x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

SW19 has seen greater losers

It must be scant consolation to Tim Henman that he will forever be remembered as the best player never to win Wimbledon, but I can draw on 10 even better players never to win.

I still have the newspaper clipping dated July 8 2001 (the day after Goran Ivanisevic had fulfilled his Centre Court destiny) which I reach for whenever I feel the need of a good chortle: It must be scant consolation to Tim Henman that he will forever be remembered as the best player never to win Wimbledon... I have the deepest respect for Henman who, but for an overnight stoppage due to rain, might (or then again, might not) have beaten Ivanisevic in the previous round; as a four-time losing semi-finalist, he also deserves our deepest sympathy. But there were greater players never to win Wimbledon.

"Oh, yeah, like who?" I can hear the Official Timmy Fan Club sneer. "Name one..." I will do better. I will name 10 drawn from the past 50 years: Ken Rosewall, winner of eight grand slam titles although he spent the best years of his career on the 'outlawed' professional circuit. He was Wimbledon runner-up on a heartbreaking four occasions to Jaroslav Drobny (1954), Lew Hoad ('56), John Newcombe ('70) and Jimmy Connors ('74). From the age of 19 to 39 'Muscles' (so called because he did not have many) went closer more often than any to securing the one prize that continued to elude him.

Pancho Gonzales, whom many believe to have been the best of all time but, as with Rosewall, was denied entry until tennis went 'Open' in 1968. Ivan Lendl, whose 'hunt to kill' tennis may not have been pretty to watch but was effective. Lost successive finals to Boris Becker ('86) and Pat Cash ('87). Ilie Nastase won the French and US Open championships but was twice pulled up short on the lawns of the All England Club; lost a famous five-set contest with Stan Smith in '72 then faded away after a bright start against Bjorn Borg four years later. Arguably the most naturally gifted of them all but cursed with the most brittle of temperaments.

Tony Roche remains one of the most under-rated players to have graced the game. Although he won the French Championship as an amateur in 1966, he failed to win another grand slam title having spent his most potent years - 1968 and 1969 - in the company of his fellow Aussies Rod Laver and Ken Rosewall. Andres Gimeno, who became the oldest man to win the French Championship in 1972 at the age of 35. Open tennis came too late for the elegant Spaniard who preceded Roche in the role of world No 3 behind the two Australians.

Mats Wilander was one of those who believed grass is for cows and not for playing tennis. Winner of three Australian, three French and one US championship, the Swede completed three legs of the elusive grand slam in '88 but could do no better than the Wimbledon quarter-finals. Guillermo Vilas, who struck every ball as though he had no wish ever to see it again. Like Wilander, triumphed in Paris, New York and Melbourne but never survived beyond the last eight at Wimbledon.

Jim Courier, perhaps the ugliest player in terms of style but the most charming of men off court. Pat Rafter, another of the game's true gentlemen; twice US Open champion, twice Wimbledon runner-up and the last of the serve-volleyers. Still not convinced you lost souls out there on Henman Hill? Well, in that case I will offer another 10 names for your consideration: Henri Leconte, Yannick Noah, Adriano Panatta, Miloslav Mecir, Manuel Orantes, Tom Okker, Vitas Gerulaitis, Vijay Amritraj, Michael Chang, Fred Stolle - never forgetting the gallant Andy Roddick.

But, hey, do not take my word for it. Let us ask Tim. "A lot better players than me have never won Wimbledon." rphilip@thenational.ae