Félix Mantilla Botella 

Born: September 23, 1974 in Barcelona (Catalonia)
Height: 1.80 m
Plays: Right-handed
The son of schoolteachers, he initiated playing at the age of ten… The late 90s marked the beginning of a golden era for Spanish tennis (it lasted more than 20 years in total), as evidenced by their first Davis Cup title in 2000. Sergi Bruguera, once hailed as the “King of Clay,” saw his dominance wane, while the sensational French Open runner-up of 1994, Alberto Berasategui, struggled to replicate his earlier successes on clay. Nonetheless, they remained dangerous, as a new generation of young Spaniards emerged (in order of birth): Àlex Corretja, Félix Mantilla, Albert Costa, Carlos Moyá and Juan Carlos Ferrero.
With smaller ATP events kicking off on clay, it became predictable that at least one of the Spanish youngsters would reach the final. Mantilla, however, achieved less than his peers – he’s the only one from that group without a Grand Slam final or participation in the “Masters”. Despite his prowess on clay, he struggled to adapt his style to faster surfaces, yet he played four finals on hardcourts. In 1997, Mantilla enjoyed his best season, clinching five clay-court titles, reaching his first significant final in Hamburg, and playing a pivotal role alongside A.Costa in Spain’s World Team Cup triumph. Those results positioned him as one of favorites for the French Open ’98, but he faltered in the semifinal to Moyá, who went on to defeat Corretja in the final. Despite this setback, Mantilla’s patience, super-confident topspin backhand, and fighting spirit allowed him to achieve numerous victories in subsequent years including a title in Barcelona – an exceedingly important event for all Spaniards, who wield their racquets for a living.
Mantilla stood out for his unique clothing style, being the sole male player known for using the ball holder clip, a practical accessory predominantly favored by female players. It’s also worth mentioning his ability to dig out of hopeless situations: he displayed remarkable resilience, saving nine match points in two clay-court matches, with triple MP-down on both occasions (!) – first time he did it against Berasategui in Hamburg ’98 trailing 1:5 in the 3rd set when began facing match points, for the second time against another Spaniard, Albert Portas in Palermo ’01 when found himself at 2-6, 3:5* (0/40); moreover he came back from a 2:5 deficit in the 3rd set against A.Costa at Monte Carlo ’99, withstanding four match points before losing the semifinal
In 2002, his performance declined, but he bounced back in Rome 2003, stunning the tennis world as No. 47. His route to the title was sensational, defeating six “Top 10 players,” including Roger Federer in the championship match. Following this triumph, he reflected: “When I come to Rome, I always feel like a gladiator in the Colosseum. […] The people enjoy watching me. I’m just running and fighting all the time. I don’t have the serve of Sampras or the volley of Rafter or the talent of Agassi, but I am strong physically, I am strong mentally.” Understandably, it was his swan song at 29. His last match appeared to be at the US Open 2005 when he faced Guillermo Coria, ending the season due to shoulder problems. In 2006, a diagnosis of skin cancer prompted him to take a 1.5-year break from hitting the ball. Upon his return, he played a few events, mixing Challengers with ATP tournaments. The final two matches of his career were against Robin Haase, concluding with consecutive losses.
Mantilla’s mentality was enigmatic; while he staged astonishing comebacks from multiple match points down and was also able to win three straight five-setters at the Australian Open 2003 (before losing round 4 in five), he catastrophically struggled in deciding tie-breaks (a miserable 8-20 record), notably losing three of them to Ferrero, whom he never defeated in eight meetings.
Career record: 313–218 [ 225 events ]
Career titles: 10
Highest ranking: No. 10
Best GS results:
Aussie Open (quarterfinal 1997)
Roland Garros (semifinal 1998)
World Team Cup 1997 champion
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Tim Mayotte

Born: August 3, 1960 in Springfield (Massachusetts)
Height: 1.91 m
Plays: Right-handed
Timothy Mayotte – a man who holds one of the most humiliating head-to-head records in the Open Era, namely 0-17 against Ivan Lendl. The initial phase of their rivalry didn’t foreshadow such a one-sided outcome. In a fourth set of the US Open ’82 second round, Mayotte found himself within three points of ousting Lendl in a two-day duel. He even held a 2:0 lead in the 5th set, serving remarkably well (19 aces), but ultimately succumbed on the sixth match point. “One of the highlights of my career,” Mayotte reflected, “I missed an opportunity to bolster my confidence.” In his preceding major (Wimbledon), Mayotte reached the first of his two semifinals at this level, dispatching three seeded players. That year elevated him to the echelons of the tennis elite for the remainder of the 80s.
Ironically, Mayotte’s maiden trophy (Delray Beach ’85) remained his arguably most significant (two years later he won Paris-Bercy; it’s an open question which title is more impressive), despite clinching another eleven titles thereafter. He was almost 25 when he claimed his shocking title in Florida, in a peculiar event that later evolved into the so-called “fifth Slam” held at Key Biscayne. It’s noteworthy that in that experimental (first four rounds ‘best of three’, then ‘best of five’) two-week tournament, Mayotte didn’t face any seeded players. Instead, every opponent he encountered from the fourth round onwards had already achieved their career-best result. In hindsight, Mayotte’s triumph gains additional significance considering that in the second round, he ousted Boris Becker… the 17-year-old German, participating in just his 15th main-level event, who was an unexpected Wimbledon champion a few months later overcoming Mayotte in round 4. “I recall Borg’s words when he won Wimbledon,” Mayotte reminisced after defeating Scott Davis in the three and a half-hour Delray Beach final. “It’s a combination of preparation, effort, and luck.” With the victory, Mayotte earned $112,500, surpassing his total winnings for the entire 1984 season.
Three years later, Mayotte came close to achieving tennis immortality by reaching the Olympic final (tennis featured officially at the Olympics for the first time), but he fell to Miloslav Mečíř in their lone encounter. “It’s peculiar because here, the emphasis is on medals rather than solely on winning,” Mayotte observed with a silver medal adorning his neck. “So, there is solace in joining the medal ranks. The ceremony was magnificent; it’s a unique approach.” Despite his struggles against Lendl, the formidable-serving, excellent volleyer Mayotte posed a challenge to the era’s top players, defeating luminaries like Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Stefan Edberg, Mats Wilander, as well as rising American super talents (Andre Agassi Philadelphia, Pete Sampras, Michael Chang).
At the Australian Open ’90, Mayotte, in his first trip to Australia within four years, engaged in an almost five-hour marathon against Sampras, succumbing 10-12 in the deciding set after committing a double fault on Sampras’ match point – marking the longest match played that year. Fast surfaces (grass, carpet) suited Mayotte’s game best, on clay he was basically non-existent. The year 1991 marked a sudden decline for him; nevertheless, on Wimbledon’s court no. 1, he stunned Chang in five sets, saving four match points in the 4th set. “It was the most exhilarating experience I’ve had in a long time,” he expressed. “I didn’t come here with high expectations – I simply aimed to enjoy myself.” While Mayotte could have been expected to triumph, the manner in which he did so was truly memorable. The teenage Chang had already established himself as a marathon match specialist, surviving eight consecutive five-setters. Mayotte’s victory marked his third win against Chang in as many encounters, all at Grand Slams. He never again participated in a match of such magnitude, announcing his retirement in Philadelphia 1992, a city where he was very successful (unbeaten in 18 consecutive matches in that most prestigious U.S. event indoors).
He remains emblematic of the 80s, a period when his style of play reigned supreme, and all his notable achievements stem from that decade. In the early 90s, he failed to adapt to the changing times and neglected to enhance his first serve acceleration, a skill well within his reach given his height.
Career record: 340–202 [ 204 events ]
Career titles: 12
Highest ranking: No. 7
Best GS results:
Australian Open (semifinal 1983; quarterfinal 1981)
Wimbledon (semifinal 1982; quarterfinal 1981, 83, 86, 88-89)
US Open (quarterfinal 1989)
Olympic silver medal (Seoul ’88)
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Mats Wilander

Born: August 22, 1964 in Växjö (Kronoberg)
Height: 1.82 m
Plays: Right-handed (two-handed backhand)
The parallels between Wilander and Björn Borg are staggering. Wilander not only played like his eight-years-older compatriot (with amazing baseline patience on clay and serve-and-volley on grass), winning the biggest titles, but he also matured very early tennis-wise and burned out at a very similar age. It was the year 1982 when Wilander replaced Borg as the potential king of clay. Borg had won the French Open title five times and decided to suspend his career at the age of 25. At the same time, Wilander appeared in Paris for the first time among professionals, and as an almost 18-year-old boy, claimed the title (Borg conquered Paris in his second French Open being at the same age, more or less, in 1974). Wilander played four additional finals in the French capital, winning two more titles (1985, 1988) and he was arguably the most successful clay-court player of the 80s (Ivan Lendl also won the French Open three times in five finals; in their mutual meetings on Philipp Chatrier court, it was tied 2-2, but I perceive the Swede as a more successful clay-courter given his contribution to the Davis Cup titles on the red surface).
Jay Berger, when asked in 1988 “Is Agassi’s forehand the biggest weapon in tennis?”, replied “No, it’s Wilander’s brain” (by the way, they met twice & Berger won both matches easily!). I agree with that statement and think that Wilander could write a better “Winning Ugly” book than Brad Gilbert. When I watch Wilander’s matches, I don’t see anything particularly interesting: the serve was just decent, groundstrokes rather moderate as well as Wilander’s volleys. Of course, everything at a high level, but nothing impressive; the forehand was not aesthetically pleasant, actually nothing allowed to expect that this guy would win seven major titles (Wilander’s two grass-court Australian triumphs of the years 198384 cannot be compared on equal terms to his five other GS titles).
So where is the secret to Wilander’s stellar career? Very likely in his mind as Berger suggested; Wilander, knowing all his limitations, was able to perfectly construct his game-style and also adjust it to his opponents. Wilander once said that the legendary Davis Cup loss to John McEnroe of 1982 gave him more than plenty earlier wins. During that match, after losing the first two sets on a surface that suited McEnroe more, facing the partisan crowd too, the Swede decided to keep the first serve in as long as possible, and it changed the trajectory of the match, preventing McEnroe’s cheap-and-charge attacks in returning games, and Wilander was within two games from winning the longest match in history at the time! One may say that he had a coach beside; regardless of the inventor of the tactics change, there’s no doubt that Wilander could keep the concentration at the highest level for a long period of time.
His physical preparation was great; he quickly improved his volley skills, accelerated the serve, and polished his backhand slice. His Australian Open ’83 triumph wasn’t less shocking than his first major title. He had been labelled as a clay-courter, yet within 1.5 years since lifting the Parisian trophy, Wilander could already deliver a full package. It was very helpful in the years to come; nothing great as far as his strokes were concerned, but everything very good, and flexible thinking, constantly analyzing which tools to use and against whom, also changing it throughout the match depending on the situation.
The US Open ’88 final, a pinnacle of Wilander’s career, is a great example of his highly strategic mind. It was a period when he was in great form but losing the most important finals to Lendl. Even though on hardcourts Wilander was playing in rather defensive mode, he won that final with the help of constant pressure on Lendl. In the sets 2-5, Wilander was regularly applying the serve-and-volley tactics despite Lendl’s piercing passing-shots. Over the years, Wilander figured out that Lendl’s backhand return wasn’t aggressive and was approaching the net, targeting only that wing; perhaps the tactics couldn’t have been so efficient if the Swede had been doing that permanently… he was doing it wisely, intertwining with conservative serves to Lendl’s forehand staying on the baseline behind them. Moreover, in that match, Wilander decided to keep the ball in play off the backhand side almost entirely with slices. You have to praise a player who, instead of repeating the same strategy time and time again in vain, counting on luck, tries to propose something contrary to his own style. From a purely technical level, I like in Wilander’s game his passing-shots – he was hitting the ball much faster being attacked by opponents, with an attitude “from the baseline I can play in moderate pace longer than you, but if you want to attack me better do it with extreme precision; otherwise, the ball will come at you much faster.”
The year 1988 was extraordinary – three major titles (initiated with the first Aussie Open played on hardcourts) and a Key Biscayne triumph (the so-called “fifth Slam” then) – one of the best seasons any player enjoyed in the Open Era; it could have been even better if Wilander hadn’t lost to his toughest rival (Miloslav Mečíř) in Wimbledon’s quarterfinal. There were still matches against more natural grass-court players ahead, but Wilander was in such a terrific form that he couldn’t be written off facing Stefan Edberg and Boris Becker. After the final victory over Lendl in New York, Wilander became the best player in the world’s ranking; he was only 24, but it was already his eighth full season among professionals. “It’s the biggest victory I ever had,” said Wilander after the final. “Bigger than my first Paris (French Open) title. It meant so much. A Swede has never won this tournament. I’m going to be No. 1 now. It’s definitely the biggest match I have ever played.”
In the aftermath, he lost his enthusiasm to train hard and the will to force himself to constantly think during matches. Never before or after, a player who reached the peak experienced such a downhill like the Swede in 1989 (it began with the Davis Cup ’88 final). Well, it was still a good year by the standards of the majority of very good players [two major quarterfinals – Paris  and London – and helping Sweden to play seventh (!) consecutive Davis Cup final], yet for a multiple Grand Slam champion of a calendar year, it was a big failure. Another two years were even worse; in 1992, the disguised and looking much older than the age would suggest Wilander didn’t play at all; he needed to redefine his career. After the comeback in the Summer of ’93, he was playing more for personal satisfaction; he did something Borg hadn’t unfortunately done in 1983. The pressure-free Wilander surprised the tennis world twice in 1995 reaching quarter/semifinals in big American events (Key Biscayne & Montreal), winning four successive matches in them both. His attitude towards professional tennis perhaps was too careless – between two very good US appearances, Wilander tested positive for cocaine (with his good friend Karel Nováček). In his final ’96 season, Wilander played his last ATP final (almost six years after the previous one); also, that year he defeated Patrick Rafter, who would soon become one of the best players in the world. The final stages of Wilander’s career weren’t as nice and worldwide appreciated as in Edberg’s case, but the farewell was much tastier than in case of the third great Swede – Borg.
Career record: 571–222 [ 233 events ]
Career titles: 33
Highest ranking: No. 1
Best GS results:
Australian Open
(champion 1983-84 & 88; runner-up 1985; semifinal ’90)
Roland Garros
(champion 1982, 85 & 88; runner-up 1983 & 87; semifinal 1984; quarterfinal 1989)
Wimbledon (quarterfinalist 1987-89)
US Open
(champion 1988; runner-up 1987; semifinal 1985; quarterfinal 1983-84)
Davis Cup champion 1984, 85 & 87 (the third time as both, singles & doubles player)
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Richard Krajicek

Born: December 6, 1971 in Rotterdam (Zuid-Holland)
Height: 1.96 m
Plays: Right-handed
Born in Rotterdam, but initiated his tennis journey in Amsterdam at the tender age of three, Krajicek grew up in the Netherlands with his Czech parents, Peter and Ludmila Krajíček, who had fled Czechoslovakia in the aftermath of the invasion by five Warsaw Pact countries – the Soviet Union, Poland, Bulgaria, East Germany, and Hungary. His father, a sports enthusiast, had previously pursued handball professionally in his native country. From a young age, Krajicek displayed remarkable dedication to the sport, emerging as a prodigy in the early 1980s. A striking photograph from London in 1982 juxtaposes him with John McEnroe, highlighting Krajicek’s significant growth over the subsequent decade, as he stood approximately 30 cm shorter than the BigMac, the best player in the world at the time.
At the age of 12, Krajicek, being the biggest Dutch talent, made a pivotal decision to transition from a two-handed to a one-handed backhand, mirroring the choices made by tennis greats such as Pete Sampras and Stefan Edberg during their formative years. However, his posture among peers remained modest, leading him to keep a defensive playing style during his early teenage years when he was winning the championships in the Netherlands year after year. The sudden growth of his body at 16 slowed down the progress, somewhat mirrored the case of his Aussie namesake, excellent junior Richard Fromberg, whose style – as opposed to Krajicek – didn’t evolve gradually with his growth.
Krajicek’s fortunes changed when he became a member of a group led by Stanley Franker of Surinam in the late 80s. Training alongside slightly older compatriots, serve-and-volleyers such as Jan Siemerink and Jacco Eltingh, Krajicek honed his volley skills, deciding to change his game-style, eventually ascending to the Top 100 in the early 90s with an attacking approach. Notably, he clinched a title in his Challenger debut as a qualifier in Verona ’90, triumphing over Eltingh in the final, marking a significant milestone in both friends’ careers.
Despite early big results with the help a tremendous serve (semifinals vs Jim Courier at the Australian Open ’92 and French Open ’93), Krajicek faced challenges on his journey to the top, including persistent injuries to his shoulder and knees, as well as a perceived weakness in his offensive backhand. However, his formidable serve-and-volley game, as well as his powerful forehand – particularly his cross-court shots on the run – set him apart from his many contemporaries. Notably, he boasted a favorable head-to-head record against the likes of Sampras, initiating it in Los Angeles ’93.
The turning point in Krajicek’s career came during the rainy Wimbledon of 1996. Seeded with a bizarre No. 17 due to Thomas Muster‘s withdrawal, Krajicek, who had lost Wimbledon first rounds in his two previous trips, defied expectations by dispatching former champions Michael Stich (fourth round) and Sampras (quarterfinal) in consecutive matches without dropping a set. Displaying newfound confidence, he emerged as the heavy favorite in the semifinal and final, ultimately clinching the Wimbledon title in an edition that challenged conventional wisdom. The runner-up MaliVai Washington said: “If he continues playing like this, he’ll be thebest in the world.” 
Three years later, shortly after winning the Stuttgart and Key Biscayne titles, only five matches separated Krajicek from Washington’s prophecy. The Dutchman arrived in Hamburg ’99 as the No. 4 in the ATP ranking, top seeded, and winning the title seemed within his reach, despite clay being his least favorite surface. Krajicek had showcased his prowess on the red surface before, having reached the French Open ’93 semifinals, the Rome ’96 final, and triumphed in Barcelona ’94. However, his dreams were dashed in his first match as he lost to the unpredictable Hicham Arazi, despite having won their two previous meetings. Following this defeat, Krajicek faced recurring physical issues, coupled with mediocre results, which prevented him from seizing opportunities in the years 1999-2000 when Sampras lost his dominance, and as many as five players reached the No. 1 spot for the first time. With better timing to avoid health issues, Krajicek could have easily been among them.
Krajicek missed the entire 2001 singles season due to injury; he returned after a twenty-month absence following two elbow surgeries. Remarkably, in only his second event after his comeback, he mirrored Guy Forget‘s achievement from 1994 by reaching the Wimbledon quarterfinals with a very low ranking. This feat came after a remarkable three-day contest against Mark Philippoussis, consisting of four tie-breaks. However, a few weeks later, a heel injury forced Krajicek to retire from the US Open.
Krajicek had planned to conclude his career at Wimbledon ’03, but the draw presented a formidable obstacle – facing Lleyton Hewitt, the world No. 1 and defending champion. A recent humiliating defeat on grass to Andre Agassi made Krajicek apprehensive about a similar fate on Centre Court. Consequently, he opted to withdraw, paving the way for another big server, relatively unknown at the time, the Croatian giant – Ivo Karlović, to step in – his stunning victory over Hewitt in four sets remains one of the biggest upsets in Wimbledon history.
Trivia: all three of Franker’s pupils made their Slam debuts in the same event, and each found success – at the Australian Open ’91: Krajicek [113] and Siemerink [132, qualifier] reached the fourth round, while Eltingh [125] advanced to the third round.
Career record: 411-219 [ 222 events ]
Career titles: 17
Highest ranking: No. 4
Best GS results:
Australian Open (semifinal 1992)
Roland Garros (semifinal 1993; quarterfinal 1996)
Wimbledon (champion 1996; semifinal 1998; quarterfinal 2002)
US Open (quarterfinal 1997, 99-00)
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Guillermo Coria

Born: January 13, 1982 in Rufino (Santa Fe)
Height: 1.75 m
Plays: Right-handed (two-handed backhand)
A shooting star… As a junior, Coria achieved a ranking of No. 2 in singles (reaching the final of the Orange Bowl ’98 at the age of 16) and No. 5 in doubles. Andre Agassi and Marcelo Ríos were among his idols at the time, and he had the opportunity to play against both of them. Therefore, when he transitioned to the professional level, there were high expectations for him. In the first few years on the tour he was often compared to Carlos Moyá and even earned the nickname “mini Moya” due to alleged facial similarities, game-style and loose clothing. There were assumptions that he would follow in Moyá’s footsteps and become a Roland Garros champion.
In his first ATP event in Mallorca of 2000, Coria faced Moyá, a native Mallorcan. He concluded that season with four consecutive titles at the Challenger level in South America, leading to a change in his nickname to “El Mago” (The Magician). It became evident to everyone that Coria possessed exceptional talent; his agility and finesse on the court were truly remarkable.
His early career was marked by rapid success and media attention, including winning his first ATP title in only his sixth main-level event, reaching the semifinals of Monte Carlo in tenth (where he lost to Gustavo Kuerten – a few weeks later they met in the French Open first round; it was a brutal draw for Coria, he’d been expected to reach the quarterfinal despite being unseeded which is a rarity). However, his journey was not without setbacks. In April 2001, Coria tested positive for nandrolone after a three-hour lost match in Barcelona to Michel Kratochvil. Initially banned from tennis for two years and fined, Coria claimed that the banned substance was unintentionally ingested through a multivitamin supplement from a New Jersey company.
In December 2001, despite his appeals, the ATP refused to fully acquit Coria but reduced his ban to seven months, allowing him to resume his career in March 2002. However, this hiatus resulted in a significant drop in his world ranking from No. 25 to No. 198. The year 2002 served as a rebuilding period for Coria, during which he mixed ATP events with Challengers and finished ranked No. 45, i.a. playing the longest “best of three” final in the 00s (Costa do Sauipe).
The years 2003-2005 were defining for Coria as he established himself as a dominant force on clay courts, earning him the moniker “prince of clay” (fitting because in the most successful years he played with the Prince racquet). After defeating his childhood hero, he suffered a surprising loss in the Roland Garros ’03 semifinal to Martin Verkerk (where Coria faced the threat of being defaulted after the first set for throwing his racquet towards a ball kid). Shortly afterwards the young Argentine displayed an astonishing level of determination & consistency in the summer of ’03; he dominated the clay-court circuit, capturing three titles in three consecutive weeks: Stuttgart, Kitzbühel and Sopot, without even being forced to play a tie-break! This remarkable streak bolstered his self-confidence, which soon translated to success on other surfaces as well. Coria’s newfound assurance propelled him to the quarterfinals of the US Open and even saw him clinch a title on carpet (!) under rather fortunate circumstances; in the second round of Basel, he narrowly defeated Michaël Llodra, and then his friend David Nalbandian withdrew from the final, paving the way for Coria’s unexpected triumph. In 2004, after suffering a blister on his right hand during a match against Roger Federer in Hamburg, his 31-match winning streak on clay came to an end. Despite being a favorite to win the French Open, he ultimately lost the final to fellow Argentine Gaston Gaudio in a surreal match.
The disappointment from the French Open final took a toll on Coria mentally, affecting his performance for the remainder of the season. Although he showed flashes of brilliance in 2005, he failed to maintain his status as the top player on clay, losing two big finals (Monte Carlo, Rome) to the rising star, embodied in Rafael Nadal. His unexpected defeat by Nikolay Davydenko in the fourth round of the French Open further dented his confidence, and he struggled to regain his form, nevertheless he managed to add the last title (Umag) to his résumé, and third year running – wearing a super tight T-shirt – took part in the season-ending ‘Masters’ event where he quickly lost all his three matches like a year before.
The year 2006 marked a dramatic downturn in career of the 24-year-old Argentine. From being hailed as a clay-court genius, potential multiple French Open champion, he turbulently descended into mediocrity on his beloved surface. His decline was highlighted by losses to much lower-ranked players, such as Alessio di Mauro in Acapulco, where he committed an unusually high number of 16 double faults in two short sets! Strange incidents, such as his extraordinary comeback against Paul-Henri Mathieu or a sudden withdrawal against Michał Przysiężny in Sopot (by the way, it is the only case when I saw a player celebrating a victory after opponent’s retirement), signalled that something bad happened to him physically & mentally… the unexpected end of his career appeared on the horizon.
Following a Bangkok defeat in 2009 (Challenger), he never appeared again as a professional player, it was his only tournament that year, following just two in 2007 and eleven in 2008. Federico Coria, Guillermo’s brother who is ten years his junior, has endeavoured to follow in his brother’s footsteps, but his results have yet to come close to matching Guillermo’s achievements.
Career record: 218–114 [ 117 events ]
Career titles: 9
Highest ranking: No. 3
Best GS results:
Roland Garros (runner-up 04; semifinal 2003)
US Open (quarterfinal 2003, 05)
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Kevin Anderson

Born: May 18, 1986 in Johannesburg (Gauteng)
Height: 2.03 m
Plays: Right-handed (two-handed backhand)
When I first witnessed Anderson play in the third round of Miami ’08, I never would have anticipated that he would become a two-time Grand Slam finalist. Watching his match against Igor Andreev, I was intrigued by the player who had ousted Novak Đoković in the previous round. However, my initial impression was somewhat disappointing; despite his towering two-meter height, Anderson’s serve seemed surprisingly average. In a gruelling three-setter that Andreev ultimately won 6-4, 6-7, 6-4, Anderson managed to fire just two aces, leaving me puzzled. Little did I know, ten years later, that the South African giant would go on to consistently deliver +/- thirty aces in many matches.
Anderson’s astonishing progress over a decade was truly commendable. He stands out as one of the few players who maximized his career potential to the fullest. Demonstrating improvement in every aspect of his game, Anderson’s evolution was nothing short of remarkable. While he was typically reserved in displaying emotions on the court, it appears he recognized the value in doing so to enhance his chances of winning crucial matches. During the US Open ’17, his exceptional display of emotion, marked by fist-pumps after every point won, seemed to propel him through challenging encounters in the quarterfinal and semifinal, where he faced opponents in evenly matched battles. This positive, affirmative attitude likely played a significant role in his victories over Sam Querrey and Pablo Carreño, ultimately leading him to his first major final at the age of 31, without any significant titles to his name. Anderson showcased his immense potential in New York two years prior when he had defeated Andy Murray after enduring one of the longest four-set matches in tournament history.
However, Anderson’s ascent didn’t stop there. The following season, during the most prestigious tournament, he achieved something unprecedented. He triumphed in two epic deciding fifth sets in back-to-back matches, a feat no one had accomplished before him and may not be replicated in the future. First, he saved a match point against Roger Federer before prevailing 13-11 in the deciding set, followed by an extraordinary 6-hour 36-minute battle against John Isner, which he clinched 26-24 in the decider. [Anderson’s marathon match against Isner at Wimbledon persuaded officials to revise the rules regarding the deciding set. As a result, the following year saw the introduction of a peculiar tie-break format at 12-all.] This historic victory propelled him to the second position in the history of South African tennis, behind only Johan Kriek (two-time Australian Open champion) and ahead of Kevin Curren and Wayne Ferreira. The comparison between two Kevins remains a topic of debate actually… Anderson was dispatched in both of his major finals (US Open & Wimbledon), but in both occasions he had nothing to be ashamed of as he faced the greatest players.
As a curious piece of trivia, Anderson remarkably lost all twelve matches he played against Tomáš Berdych, with only three of those matches reaching deciding sets (one of them – Paris ’14 – I statistically covered). Anderson kicked off the year 2019 in stellar fashion, securing victory in Pune. However, his momentum was abruptly halted by elbow & knee injuries that kept him sidelined for six months. Upon his return to competition, he found himself ranked outside the Top 100 and struggled to recapture his previous form. After enduring two seasons that fell far below expectations, the 36-year-old Anderson made the decision to retire in May ’22. However, one year later, he made a brief return, participating in two events – Newport and Washington – in what could be described as a ‘cameo’ appearance.
Career record: 356-255 [ 258 events ]
Career titles: 7
Highest ranking: No. 5
Best GS results:
Wimbledon (runner-up 2018)
US Open (runner-up 2017; quarterfinal 2015)
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Miloslav Mečíř

Born: May 19, 1964 in Bojnice (Západoslovenský kraj in Czechoslovakia)
Height: 1.90 m
Plays: Right-handed (two-handed backhand)
When contemplating who is the best Open Era player to never win a Grand Slam title, my thoughts gravitate toward Mečíř, “The Big Cat”. A straightforward approach to answering this question would be to compare non-active players who reached the most major finals without clinching a victory. This group includes two-time major finalists – in chronological order – such as Steve Denton, Kevin Curren, Mečíř, Cédric Pioline, Todd Martin, Àlex CorretjaRobin Söderling and Kevin Anderson. Even though Corretja won distinctively more matches and titles than Mečíř (438 vs 262 and 17 vs 11 respectively), furthermore the Spaniard was also ranked higher (two vs four), I lean towards Mečíř due to his all-court versatility as well as achieving a lot in a short span.
Corretja contested both his major finals on clay, whereas Mečíř reached his on hard courts, albeit at different venues (US Open ’86 and Australian Open ’89; both finals quickly lost to his compatriot Ivan Lendl). The (Czecho)Slovak also reached semifinals at all majors, a feat Corretja did not accomplish outside of France. Comparing their biggest titles, Corretja triumphed at the “Masters” ’98 in Hanover, while ten years earlier, Mečíř secured a gold medal at the Olympics in Seoul. Evaluating these achievements presents a challenge, as Corretja faced the best players worldwide in his victory, while Seoul ’88 did not attract all the top talent as the inaugural official Olympic event. However, Mečíř had to navigate through six ‘best of five’ matches to secure his victory.
Another aspect to consider is their other significant titles. While there wasn’t an equivalent of ‘Masters 1K’ in the 1980s, both players claimed titles of comparable prestige. Corretja won these tournaments twice as ‘Mercedes Super 9’ (Rome and Indian Wells), as did Mečíř (Key Biscayne and Indian Wells). Notably, in the years 1987-89, Key Biscayne was dubbed the “fifth Grand Slam” due to its format requiring the champion to win seven ‘best of five’ matches. Consequently, Mečíř’s victory in Florida ’87 may hold more weight than Stefan Edberg‘s Australian Open title of the same year (he defeated Mečíř i.a.), where seeded players received a first-round bye… Reflecting on the hierarchy of prestigious events in singles, it roughly follows this order (without nuanced differences):
– Grand Slams
– Olympics
– “Masters” for 8 best players of the season
– Masters 1K (former Mercedes Super 9)
– WCT Finals/Grand Slam Cup
– Other main-level events, graded based on prize money primarily
Before the introduction of the Grand Slam Cup in Munich in 1990, the World Championship Tennis in Dallas during the 1980s served a similar function, gathering top players in an indoor event featuring ‘best of five’ format rounds. Although I hold Munich’s event in higher regard, Corretja failed to reach even a semifinal there, while Mečíř triumphed in Dallas ’87, defeating Mats Wilander, Andrés Gómez, and John McEnroe – two of whom were top-tier players in men’s tennis at the time.
Competitiveness against the best players in the most significant tournaments is another crucial factor. While Corretja’s achievement in Hanover ’98 is commendable, he did not defeat Pete Sampras or Andre Agassi at Grand Slam events (he had defeated them in Hanover), despite performing admirably against them in New York. In contrast, Mečíř defeated all the top players in the world of the late 1980s in ‘best of five’ matches. Mečíř boasted a 20-3 record for a while against Swedish players, who were a dominant force in men’s tennis at the time. Especially his 7-4 record against Wilander is particularly intriguing, considering Wilander’s reputation as the best brain of the 1980s.
I consider Wilander the most astute tactician of the 80s; however, he couldn’t find a solution when facing the unorthodox Mečíř. The most bitter defeat among their encounters occurred at Wimbledon ’88 – in hindsight; had Wilander claimed that title, he would have enjoyed the best Open Era season! He was outplayed 3-6, 1-6, 3-6 by Mečíř in the quarterfinals (their last meeting, incidentally); in the semifinal “Big Cat” was relatively close to beat Edberg in straights too. Mečíř proved to be a formidable opponent for all top players; against serve-and-volleyers, he could retrieve more effectively than others, while against Wilander (or other guys with a defensive attitude), he could outmanoeuvre the patient Swede on the baseline with sharper angles of his flat, deceptive strokes, and unexpected trips to the net. Technically, he was unparalleled – despite his stature, he was not a big server; his upper body was unusually elongated, allowing him to move like a player 10 cm shorter. Although primarily a baseliner, his volley technique was flawless, enabling him to seamlessly transition to serve-and-volley when necessary. He possessed a knack for dismantling his opponents, forcing them to alter or adapt their tactics to stand a chance against him. Even after many years, this is how Wilander remembers Mečíř: “Best anticipation of any player in our generation for sure. The most flexible… and then crazy good hands. He is the best player in the world to not have won a Slam, for sure. No question in my mind. He should have won three or four.” I wrote more about their rivalry analyzing their first meeting as well as matches at the US Open ’86 (fourth round) and ’87 (quarterfinal).
Mečíř’s career came to an abrupt end at the young age of 26 due to a deteriorating back injury. His final significant match took place just a few months earlier, where he faced Boris Becker in the fourth round of the Australian Open. What he could have won as a player in the early 90s, he “won” as a coach in the late 90s, helping fellow Slovak Karol Kučera to reach the Top 10. To me, Mečíř ranks as the fifth-best player of the 1980s among those who were born in the 1960s, trailing only behind the four multiple Grand Slam champions: Lendl, Becker, Edberg and Wilander.
He captured Masters ’87 in doubles (London), alongside Tomáš Šmíd. What’s insane about that triumph, the Czechoslovaks defeated the Swedish pair Edberg/Järryd twice in five-setters, first at the group stage, then in the semifinal – it was possible only in 1987 due to the draw after the ’round robin’.
Career record: 262–122 [ 117 events ]
Career titles: 11
Highest ranking: No. 4
Best GS results:
Australian Open (runner-up 1989; quarterfinal 1987)
Roland Garros (semifinal 1987)
Wimbledon (semifinal 1988; quarterfinal 1986)
US Open (runner-up 1986; quarterfinal 1987)
Olympic gold medal (Seoul 1988)
World Team Cup champion 1987
Hopman Cup champion 1989
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David Ferrer Ern

Born: April 2, 1982 in Xàbia (Valencia)
Height: 1.75 m
Plays: Right-handed (two-handed backhand)
Making a parallel to the 90s, he was akin to Michael Chang among players born in the 1980s; given his height, sturdy legs, and tremendous will to fight. Ferrer once stated “I’m the weakest player in the Top 100”; albeit he exaggerated, as he made this claim while already being a Top 30 player, having defeated i.a. Andre Agassi. There may be a convincing argument to his statement; namely, he believed he lacked a serious weapon. Nevertheless since he appeared on the tour, he was known for his fast movement and persistence during physically demanding rallies (reached his first ATP final already in his second event at this level, Umag ’02). He was the type of player you had to stay focused at all time to beat him; a young Andy Murray experienced it in Toronto ’06, narrowly avoiding disaster by saving a set point to survive 6-2, 7-6 earlier leading 5:0 in the 2nd set! Tennis isn’t just about the serve speed or generating enormous topspin; it’s also about handling various adverse circumstances like brutal weather, complex progress of a match, different styles of fellow contestants, challenges Ferrer embraced through hard work off the court and resilience. His technical limitations meant he struggled against a genius like Roger Federer, evidenced by their 17-0 head-to-head record (Masters ’07 it’s their most important match), with Ferrer never coming close to victory. However, against the other greatest players of the 21st Century, Ferrer engaged in balanced matches characterized by long rallies, earning respect all over the world for his dedication and fighting spirit. Ferrer not only defeated Rafael Nadal, Novak Đoković, and Murray, each of them several times, but also did so in the ‘best of five’ format. Nadal experienced this painfully when Ferrer crushed him 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 in the Aussie Open quarterfinal ’11, halting Nadal’s bid for a fourth consecutive major title. Though one could argue Nadal wasn’t at full fitness, Ferrer deserves credit for his composure which gave him the arguably most satisfactory victory. Nonetheless, over many years Nadal remained Ferrer’s toughest rival as far as clay courts are concerned. They faced each other in three significant finals on that surface, and Nadal always emerged victorious in straight sets, including the French Open ’13 final.
Defeating Nadal in a major match (US Open ’07) marked a turning point in Ferrer’s career. Following that victory, with improved volleys & serve, he climbed from the Top 20 to the Top 10, remaining there almost permanently until 2015, a remarkable feat considering his modest height. Ferrer’s successful career challenged the notion that a player of his stature couldn’t excel in the 2000s; he remained at the top even into the 2010s, forming a solid “second big 4” alongside Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (3-1 H2H; their most memorable meeting comes from the French Open ’13 semifinal), Juan Martín del Potro (H2H, 6-7), and Tomáš Berdych (H2H, 8-8), as indicated by their head-to-head records against the Big 4 at the time.
Was Ferrer the fifth-best player of his era, in the late 00s/early 10s? That’s up for debate. While his firepower may suggest otherwise comparing to the taller players mentioned above, he won one significant title (Berdych did the same) and contributed more than any of them to Davis Cup triumphs (thrice, once defeating Del Potro in a very important rubber of the ’11 final). While clay (outdoors) was Ferrer’s best surface, his most significant wins, two in the Davis Cup finals (both after dramatic five-setters) and in the ‘Masters 1K’ final, came indoors. His biggest title, obtained at Paris-Bercy ’12, isn’t well remembered, because he defeated in the last two matches, players ranked much lower [Michaël Llodra 121, Jerzy Janowicz 69] who achieved their best results at this level then. Ferrer’s big crisis finally came at thirty-six in 2018 when he had a poor 9-18 record on the tour. That year, he played his arguably two tightest five-setters: first, he scored a win over other veteran Philipp Kohlschreiber 7-6, 3-6, 7-6, 4-6, 7-5 in the Davis Cup, and then he lost in uncharacteristic manner to Jaume Munar 6-3, 6-3, 6-7, 6-7, 5-7 at Roland Garros. Munar (b. 1997) appeared poised to succeed Ferrer to some extent as a Spanish grinder among the NextGen players (the term introduced in the late 10s), but his performance in the following seasons has not lived up to expectations.
Admittedly, Ferrer had an awful record against Federer, but was tremendous against fellow Spaniard Nicolás Almagro. Ferrer defeated him 15 times in a row, even coming back from trailing two sets to love and 3:5 in the third set (Australian Open ’13). Their matches underscore an uncomfortable truth for many: in tennis, the will to win and ambition often outweigh innate talent when it comes to achieving success.
Career record: 734–377 [ 391 events ]
Career titles: 27
Highest ranking: No. 3
Best GS results:
Australian Open (semifinal 2011 & 13; quarterfinal 2008, 12, 14 & 16)
Roland Garros (runner-up 2013; semifinal 2012; quarterfinal 2005, 2008, 2014-15)
Wimbledon (quarterfinal 2012-13)
US Open (semifinal 2007 & 12; quarterfinal 2013)
Davis Cup champion three times (2008-09, 2011)
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Marat Safin

Born: January 27, 1980 in Moscow (Moscow Oblast in Soviet Union)
Height: 1.95 m
Plays: Right-handed (two-handed backhand)
Марат Сафин – a prototype of a new player, quite characteristic in the third decade of the 21st Century; he was the first very tall man who was effortlessly traversing the entire court. His remarkable Grand Slam debut occurred during his first significant victory, over Andre Agassi at the French Open ’98. A few months prior, he displayed his dominance over Jim Courier in the Davis Cup first round, leading 6-0, *4:1 (!) before succumbing in five sets. This match, played on a hardcourt with shorter rallies, didn’t fully showcase his exceptional defensive skills, but one thing was certain: the teenager had no fear facing the best players in the world.
Before Safin’s emergence, players over 190 cm were often associated with limited and awkward movement, they were reluctant to operate a few meters behind the baseline. Although Safin demonstrated competent volley skills, it was evident that he would predominantly construct points from the back of the court, relying mainly on his super solid backhand. At the time, serve-and-volley tennis wasn’t yet in decline, with Pete Sampras still reigning as the world’s best player and Patrick Rafter, a natural serve-and-volleyer, clinching the US Open title twice.
Returning to Paris ’98; Safin, then a qualifier, stunned Agassi. In the second round, he triumphed in another five-setter against the defending champion Gustavo Kuerten, marking the rise of a new star. However, the subsequent 1.5 years brought disappointment, as Safin often exited tournaments early, earning a reputation for his racquet-smashing antics akin to Goran Ivanišević‘s struggles during that period. At the end of 1999 the tall Russian reminded how dangerous he would be advancing to the Paris-Bercy final.
An extraordinary turn of events occurred during the European clay-court swing of Spring 2000. Despite starting the ATP season with five consecutive defeats, Safin revitalized his game, claiming back-to-back titles in Barcelona and Mallorca. This kick-started the best seven months of his tennis career, during which the 20-year-old secured seven titles (including Toronto, the US Open and Paris-Bercy) and ascended to the top spot in the world rankings, narrowly losing it out to Kuerten in the ‘Masters’ 2000.
Remarkably, Safin’s subsequent career saw a stagnation in titles won compared to his stellar 2000 season. It’s challenging to pinpoint the exact reasons behind this, as factors off the court likely played an important role. Despite his undeniable talent, Safin couldn’t maintain his status as the dominant player born in the 1980s throughout the 2000s.
Safin’s first significant setback occurred in Barcelona in 2003, where he retired in the final due to a bothersome left wrist. This injury marked the beginning of a rough patch, culminating in a drop from world No. 8 to No. 86 by the end of the season. However, Safin astonished the tennis world by advancing to the final of the Australian Open in 2004, enduring multiple gruelling matches along the way. Being fatigued, he couldn’t overcome Roger Federer, who began his reign over men’s tennis on that historic day, a rule that would last over four years until Rafael Nadal dethroned him at Wimbledon ’08.
During the years 2004-05, Safin’s performance was unpredictable. He could lose to anyone one day, yet on another, he could defeat the best players in the world, as demonstrated in successive rounds of the Australian Open ’05. Safin began the event by dispatching an unknown Serbian youngster, Novak Đoković. In the semifinal, he survived a match point against Federer (their second amazing match within two months following ‘Masters’ semifinal in which they equalled a record for the longest tie-break), and in the final, facing the partisan Australian crowd, Safin defeated the local favorite, Lleyton Hewitt, in four sets. This victory marked Safin’s swan song in some sense. At 25 years old, he played a more mature style of tennis compared to his triumph at the US Open ’00. His serve and volleys were significantly improved, yet he wouldn’t win another title for the next five years playing just three finals.
The years 2006-08 were frustrating for Safin after he came back from a right knee injury; however, he helped Russia to clinch the Davis Cup for the second time, and at Wimbledon ’08, he reached the semifinal, once again defeating Đoković in straight sets, bringing their head-to-head to 2-0 in favor of Safin. The inability to secure a title for several years led to his decision to retire after the farewell ’09 season. For the ~30-year-old Safin, that season was less profitable (only one semifinal) than the 1996 farewell season for the 30-year-old Stefan Edberg.
Throughout his career, Safin’s matches could be likened to Russian roulette; luck often played a significant role in his dramatic encounters. He could win tight matches against elite players as often as he could lose them to inferior opponents, he never gave impression that it matters what is the scoreline or who is on the other side of the net. However, in 2009, he seemed to be losing everything narrowly. At Roland Garros, he even suffered a defeat to a seemingly casual player like Josselin Ouanna, whose main-level record was just 9-17. This loss was reminiscent of his Davis Cup defeat to Max Mirnyi more than five years earlier (first two sets lost in tie-breaks, the decider with a two-game advantage). Safin continued to struggle until his final tournament at Paris-Bercy. In the first round, he saved three match points with three aces to overcome the French journeyman Thierry Ascione. In the last match of his career, Safin faced Juan Martín del Potro. Perhaps it was Safin’s best match of the season, as Del Potro was fresh off a triumph at the US Open and mirrored Safin in terms of posture and abilities. The Argentine was perceived then as a potential leader of men’s tennis in the years to come, although that story would unfold differently…
Career record: 422–267 [ 260 events ]
Career titles: 15
Highest ranking: No. 1
Best GS results:
Australian Open (champion 2005; runner-up 2002 & 04)
Roland Garros (semifinal 2002; quarterfinal 2000)
Wimbledon (semifinal 2008; quarterfinal 2001)
US Open (champion 2000; semifinal 2001)
Davis Cup champion 2002 (singles) & 2006 (singles & doubles)
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Andrei Medvedev

Born: August 31, 1974 in Kiev (Kyiv Oblast in Soviet Union)
Height: 1.93 m
Plays: Right-handed (two-handed backhand)
Андрій Медведєв… His career progressed rapidly. Not being widely recognized on the junior scene before, representing the disintegrating Soviet Union, he won the junior French Open ’91 as a sixteen-year-old boy, not dropping a set, defeating his peer Thomas Enqvist in the final. A few months later, he was ready to compete at the main level, and reached the semifinals in Geneva, where he lost to Thomas Muster in two tie-breaks. As a Ukrainian, he began the ’92 season in April and achieved valuable results, winning three titles, including the Stuttgart Outdoor at the Rochusclub, with the strongest draw in the tournament’s history. The teenager, ranked No. 100, needed nine consecutive wins (three in the qualifying rounds, began it losing a bagel set) to secure the trophy, defeating five seeded players who were showcasing different styles: Alexander Volkov, Emilio Sánchez, Stefan Edberg, Muster, and Wayne Ferreira in the final after five sets, squandering a match point at 5:3 in the third set. The following year he claimed another big clay-court title in Barcelona and reached the French Open semifinal. Pundits began discussing him as a potential world No. 1, and the “King of Clay” in the 90s.
However, a series of injuries thwarted his plans. I’d argue that Medvedev’s development stalled in July of ’94, so before he turned 20. It’s difficult to pinpoint what exactly happened; my loose theory is that he matured too quickly. By his early 20s, he began to experience hair loss, a phenomenon observed in other guys such as Andre Agassi, Nikolay Davydenko, and Ivan Ljubičić, players who enjoyed the peak of their careers approaching 30 though. During a particular week of 1999, Medvedev dropped to No. 100, yet paradoxically, being in big crisis he played the event of his life at Roland Garros. Neither Pete Sampras in round 2 nor Gustavo Kuerten in the last 8 managed to defeat him before the final, in which he led 6-1, 6-2, 4-all against Agassi when the American hit the line with his second serve on mini-match point. Perhaps only a few centimeters separated Medvedev from a straight-set victory. That moment completely changed the momentum, and the Ukrainian lost in five sets, marking the most important loss of his tennis life. Medvedev cried afterward, as did his namesake – a tennis melodrama created by two young, but already bald men. Medvedev stated that he regained the required self-confidence to play at the highest level, and another Grand Slam final would be a matter of time. However, one year later in Paris, he was completely outplayed in the fourth round by Magnus Norman, who was on his way to reach the only major final of his career.
Over the years, Medvedev excelled on clay courts, where he had more time to execute his flat groundstrokes (exquisite backhand down the line) and dropshots. However, he also had the skills to make an impact in faster conditions in spite of his rather wooden volley technique. He achieved good results on all surfaces; on grass at Wimbledon ’94, he played one of the tightest matches in the tournament’s history against the legend of those courts, Boris Becker. On carpet in Paris ’93, he somehow survived four consecutive matches against players better suited to indoor conditions (in the semifinal he had to withstand the adversity of the French crowd too), only to be defeated in the final by Goran Ivanišević.
His mother, Svetlana, was a coach in Kiev, where young Andrei and his sister Natalia Medvedeva began to play tennis (together they reached the Hopman Cup ’95 final lost to Germany; Medvedev faced his girlfriend Anke Huber on the other side of the net). Like his older sister, he retired prematurely, a few years before turning 30. However, before it happened, he managed to participate in more than 200 events, making it difficult to polemic that he hadn’t played enough to experience everything that tennis at the highest level has to offer. Trivia: in 1998, within a few months, he defeated Ivanišević twice, saving match points in deciding tie-break sets; first at Indian Wells (7-6, 2-6, 7-6), then in Monte Carlo (4-6, 6-2, 7-6). Despite “only” 11 titles, he collected four Masters 1K trophies, three of them in Hamburg (1994, 1995 and 1997) – he enjoyed the chilly weather there. The fourth one, chronologically first, comes from Monaco. In the most successful, first years on the tour, he was coached by Oleksandr Dolgopolov, the father of Alexandr Dolgopolov, the future No. 13. As a kid, Dolgopolov jr. was a frequent visitor of tournaments in which the best Ukrainian player to date participated.
Career record: 321–213 [ 221 events ]
Career titles: 11
Highest ranking: No. 4
Best GS results:
Australian Open (quarterfinal 1995)
Roland Garros (runner-up 1999; semifinal 1993; quarterfinal 1994)
US Open (quarterfinal 1993)
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