Any tennis player who has won at least 16 major championships has been richly blessed. Yet, even a hugely successful career can be profoundly unlucky in specific moments.
After the 2019 U.S. Open, and after the end of the past decade of major tournaments, preparing the way for the 2020s, this is as good a time as any to look at the Big 3 — Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer — and their unlucky moments in majors.
The purpose of this piece is NOT to create a hierarchy among the Big 3 in terms of good or bad luck. It is NOT to create the idea that they all have suffered equally, either, as though there are no differences.
The point is to simply illustrate that these three men have all won at least 16 major titles — a ton — and yet have paradoxically been unlucky on several of the occasions in which they didn’t win. The emphasis on bad luck is not a mistake they made or a point they didn’t win (because those things are more within a player’s control).
The emphasis is on outside forces or factors beyond a player’s control having a degree of influence on an outcome — not necessarily DETERMINING the result, but SHAPING it to some extent. (This discussion should also not mean that anyone who defeated these players in particular sets of circumstances didn’t deserve or earn his victory.)
Before continuing, one more note: The idea that a player was unlucky should not be taken as an implied statement that he WOULD have won if his injury or limitation had not emerged, only that he was in position to pursue a major title but got knocked off track to some degree by the injury.
And now, Novak Djokovic, “unlucky.”
He retired after two sets in the 2006 Roland Garros quarterfinals against Nadal.
He retired, one set apiece and down in the third, in the 2007 Wimbledon semifinals against Nadal.
He received a walkover from Fabio Fognini in the 2011 Roland Garros quarterfinals, which left him out of rhythm for the subsequent semifinal, which he lost to Federer.
Djokovic had to play on Sunday in a suspended 2012 U.S. Open men’s semifinal before the Monday final. Andy Murray finished his semifinal on Saturday and had a full day off.
Djokovic’s 2015 Roland Garros semifinal carried from Friday into Saturday, while Stan Wawrinka finished his semifinal on Friday and had a full day off.
Djokovic won the Novak Slam and was then far less than 100-percent healthy for the next several major tournaments.
He won 2019 Wimbledon and then picked up a shoulder problem before the 2019 U.S. Open.