Best Female Tennis Players Never To Have Won a Grand Slam

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Winning a Grand Slam event puts a player into a select group separating him or her from the general mass of players. By definition, it is the ‘best’ players who win Grand Slam events and in so doing, become generally considered among the ‘best’ in the game. This circular logic is borne out by the fact that there are relatively few of the top players in the game in any historical period who have not won at least one Grand Slam.

There have been a few, however, whose overall career statistics are so outstanding that it is almost incomprehensible that they never won a Grand Slam singles. Exploring the annals of the game, it has mainly been those top players who have won Slams in doubles or the mixed who also had impressive singles records and yet, failed to win Grand Slam singles, who stand out.

The most outstanding example among the ladies was probably in the 1920’s. In that period, (the era of Suzanne Lenglen and Helen Wills-Moody), it was the Californian, Elizabeth Ryan who managed to reach four major singles finals without winning one. What was astonishing about Ryan’s record was that she was one of the game’s most prolific winners of Grand Slam events in doubles and mixed doubles. Throughout her career, she amassed 30 Grand Slam titles, 19 of which were at Wimbledon. Such an impressive record in Grand Slam doubles without even one singles win is extremely rare in the annals of the game.

For the next example, one has to ‘fast forward’ to the 1960’s to the example of the Australian, Jan Lehane who was the runner-up in four Grand Slam singles events without winning one. Lehane had the poor fortune to have been a contemporary of fellow-Australian, Margaret Court who so dominated the Grand Slams in that decade. Court was so dominant that she kept out, not only Lehane, but many others from the top prizes of the game. It was an era in which the women’s singles laurels were fairly narrowly distributed mainly between Court, Billie-Jean King, Maria Bueno and Ann Haydon-Jones. With that company to compete with, it was no insult to Lehane that she never won a Grand Slam.

In the 1980’s/1990’s, the Czech, Helena Sukova also appeared in 4 Grand Slam singles finals without winning one. This was despite holding the stellar record of 14 Grand Slam titles in doubles and mixed doubles. Sukova’s partners in her Slam doubles wins included Claudia Kohde-Kilsch, Jana Novotna, Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario and Martina Hingis. In her mixed victories, her partners were fellow Czech, Cyril Suk and Australian, Todd Woodbridge. She also won two women’s Olympics doubles titles, in Seoul in 1988 and in Atlanta in 1996.

Also in the Open era, the examples of Wendy Turnbull, Mary Joe Fernandez and Dinara Safina stand out as women who reached three Grand Slam finals without winning one. Australian, Turnbull won 9 Grand Slam titles in total (in doubles and mixed). Fernandez won two Grand Slam doubles and two Olympics doubles gold medals.

This list would be incomplete without mention of Pam Shriver who managed to win 21 Grand Slam doubles and one mixed in her career to put her among the very elite of the game. Her one and only Grand Slam final appearance was at the US Open in 1978 which she lost to Chris Evert. Partnered mainly by Martina Navratilova, the two virtually dominated the women’s doubles event in the 1980’s.

Although it is still relatively early on in her career, Caroline Wozniacki, one time No.1 is yet to secure a Grand Slam singles. Having reached World No.1 and not yet to have won a Grand Slam singles or indeed, reached a final, is a gap that the talented and ambitious young Wozniacki will want to fill soon.

Of these exceptional women players, Ryan, Shriver and Sukova stand out from the crowd as the ‘best’ not to have won a Grand Slam singles, mainly due to their stellar records as doubles players and their general career records. With such impressive overall career records, one is tempted to conclude that bad luck played a big part in their being unable to put a singles Grand Slam under their belts. In Ryan’s case, the stars at the time, Lenglen and Wills-Moody obstructed her path; in Lehane’s case, it was Margaret Court and with Shriver and Sukova, players of the calibre of Evert, Navratilova, Seles, and Graf stood in their way.

Finally, a sort of hierarchy exists among the great players of the game. There is that select group who have secured a one-year Grand Slam (Maureen Connolly, Margaret Court, Steffi Graf), those who have three in one year, those with two and that wider (though still impressive) group with one. Not to have won a Grand Slam at singles must inevitably relegate a player from the top level, but their highly impressive tally of doubles’ wins, confer on both Ryan, Shriver and Sukova a stellar status which very few others share.

Paul McElhinney

March 2013

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