A man who has "only" lost two finals at Wimbledon. But the fact that the last hardcore serve-and-volley player seen on top of world tennis, was never crowned on the courts of the All England Club sounds like an aberration. After two victories at the U.S. Open (against Greg Rusedski in 1997 and Mark Philippoussis in 1998), the Australian wasn't as lucky at Wimbledon. Winner of Andre Agassi in the semi-finals of the 2000 and 2001 editions, each time after great matches, he then stumbled on the last step. In 2000, he was leading a set to none against Pete Sampras, 4 points to 1 in the decisive game of the second, but lost his lucidity and saw the American defeat him in four sets. In 2001, he was struck by the "Ivanisevic miracle". A victim, as Moya, Safin, Rusedski, Roddick and Henman before him, of a Croatian guest, 125th in the World, convinced that "God wanted [his] victory." Rafter went only two points away from the title in a fifth set lost 9/7...


By Guillaume Willecoq