Winning one of tennis’ four Grand Slam tournaments is the pinnacle of achievement in the sport. The Australian Open (then known as the Australasian Championships) became the last event to be selected as a major tournament by the ILTF (now the ITF) in 1924. The year’s first Major did not always match the French Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open for prestige as it does now. Despite this, the Australian Open trophy is a notable absence in the collections of some of tennis’ all time greats.
With the 2021 Australian Open set to begin shortly, here is a look at the three best male players not to win the singles event since its inaugural “Open” edition in 1969:
Legendary Swede Bjorn Borg captured 11 Grand Slam titles but never won the Australian Open. Many top players – including Borg – regularly skipped the event during the 1970s and 1980s. Some reasons for this were: it offered fewer ranking points than the other three majors; its low prize money; and its remote location.
Borg made his only appearance at the Australian Open in 1974, aged 17. While all Grand Slam singles tournaments are now contested by 128 players over seven rounds – this event featured just 64 players and six rounds. On the men’s side, opening round matches were best of three sets, with the rest of the tournament best of five.
Borg, the fourth seed, defeated Thies Roepcke in three sets in the first round – before receiving a walkover from second round opponent Marcelo Lara. The Swede then fell to ninth seed and eventual finalist Phil Dent in straight sets in the third round.
Seven-time major champion John McEnroe is another all time great who did not win the Grand Slam of Asia-Pacific. Like his great rival and friend Borg, McEnroe entered the Australian Open far less than the other three majors. He did, though, compete in the event five times – with his first appearance coming in 1983 as the second seed. McEnroe reached the last four for the loss of just one set. The American lost in four sets to third seed and eventual champion Mats Wilander in the semifinals after winning the opening set.
McEnroe’s next Australian Open appearance came in 1985 – where he was seeded second again. He edged past Henri Leconte in a five-setter to reach the quarterfinals – where he fell in five sets to Slobodan Zivojinovic having led by 2-1 in sets. The American then exited at the same stage at the 1989 event as the seventh seed. After dropping a single set en route to the last eight, McEnroe was defeated by second seed and eventual winner Ivan Lendl in straight sets – losing the first and third sets on tiebreaks.
A year later, McEnroe’s most infamous Australian Open moment took place during a fourth round match against Mikael Pernfors. Seeded fourth, the American progressed to the last 16 for the loss of just 15 games. McEnroe was trailing 2-4 in the fourth set, but leading Pernfors by 2-1 in sets, when he was disqualified for receiving a third code violation. He had received a warning for intimidating a linesperson, a point penalty for racquet abuse, before being defaulted for verbally abusing tournament supervisor Ken Farrar. McEnroe was unaware of a rule change that meant players were disqualified for three code violations – rather than four as had previously been the case.
The American’s final Australian Open appearance came in 1992, where he was unseeded. After beating third seed Boris Becker in straight sets in Round 3, McEnroe triumphed against Emilio Sanchez in five sets. His run then ended with a straight sets loss to Wayne Ferreira in the quarterfinals.
Andy Murray has won three Grand Slam titles, but the Norman Brooks Challenge Cup has always eluded him. In 13 Australian Open appearances to date, he has finished as a runner-up five times. The Brit first made the final in 2010 as the fifth seed. After beating Andy Roddick in five sets in the quarterfinals and Marin Cilic in four sets in the semifinals, Murray lost to top seed Roger Federer in straight sets.
A year later, he reached the championship match again as the fifth seed after successive four-set wins against Alexandr Dolgopolov and David Ferrer. Murray was defeated in the final by third seed Novak Djokovic in straight sets. In 2012, he fell to Djokovic again – this time in a gruelling five-set semifinal after leading 2-1 in sets. Murray then met Djokovic for the third consecutive year in the 2013 final, after a five-set semifinal victory against Federer. Seeded third, Murray lost to the top seed in four sets after winning the opening set.
Murray reached the final for the fourth time in 2015 after defeating Tomas Berdych in four sets. The Brit, seeded sixth, was denied once again by the top seed Djokovic in four sets. The following year, the second-seeded Murray met his Serbian rival in Australia for the fifth time – after reaching the final with a five-set win against Milos Raonic. Djokovic – the top seed – prevailed in a straight-set championship match.