So Close, Yet So Far Away: Remembering Tennis' Best Near Misses
To an outsider, it seems like an unfortunate ending to an outstanding career. Russia's Mikhail Youzhny played his final match on Thursday at the St. Petersburg Open, losing to Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain 7-6(3), 3-6, 6-3. The 36-year-old Youzhny, No. 110 in the ATP Rankings, will retire stuck on 499 wins, two sets away from becoming only the second Russian to earn 500 victories (Kafelnikov 609).
Youzhny, however, does not seem perturbed. “It’s just statistics,” he said. “I can think about a lot of things. I never made the final of a Grand Slam. I never made the semi-finals of an [ATP World Tour Masters] 1000 event. Many, many things I didn’t do in tennis.”
'The Colonel' should not despair; he has plenty of company. Other players, including former World No. 1s Roger Federer, Andy Roddick and Andy Murray, have come tantalizingly close to landmark achievements only to fall just short. ATPWorldTour.com remembers some memorable close calls:
2005 Nitto ATP Finals F, David Nalbandian d. Roger Federer 6-7(4), 6-7(11), 6-2, 6-1, 7-6(3)
Federer led Nalbandian two sets to zero in the final of the season finale, but the Argentine came back and won the fifth-set tie-break. Had Federer held on, he would have tied John McEnroe for the best single-season record in the Open Era. Federer finished 81-4; McEnroe went 82-3 in 1984.
1984 Roland Garros F, Ivan Lendl d. John McEnroe 3-6, 2-6, 6-4, 7-5, 7-5
Of course, McEnroe, like all champions, had his near misses as well. During his record-breaking year, McEnroe let slip a two sets to zero lead in the Roland Garros final. He finished his career without winning the clay-court major.
2003 Coupe Rogers SF, Andy Roddick d. Roger Federer 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(3)
No one will feel sorry for Federer having spent only 310 weeks at No. 1 in the ATP Rankings. But the Swiss could have arrived at the top spot a good six months sooner than when he first did, in February 2004. If Federer had beaten Roddick during the semi-finals of the Masters 1000 tournament in Montreal, he would have reached No. 1 in August 2003.
Roddick, however, was the man to beat during that North American hard-court swing, as he showed by winning the 2003 US Open. Federer, though, got Roddick back a few times, 17 to be exact. At the time, Federer led their FedEx ATP Head2Head series 4-1. Federer now leads their series 21-3.
2006 Internazional BNL d'Italia F, Rafael Nadal d. Roger Federer, 6-7(0), 7-6(5), 6-4, 2-6, 7-6(5)
In one of the best matches of their historic rivalry, Federer held two championship points but Nadal ultimately prevailed. The Internazional BNL d'Italia in Rome and the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters, both Masters 1000 tournaments, remain the only “Big Titles” Federer has never won. He is 0-4 in Monte-Carlo finals and 0-4 in Rome title matches.
Read More: Roger & Rafa: The Rivalry
2009 Wimbledon F, Roger Federer d. Andy Roddick 5-7, 7-6(6), 7-6(5), 3-6, 16-14
Ten times Roddick held to stay in the final against Federer, but even that monumental feat wasn't enough to give the American his maiden Wimbledon title. The former No. 1 fell in his third and final Wimbledon title match, and wouldn't reach another Grand Slam final before retiring after the 2012 US Open.
2013 US Open Doubles SF, Leander Paes/Radek Stepanek d. Mike Bryan/Bob Bryan 4-6, 6-3, 6-4
The Bryans were two matches away from winning the calendar year Grand Slam. But Paes/Stepanek denied the American greats a chance at history. The Bryans had a more-recent near-miss as well, when Bob Bryan fell hurt during the 2018 Mutua Madrid Open final and the twins had to retire against Nikola Mektic/Alexander Peya. Had the twins won the Spanish Masters 1000 title, they would have returned to co-No. 1s. But Bob Bryan hasn't played a match since then, and he underwent hip surgery last month.
2013 Kuala Lumpur F, Joao Sousa d. Julien Benneteau 2-6, 7-5, 6-4
Julien Benneteau must know, a little bit at least, how Youzhny is feeling. The affable Frenchman, who played his last ATP World Tour match at the Winston-Salem Open last month, finished 0-10 in ATP World Tour finals. During his ninth final, in Kuala Lumpur, Benneteau held a championship point before falling to Sousa.
2004 Roland Garros F, Gaston Gaudio d. Guillermo Coria 0-6, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1, 8-6
Coria was a heavy favourite in the all-Argentine final, but he lost and never came that close to a Grand Slam title again.
Other Notable Near Misses
- Nadal has played at the Nitto ATP Finals eight times and reached two finals (2010, 2013), but he's never won the prestigious season finale. The Spanish great is also 0-5 in Miami finals. Nadal led Federer during the 2005 Miami Open presented by Itau final by two sets and 4-1 in the third only to lose in five sets.
Scot Andy Murray has played in five Australian Open finals but has never won the season's first Grand Slam title nor has he pushed a Melbourne final to five sets.
Goran Ivanisevic, 2001 Wimbledon champion, ended his career with 599 wins.