We recently covered the best male players who never won the French Open. It will be remiss of us not to feature the great female players who didn’t triumph in Paris.
Best Female Players Who Never Won the French Open
Hingis is the first big name on this list. Hingis emerged as the last teenage prodigy in an era of teenage prodigies. In fact, Hingis is among the most successful teenagers, along with Steffi Graf and Monica Seles.
Hingis won five Grand Slam titles before the age of 20. In 1997 Hingis played all four Grand Slam finals, winning three of them. Incidentally, the final she didn’t win was the French Open, losing in straight sets to Iva Majoli–a big surprise. Hingis then made the final in 1999 and was in complete control against Steffi Graf. However, a dubious call led to a complete unravelling of Hingis, goaded on by an unsympathetic French crowd. A very strange and embarrassing sequence of events for everyone involved. That was Hingis’ last opportunity for a career Slam; she never got close after that.
Outside of Roland Garros, Hingis won seven clay titles and lost five finals, so a good record. Her biggest victories came at the German Open in 1999 and Italian Open in 2006, defeating Dinara Safina. The Italian Open was achieved on her comeback after four years in retirement. Hingis also won titles on green clay in the United States. Green clay has always been a surface that hard-court players favour, Hingis being no different.
Looking at Hingis’ game, I cannot see any reason why she could not have been a French Open champion. Her movement was good; she was a tactically smart player. Perhaps Hingis was not mature enough when the opportunity presented itself. Once the opportunity went her game was no longer good enough to challenge her age group who matured later, like Justine Henin.
Lindsay Davenport hailed from the same area of California as Pete Sampras, and as a junior played in the same tennis school. Davenport acquired a game built for hard-courts, with a possible transition to grass if things fell into place.
Davenport had a great career and was #1 for 98 weeks. Those periods of being #1 came in 1999, 2000, 2004, and 2005. Davenport also won eight clay titles out of 55 overall titles. Five of those titles came at lower tier events in Switzerland, Spain and France. The remainder came on green clay in the United States. However, Davenport was unable to win any of the big clay tournaments like the (now defunct) German Open or Italian Open.
And that was the case at the French Open where Davenport made it to the semifinal in 1998, and two quarterfinals in 1999 and 2005. Davenport also missed a number of French Open events, during an era where participation was not mandatory.
With such a record you may wonder why Davenport would be in this elite list? Davenport won over 50 titles, was #1 for a combined 98 weeks, and played in seven
Venus Williams is one of the icons of the sport and a pioneer of modern tennis. From fighting for equal pay at Major tournaments to inspiring minority players to rise to the top, Venus’ place in history is assured.
Despite those plaudits, Venus’ level of success is not quite as absolute as it could be. Venus has played all major finals in her career but “only” won Wimbledon and the US Open. Venus won Wimbledon five times and the US Open in 2000 and 2001. Venus lost finals to her sister Serena, including the 2002 French Open final, the only time she appeared in the final in Paris.
Venus also played in four quarterfinals in 1998, 2000, 2004, and 2006. Incidentally, I was at the 2006 quarterfinal where she lost in three sets to Nicole Vaidisova, (What happened to Vaidisova?) Williams won 49 career titles to date, with nine on clay. Her biggest triumph being the 1999 Italian Open against Mary Pierce. She also won titles in Hamburg and on green clay in Charleston and Amelia Island, venues where so many hard-court players have excelled.
Besides the’ final appearance in 2002, it is fair to say she was not a threat at the French Open. Hitting “flat” or “big” is not the problem for Williams. The question of movement and adapting to the surface underfoot seems to put so many players off their game.
Clijsters is probably the biggest hard-court specialist on this list. Kim’s game was perfect for hard-courts as she had faith in the bounce. This allowed her to hit freely with the Babolat Pure Drive racquet she used throughout her career. However, in the early years, Clijsters also made it to two French Open finals in 2001 and 2003, plus the semifinal in 2006.
In 2001 Clijsters played a blockbuster final against Jennifer Capriati which went to 12-10 in the third set in Capriati’s favour. In 2003 Clijsters was roundly beaten by Justine Henin, who also beat her in the 2006 semifinal. Clijsters has a 77% win rate at the French Open; however Clijsters only played seven events and missed eleven in her career.
Away from the French Open, Clijsters won three clay titles out of 41 career titles–31 titles on hard courts and five on indoor carpet. This shows how much Clijsters favored surfaces which didn’t throw up any mysteries or bad bounces. Clijsters’ biggest title came at the Italian Open in 2003 when she defeated Amelie Mauresmo in three sets. Clisjers also won in Hamburg in 2002 and Warsaw in 2006.
Clijsters took two years out of the game between 2007 and 2009 and on her return won two US Opens and two Australian Opens. With a bit of luck Clijsters might have won the French Open, but she was clearly not a clay court player.
Conchita Martinez was the ultimate clay court specialist, yet appears on a list of the best players not to triumph at Roland Garros.
In the 1990s, Martinez set a record of four straight Italian Open wins from 1993 through 1996. Martinez also won Tier 1 titles in Charleston on green clay and the German Open. There she beat Amelie Mauresmo in straight sets in 1998. Out of thirty three career titles, nineteen came on clay and eleven on hard-court.
She is most famous for her Wimbledon title in 1994 against legend Martina Navratilova. It was a surprise victory at the time, and looking at her stats, it is even more surprising. It was indeed her only grass court title. Martinez also made major finals in 1998 and 2000. She lost the 1998 Australian Open to Hingis and the 2000 French Open to local favorite Mary Pierce.
Martinez is a great clay court player. She didn’t have the big serve but put an incredible amount of topspin on her forehand. The ball jumped consistently high off the surface. Martinez used the slice backhand more than people might remember, but was capable of coming over it with topspin. In the 1990s the competition was strong. To win the French Open she had to overcome Steffi Graf, Monica Seles, and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario. Martinez couldn’t do it, but had a consistent record of quarterfinal and semifinal appearances.
Dinara Safina was World #1 in 2009 and made the final of the French Open in both 2008 and 2009. However, Safina lost on both occasions to Ana Ivanovic and Svetlana Kuznetsova.
Main Photo from Getty.