4 ATP tennis legends with an Achilles heel surface
Tennishead looks at four bonafide ATP legends who just could not hack a particular surface throughout their stellar careers.
Playing on different surfaces is such a unique aspect of tennis as a sport, requiring and allowing for varied styles of play that make tennis that much more exciting to watch. Let’s look at some top ATP players who just couldn’t do it on one of those surfaces.
Taster – Daniil Medvedev – Clay
While not yet an ATP legend in his own right, Daniil Medvedev has made an impressive rise to the top of the men’s game. However, though he still has time to improve, the Russian currently holds an underwhelming record on clay.
At tour level, Daniil Medvedev has a win-loss record of 11-20 (35%) at time of writing. Curiously, he has made a clay court final in his career, reaching the Barcelona 2019 final, losing to Dominic Thiem. At Monte Carlo the week prior, he reached the semi-finals.
At each of these two event, Medvedev won four matches consecutively to reach the semi-finals and final. Hence, 8 of his 11 tour wins on clay came in two tournaments in two weeks in 2019.
His other three came at Hamburg in 2016 (one win), Monte Carlo 2018 (one win) and Madrid 2021 (one win). Medvedev did not win a single tour level clay court match in 2017, or 2020.
Finally, Medvedev has never won a main draw match at both the Rome Masters (0-3) and Roland Garros (0-4).
#1 – Pete Sampras – Clay
This American legend was a force throughout the 90s, winning 12 of the combined 30 Australian Opens, Wimbledons and US Opens held between 1990-1999. But the red dirt is where Pete Sampras fell short of his high standards.
Simply in terms of win-loss record on the surface, Sampras has a very respectable ratio of 90-54 (62.5%) ATP tour wins. However, when comparing Sampras’ clay record to his abundant success on other surfaces, especially with regards to titles.
Sampras secured just 3 of his 64 singles titles on clay, at Kitzbuhel in 1992, the Rome Masters in 1994, and Atlanta 1998. At Roland Garros, Sampras’ reached the quarter-finals three times consecutively from 1992-1994, losing to 1993 champion Sergi Brugera at that year’s staging.
Finally, Sampras’ best result came in 1996, when he reached the semi-finals after rallying from two sets to love down against compatriot Jim Courier in the quarter-finals.
Sampras unfortunately then fell in straight sets to Yevgeny Kafelnikov, the eventual champion.
#2 – Boris Becker – Clay
Boris Becker presents a similar story to Pete Sampras. A prolific hard court and grass court player, Becker won 6 Grand Slam singles titles: 3 Wimbledon titles (1985, 1986, 1989); 2 Australian Open titles (1991, 1996) and 1 US Open title (1989).
Again, similarly to Sampras, Becker does not have a generally poor win-loss record on clay, sitting at 120-61 (66%). However, the story of titles on the surface is more stark than that of Sampras.
Despite securing 49 singles titles in his career, Boris Becker never won a tour title on clay. He reached six finals on the surface, including at four Masters Series events plus a Monte Carlo final before it had Masters status.
At Roland Garros, Becker’s best result was also the semi-finals, a feat he achieved three times, in 1987, 1989 and 1991. In each case, Becker lost to Mats Wilander, Stefan Edberg and Andre Agassi respectively, all of whom were runners-up after reaching the final on each occasion.
#3 – Thomas Muster – Grass
Grass is particularly special given how few tournaments are played on the surface at a professional level, so players just do not play as many matches on it compared to hard or clay.
However, Thomas Muster was even less experienced than most. The Austrian took four stabs at a run in Wimbledon, in 1987, 1992, 1993 and 1994. Each time, Muster lost in the first round, only pushing the match beyond a straight sets loss in 1994.
Muster never played Wimbledon again, even when he reached world No. 1 in early 1996 and was world No. 2 when Wimbledon 1996 began. In fact, 1996 was his best season on grass, reaching the semi-finals of Queen’s by winning three matches, and winning once in Halle the week before Wimbledon, still deciding to forego the event.
Muster retired with a 7-10 (41%) record on grass at ATP tour level.
#4 – Gustavo Kuerten – Grass
Gustavo Kuerten took the term ‘lack of experience’ to a whole new level with his grass court career record. With a pro career spanning over more than 12 years, the Brazilian played just 15 professional matches on grass in total, just over one per year on the ATP tour.
Gustavo Kuerten retired with an ATP record on grass of just 7-8 (47%). Strangely, Four of Kuerten’s seven wins came at one tournament, at Wimbledon no less, in 1999. Kuerten reached the quarter-finals at Wimbledon 1999, dropping just one set en route, before losing to eventual finalist Andre Agassi in straight sets.
Kuerten actually holds a 7-5 winning record at The Championships, with two more wins coming at Wimbledon 2000, while his seventh came in 2003. The other three grass matches of Kuerten’s career came at ‘s-Hertogenbosch in 1998, Nottingham in 1997, and a Davis Cup rubber in Australia in 2000.
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