If They Were So Good, How Could The Experts Be So Wrong?
You ever wonder when you read Agassi in “Open” write that the first time he played Sampras he thought the guy had no chance of being a special player, how great players or experts on the game can be so wrong with their initial assessment of players? Yes, Agassi did beat Pete 2 and 1 on the clay courts of Rome in 1989 when Andre was 19 and Sampras 18. But then only a year later, Sampras returned the favor, beating Andre in Philadelphia and in the finals of the US Open 4, 3 and 2. So how could Agassi have been so wrong?
I thought about this yesterday when I talked to Jeff Salzenstein, the lefty out of Denver and later Stanford, who beat Nalbandian 2 and 1 in San Jose, Costa Rica and Tsonga, in the first round of the French Open qualis, both Nalby and Jo Willy were 18 when Salzy beat them. And Jeff didn’t think either had much chance of being a top player, but Nalby broke through the next year and Tsonga a few years after Jeff played him.
Of course, on the flip side of the coin, there are players who are touted to be the next great player and many never really solidify themselves in the Top 50. So here is my Top 10 players List in the Open Era who fell far below their hype and predicted glory.
No. 1–DONALD YOUNG–Do you know this is actually the 23 year old Young’s 10th year playing pro events? He’s currently No. 198 and John McEnroe said he had the best hands of any player since he played. Can you say disappointment of monumental proportions? I know you can.
2. GAELS MONFILS–I know, how can I put a guy who once was No. 7 and is still only 26 yrs old as No. 2 on the Greatest Disappointment List, and my answer is…it’s my friggin’ list! Monfils is the greatest athlete ever to play pro tennis period, but he’s only won 4 titles, never a Masters or a Slam, mind you. And the guy has only reached one Slam semis.
3. MARCELO RIOS–The only player in the Open Era who was ranked No. 1 and never won a Slam title and only got to one slam final and no slam semis. He also lost 192 matches, and won only 391 matches, not a great ratio for a supposedly top player. Plus, he won only 18 titles.
4. THOMAS MUSTER–A former No. 1 player who only won one slam and lost in the first round of Wimbledon four times. Yes, he won 44 titles, and got to two Slam semis, and won 44 titles, so this is a specious pick.
5. RYAN HARRISON–Yes, he’s only 20, but IMO he’s never going to be the Big Cheese that an expert like Mats Wilander has predicted, a Top 3 player. There’s too much wrong with Harry’s game and his approach to getting to the top, meaning, he’s hired the worst coaches imaginable for a supposed shooting star. Yes, Harry is ranked No. 55, but he’s lost in either the first or second rounds of the last 6 Slams.
7. JOHN LLOYD—The former No. 1 Brit (and hubby of Chris “lay ‘em low” Evert) was once considered to be a certain Slam winner, and yet he only won one title in his career and reached a high of No. 21. Early on, Lloyd was considered to be a superior player to Vitas Gerulaitis, another blond heartthrob of the era, but Gerulaitis far out-shone the Brit on the pro tour. Here’s why Lloyd is also on the list: in 4 Slam matches against Jimmy Connors, Lloyd won a total of 24 games!
8. AL PARKER—The Georgian native, was probably the greatest junior American player of all time. During his second year in the 12 and unders in 1981, he won the singles and doubles at all four national tournaments. A double grand slam. He is the only person in the history of American junior tennis to do that. People said he was the future of American tennis, the successor to McEnroe and Connors, but in 5 years on the pro tour, Parker reached a high of No. 261.
9. SCOTT DAVIS—Another great junior player, Davis from San Diego and Stanford, did win 3 titles and reached a high of No. 11–he was also a great doubles player with David Pate–but Davis never fulfilled the promise of his junior years.
10. KRISTIAN PLESS–the former No. 1 junior player, the dashing Dane only reached a high of No. 58. Pless had sick talent, along the lines of another junior singles player No. 1 who underperformed in the pros, Leander Paes, but he was too much of a head case in the pros to make a big splash.
So there you have the definitive list of Top 10 Disappointments in the men’s game. If you have any questions/comments about this list or any other candidates, please feel free to contribute. But this list is the Holy Grail.