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, Roger Federer, “unlucky.”
He had mononucleosis at the 2008 Australian Open.
His thigh was heavily wrapped at 2010 Wimbledon (for multiple matches).
He received a walkover from Mardy Fish at the 2012 U.S. Open, leaving him sluggish for his quarterfinal loss to Tomas Berdych.
He was injured and unable to play 2016 Roland Garros.
He injured himself in the fifth set of the 2016 Wimbledon semifinals against Milos Raonic and shut down his 2016 season, missing the 2016 U.S. Open.
He carried back spasms and an accompanying lack of practice and preparation into the 2017 U.S. Open.
He was overcome by oppressive heat and stagnant air in the 2018 U.S. Open fourth round against John Millman.
He was visibly impaired in his 2019 U.S. Open quarterfinal against Grigor Dimitrov.