The 24th Masters 1000 season brought nothing new when it comes to champions; Nadal, Murray and Djokovic yet again won every tournament. This is only the second Masters 1000 season to have 3 different players who lifted tropheys (2005), and we had only one new name in a final, Canadian Milos Raonic. Since the start of 2008, players of the so called “Big 4” have won 47 of 54 Masters 1000 events, which is a somewhat sad fact, no matter how good they happen to be. In this article we will leave Nadal, Federer and others to chase new titles and records, and take a look on players who were close but never won Masters 1000 title, analysing the 15 best player plus a honourable mention for the Magician, Fabrice Santoro.
First of all, it wasn't easy to isolate the 15 best players out from group; there are over 100 players who made at least 1 Masters 1000 semi without winning a title, but I think I've done good job, at least incorporating the 2013 season. Moreover, it wasn't easy to sort them from best to worst, some of them achieved very similar things in this series. Yevgeny Kafelnikov is without a doubt clear at the front, but after him we have close battle between Gasquet and Del Potro.
The Frenchman has won 18 matches more, but the big Argentinian has played 30 tournaments less. 2014 will probably tell us more about this rivalry, and who knows, maybe one of them will leave this list.
Its also toe-to-toe between Fish, Gonzalez and Wawrinka, with Mardy participating in 2 more finals, but he's won a significant number of matches less than the other two. The American took his chances better, but its fair to say that Fernando and Stanislas performed better on all surfaces, and also indoors. All of them lost matches in the later stages almost always to some of top players, maybe we can get some answers in discussion with our readers, so feel free to comment.
Stepanek is in the right position in my opinion, but after him we have another close group of Blake, Martin, Simon and Kiefer, all with very similar results. Simon will for sure prevail over them after 2014 with few more wins, but at the moment I would keep Martin in front. Blake made one final more, but achieved only 4 wins over Top 10 players (only Novak and Bjorkman scored less in this group).
In the last group, between 12th and 15th place, its very hard to discern them, I think Gael needs more wins and some later stages of tournaments to be ahead of Novak, cause he won almost 20 matches less, with also 2 semis fewer. There's plenty of time to do that if he stays healthy and focused (easier said than done). In the end, I just needed to put one more player on the list, as some kind of honorable mention. Fabrice “The Magician” Santoro played in 20 different Masters seasons, scoring more wins than any player who never won Masters title. He would for sure be in high position on the list, if he could just transfer his 15 appearances in quarter finals to more semis and finals. Considering hes 3-12 in quarter final matches and with no finals I didn't have any other choice but to leave him out of Top 15.
Lets take a look at a table with basic information of players in this series and the number of later stages of tournaments they made. After that a few words about biggest achievements for all of them in premium series of ATP tournaments, from the worst all the way until the best.
|Player||Tournaments Played||Win-Loss||Career Span||Wins over Top 10||Finals||SF's||QF's|
|Yevgeny Kafelnikov||77||117-77||1993 Stockholm – 2003 Madrid||13||5||18||25|
|Juan Martin Del Potro||39||73-38||2006 Madrid – Active||10||3||9||15|
|Richard Gasquet||68||91-67||2002 Monte Carlo – Active||13||3||7||14|
|Fernando Gonzalez||68||86-67||2002 Indian Wells – 2012 Miami||8||2||8||13|
|Stanislas Wawrinka||64||93-63||2005 Rome – Active||13||2||4||12|
|Mardy Fish||59||69-59||2000 Miami – Active||9||4||6||9|
|Radek Stepanek||79||89-79||2002 Canada – Active||8||2||6||10|
|Todd Martin||63||84-63||1992 Canada – 2004 Rome||11||1||4||11|
|Gilles Simon||63||80-63||2005 Cincinnati – Active||11||1||3||10|
|James Blake||69||83-68||2000 Indian Wells – 2013 Cincinnati||4||2||3||11|
|Nicolas Kiefer||83||87-83||1995 Essen – 2009 Cincinnati||15||1||4||9|
|Jiri Novak||68||71-66||1996 Indian Wells – 2006 Hamburg||2||1||5||7|
|Gael Monfils||48||53-48||2004 Paris – Active||7||2||3||8|
|Dominik Hrbaty||77||65-77||1997 Indian Wells – 2008 Miami||11||2||2||7|
|Jonas Bjorkman||88||66-88||1992 Stockholm – 2008 Cincinnati||2||1||5||9|
|Fabrice Santoro||108||120-108||1990 Miami – 2009 Paris||24||/||3||15|
#15 Jonas Bjorkman
One of the best single / doubles specialists of the last 20 years won, Bjorkman won 15 Masters 1000 trophy in doubles, but never crossed the line singles. He was around for 16 years (almost 90 tournaments), right up to Cincinnati 2008 where he made main draw through qualifiers at the age of 36.
Miami 1995 was his 6th Masters 1000 event and at the age of almost 23 he achieved his first big result, making the semis. He took advantage of favourable draw and in the end was beaten by world number 1 Pete Sampras, after taking first set he won only one game thereafter. A few weeks later he was in QF of Rome, losing to Bruguera.
After a string of weak performances came 1997, his best ever in this series. A good draw at Indian Wells helped him to make another semi final, where Bohdan Ulihrach beat him in two sets after an hour. The week after he played well in Miami too, with a quarter-final appearance.
In the last two indoor tournaments in Stuttgart and Paris on carpet he was again in the later stages. Krajicek stopped him in Germany in the SF, but those points were enough for him to make Top 10 for the first time in his career. Next week in Paris he made his first Masters 1000 final, where he played the world number 1 Sampras. He lost in 4 sets. The American world number one was far too consistent for the 12th seed, winning 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 6-1 in two hours 12 minutes. It was the ideal way for Sampras to tune up for the Davis Cup final in Gothenburg later that month where he would face the Swedish number one again. The consolation for Bjorkman is that by reaching the final he earned a place in the lucrative ATP Tour world championship. He also occupied fourth place in Monday's world rankings list.
1998 was his last good season in the Masters 1000 tournament format, with a QF in Canada (lost to Rafter) and SF in Stuttgart (lost to Kafelnikov). After a long break he was again in a quarter final, this time in Paris 2003 at the age of 31, where Roddick defeated him two close sets. From then on until the end of his career he only won two matches at one tournament twice.
#14 Dominik Hrbaty
After making the QF in Miami in 1999 Hrbaty made his first final one year later in Monte Carlo. His opponent was home player Cedric Pioline, who wanted to win the first Masters 1000 trophy for France after Forget won at the Paris 1991 tournament. After 2 hours and 40 minutes of tremendous fight on slow clay, Cedric won 6-4 7-6(3) 7-6(6). Pioline broke Hrbaty at the very start, but Slovak fought back to 4-4. He lost his serve in the next game and Frechman closed first set with his serve. At 3-3 in second set Hrbaty saved 3 break points, but was broken at love in 9th. Pioline was serving for second set and was 30-0 in front, but Hrbaty broke him and forced a tiebreak, which he lost. In 3rd set Hrbaty lead 5-4 and served for the set but couldn't hold out. In 11th game Pioline saved 3 break points after 9 deuces and 17 minutes of play, and turned over a 4-2 deficit in the tiebreak to win it 8-6.
After that he made QF of Rome but that was it from his for the next few years, he couldn't win two matches in a row until Miami 2005. There, at arguably the biggest Masters 1000 event he made QF, beating world number 4 Marat Safin on the way to the last 8, where Ferrer easily prevailed. That season was his best in Masters 1000 series, because he achieved 2 more quarter finals, in Rome and Canada.
In 2006 he made the final in Paris, in the last Masters 1000 event ever played on Carpet. He came to the title match beating Murray, Berdych and Haas, but was beaten by Nikolay Davydenko, winning just 5 games. The first set lasted only 21 minutes with Hrbaty unable to find anything like his usual steady play. He won only eight points and contributed almost half of Davydenko's 26 points with unforced errors. The second set start in much the same vein with the Russian quickly racking up a 4-0 lead having won 10 of the opening 11 games. It barely got any better for Hrbaty, although he did have a run of holding serve four times in a row at the end of the second set and beginning of the third.
After the match he immediately sought doctors' advice on an elbow injury, that put a threat on his career. He said: “I am happy I do not need to have an operation. On the other hand, it could be the end of my career if there are any complications. I will probably make some changes in preparation for the 2007 Australian Open, I will not work so much on my tennis.” He played only 8 Masters 1000 tournaments after that, with 2 wins in total.
#13 Gael Monfils
The charismatic Frenchman has also made 2 finals, but like those before him couldn't lift the trophy. He is of course still active but I think he only has a chance to climb on this list, not to fully leave it. He took the opportunity and won his first Masters 1000 match at Bercy in 2004 at the age of 18, beating former world number 4 Enqvist. A few months later he made last 16 in Miami but first big result came in Rome 2006, when he won 4 matches, losing to Nadal easily in semis. After that he needed to wait 2 and a half years for next notable result, a Quarter Final in Madrid in 2008 where he lost to Murray.
12 months later he made his first Masters 1000 final, at home in Paris. After 2 hours and 45 minutes of great fight in front of partisan 14000 crowd, he lost to Djokovic in tiebreak of 3rd set, 6-2 5-7 7-6(3). Relying on his devastating forehand and hardly making an error, Djokovic wrapped up the first set in just 30 minutes. The second set's script was similar as the first, another unforced error from Monfils handing Djokovic a 2-0 lead, and a crushing win looked on the cards but the Serb then dropped his guard, enabling his opponent to find his way back into the match. Monfils seized his chance by hitting a return winner to manage the telling break in the 11th set and serve for the set, which he took with a service winner. Novak led 4-1 in the 3rd but Gael fought back, just to lose it after double fault on match point.
In 2010 he made the QF in Madrid on clay when again Nadal was better, and he also repeated the final of Bercy, this time in even better fashion then last year (3 wins over Top 10 players). In 3rd round he beat Verdasco, saving 2 match points for 6-7(4) 7-6(2) 7-5. After that he was better than Murray in the quarters and than came what was to be one of the craziest Masters 1000 match ever, in which he beat Federer 7-6(7) 6-7(1) 7-6(4) for a place in final, saving 5 match points. He was down 4-1 in third, and saved all 5 mp's in 12th game when he was serving for deciding tiebreak (4 of them with 2nd serves).
In the final he was beaten after 80 minutes by Soderling, obviously with nothing left in the tank. Monfils handed Soderling a break in the fourth game when he fluffed a routine volley and the Swede followed up on serve to open a 4-1 lead. He kept the pressure on Monfils and snatched the Frenchman’s serve again with a superb crosscourt passing shot before bagging the opening set with a forehand winner after 26 minutes. Soderling, had made the French Open final a year earlier, did not face a single break point in the match. Monfils, however, resisted well in the second set as Soderling’s first serve percentage dropped, but the Swede got his act together in the tiebreak to finish it off at the net, falling on his back in celebration.
That was last big result for Gael in this series, he's only made 3 quarter finals after. In the summer of 2011 he was beaten in Canada and Cincy and month ago in Shanghai, each time by Djokovic.
#12 Jiri Novak
Former world number 5 Jiri Novak made one final and 5 semi finals, but was unable to ever take home a title. He needed to wait 4 and a half years after debut in Indian Wells 1996 to make any sort of impact, which came in 2000 in Canada, when he entered the last 4. Jiri was better than Kiefer, Enqvist and Rafter along the way, but was stopped before the final by Israeli Harel Levy, who made miracle by making the final despite being ranked 144.
After a string of poor results he made the last 8 in Paris 2001, where Kafelnikov won in two. Following that 2002 was his best year in Masters 1000 series, with a semi final in Rome and again in Canada, and in late October he was in his first Masters final in Madrid. For the second time in this series (Rome 1998) the final was not played because Novak gave W/O to Agassi. He did appear before the Madrid crowd on Sunday, but only to announce – with apologies – that he was not fit to play, having sustained an injury in the semi-final. “It happened during yesterday's game with Santoro, which I won, luckily. Towards the end of the game I went for a difficult ball and I felt a sharp pain in my left thigh….as for the future, I don't know yet. I've pulled out of a tournament in St Petersburg, and then I've got the final tournament in Paris, but of course I don't know if I'll be alright.”
A year later he again scored good result at Indoor Masters event, this time in Paris. In the 3rd round he defeated world number 1, Juan Carlos Ferrero, but unexpectedly lost to Andrei Pavel of Romania, ranked 191. His only notable score after that came in Rome 2004 when he was in the quarter finals, and he finished his Masters 1000 carrer with 6 consecutive defeats.
#11 Nicolas Kiefer
Kiefer played in 15 consecutive seasons of Masters 1000 tournaments, scoring almost 90 wins and reaching the latter stages a number of times. His first QF came in 1997 at home in Stuttgart on carpet, losing to Bjorkman. 2 years later he was in last 8 in Miami and made his first Masters semi final in Canada that summer. He beat world number 2 Rafter but lost to Johansson in 3 set.
After a few poor seasons, he finally had a good run in 2004 in Miami and Canada, making the quarters in Florida and semis in Toronto, where he lost to Roddick. He made the last 8 in Indian Wells 2005, where Federer won in 2, and after that he needed 2 and a half years for another good result. That came in Madrid 2007 on Indoor courts, but Federer again stopped him in the semis, with one break in each set for 6-4 6-4 victory.
After his 30th birthday he still played good tennis, in 2008 he first made QF in Hamburg on clay, and then achieved his best Masters 1000 result, with a final in his beloved Canadian tournament. Across 5 matches he was better than Fish, Youzhny, Davydenko, Blake and Simon in the semis, after 3 hours of play and in a 3rd set tiebreak, for his first ATP final since 2005.
The match against Frenchman was mostly filled with groundstrokes from the baseline. As he had done all tournament, Simon played patiently, kept the ball in play and waited for Kiefer to make mistakes. And, again, it worked, as Kiefer made 69 unforced errors. “I didn't play my best tennis, but in the important moments I could pick up my game and I was playing pretty good,” Kiefer said at the time.
But Simon made a few too many of errors of his own. Up 5-4 in the third set, Simon had a ball gently bounce high in front of him and he primed for an overhead smash, before launching the ball into the bottom of the net. He finished with 32 unforced errors, and only capitalized on three of 13 break point chances.
As expected, the final with Nadal did not turn out to be much of a contest with Rafa winning in straight sets 6-3, 6-2. After keeping close the first couple of games, Kiefer surrendered his serve for Nadal to take a 4-2 lead. Then in trying to stay in the first set, Kiefer made a strng of unforced errors then double faulted to give Rafa the set. The pivotal game in the second set came at 2-2; with Nadal serving, Kiefer finally earned a break point. But, an overhit went on to erase that chance. Yet, Nicolas obtained another break chance. With a good drop shot, Kiefer drew Rafa in the forecourt, but the Spaniard had all the answers producing an even more spectacular stroke of his own to get back to deuce. After six deuces and dismissing a third break point, Nadal secured his serve. Demoralized after taking 30-0 lead, Kiefer threw in two double faults to be broken the very next game. Thereafter, Rafa pressed on the accelerator and broke Kiefer to close out the match.
After such a strong showing Nicolas won only 3 more Masters 1000 matches, his last one in Miami 2009 and he finished his career with 6 consecutive defeats.
#10 James Blake
Blake's career is very similar to fellow countryman Todd Martin's, but he made one final more. His first good result came unexpectedly on clay, in Rome 2002 where he lost to Jiri Novak in the quarter finals. In 2003 he made another last 8 apperanace in Indian Wells, and replicated that performance one year later.
The Californian desert was lucky for him again in 2006, when he made his first Masters 1000 final. In semis he beat world number 2 Nadal, but in the final waited Roger Federer, in his last unstoppable season. James didn't stand a chance, he lost 7-5 6-3 6-0. Blake was impressive early, and sent a shiver of excitement around the 16,100-seat stadium when he broke twice in the opening set to take a 4-1 lead over Federer. But the 24-year-old Swiss won six of the next seven games, getting the set back on equal terms at 5-5 with a hard-earned break, in which Blake saved four break points before offering up two straight double faults. Federer didn't face a break point in the second set, and earned the break he needed in the eighth game. Blake fended him off three times before Federer finished off a rally with a forehand volley winner for 5-3, then held his serve to love to take an imposing two sets to none lead. 3rd set was routine.
Federer was again triumphant vs Blake in the QF of Miami 10 days later too. After that Blake needed to wait until summer of 2007 for another notable result, when he made the Cincinnati final. He beat Ferrero, Querrey and Davydenko on the road to the final on fast hard courts, but the problem was Federer again stood between him and the first Masters title. Again the World number 1 won in just over an hour, 6-1 6-4 for his 50th career title. First set was over in just 26 minutes, with Fed breaking James twice. Blake fought hard in second set, but lost his serve in 7th game and never came back. This was last Masters 1000 final for Blake, ranked 8 at that moment in time.
In 2008 he produces his most consistent season of his Masters 1000 career, with 4 quarter finals and one semi. In Indian Wells and Miami Nadal both times was better in quarter finals and in Rome he made his 3rd last 8 appearance in a row, losing to Wawrinka. Blake was coming off three-setters in his opening two matches, and the American appeared to lose energy as his match with Wawrinka wore on. Blake missed an easy volley to hand Wawrinka a break in the first game of the third set, and Wawrinka rolled from there. Kiefer was better in the quarters of Canada in an easy 2 but Blake saved best result for the end of the season and Paris. Federer gave him W/O in Quarters with a back injury, but Tsonga was defeated him in 2 sets in the semis. Unfortunately, this was James's last good result in Masters 1000 events, never making a quarter final again.
#9 Gilles Simon
Gilles was late bloomer, making his debut at the age of 20 and a half. He needed 3 years for first strong result, making the semis in Toronto 2008. In the 2nd round he won biggest match of his career at the time taking out world number 1 Federer. Returning in his first match since he lost the thrilling five-set Wimbledon final to Rafael Nadal, Federer was expected to ease through to the third round of the tournament, aptly named the Rogers Cup, and seemed to have plotted the predicted demise of his opponent, ranked 22nd in the ATP world rankings, by taking the first set 6-2. But it proved to be a case of unlucky 13 for the former Toronto champion, who had an unbeaten record of 12 straight wins at the Rexall Centre en route to his 2004 and 2006 titles.
Simon rallied superbly to take the second set 7-5 and proceeded to break Federer's serve twice in the third set, winning 6-4 to eliminate the Swiss star. “For sure, this is my best victory,” said Simon. “I don't think that you win so many times against the No. 1 in the world. It happens maybe in the career of a player maybe two, three times if you are lucky.” The match started off smoothly for Federer until Simon broke his serve to go up 4-2 in the second set. Federer returned the favor and held serve to draw to 4-4 and then 5-5, but Simon held serve in the 11th game and broke Federer in the 12th to take the set. “As the match went on I struggled a little bit to put the forehands away,” Federer said. “He's a good baseliner. We saw that today. He moves well. He's deceiving because he's kind of thin and tall but moves really well for his height, you know. He flicks a lot of balls with his backhand as well, so when you come in you can't see where he plays.”
Gilles soon went one better, making the Madrid final 3 months later. He needed to work really hard for it, as in 4 of 5 matches he needed a 3rd set tiebreak to finish the job. Simon defeated Andreev, Blake, Ginepri and Karlovic, before match with world number 1 Nadal in semis. He saved 5 match points against Andreev and two against Ginepri. Against Nadal it was again up and down, but he prevailed once again. Through a set and a half it had been looking like another straight sets victory for the Spaniard.
Nadal after winning the first set easily, had chances in two games to take decisive break: 2:1 (40-0), 4:3 (40-30). Simon after a string of amazing rallies managed to hold his serve and break Nadal’s. Nadal broke back but lost his serve immediately. In the 12th game Nadal had double break point to bring the set to the tie-break but bravely Simon won 4 consecutive points and the set to equal the match to one set apiece. At the beginning of the final set Simon saved 6 break points and won a game which lasted 15 minutes! Nadal took a break in the 6th game but Simon rapidly leveled up from 2:4 down to 4:4. The Frenchman like in the previous set broke Nadal in the 11th game but wasn’t able to finish the match despite being two points from victory at 6:5. The drama was continuing in the tie-break: Nadal 3:1, Simon 5:3, 5:5, match point Simon, 6:6, another match point for Simon and Nadal’s backhand passing-shot landed outside the court, but Simon needed his last challenge to check it out. The match lasted 3 hours 22 minutes. Murray however stopped in the final, winning 6-4 7-6.
In 2009 he lost in quarter's of Cincinnati and Shanghai to Djokovic, but in whole 2010 he only won one match in Paris. Next year he made another 2 QF's, in Miami and Cinci, losing to Federer and Murray. 2012 was good again, with a Quarter Final showing in Indian Wells, semis at Monte Carlo and in Paris. His last good result was Miami 2013, when he lost easily to Haas in the last 8.
#8 Todd Martin
Another veteran of this series, playing for 13 consecutive seasons. Martin made his first and only final in 1993 in Canada, which was just his 5th Masters 1000 tournament of his career. With notable wins over Becker, Agassi and Reneberg he was to play against Mikael Pernfors, in one of the most important matches for both of them. The Swede, ranked 95, came from losing first 6-2, to win 2-6 6-2 7-5. Martin was 5-2 up in 3rd but Pernfors came back and won biggest title of his life. He was the lowest ranked player to ever make a Canada final, becoming 5th player to win title on first appearance.
Over the next 3 years Martin produced only one good result in this series, QF of 1995 Indian Wells where he lost to Sampras. Next year he made the later stages of the Canada tournament again, losing to Ferreira in the semis, again 7-5 in 3rd. After a quarter final in Stuttgart in 1997 he needed to wait another year for his next good result, making the semis in Paris 1998. In very close matches on fast indoor carpet courts, he beats Haarhuis, Ivanisevic, Rafter (lead 3-0 in the 3rd but needed deciding tiebreak to win) and Agassi, before Sampras stopped him in the final. Pistol Pete made one break in the first, with no breaks in second set for 6-4 7-6 win.
In 1999 Todd played some extremely solid tennis, reaching the US Open final and making 3 Masters 1000 QF's (he played only 5 tournaments). He lost all of them in 3 sets, to Philippousis in Indian Wells, Kafelnikov in Canada and Rusedski in Stuttgart. The closest was the match against Rusedski in Germany, where he wasted 4 match points, before going on to lose 4-6 7-6(10) 6-4.
After that he made only one good result, making the quarter finals in 2000 at the Cincinnati event, again loosing in tiebreak of 3rd to Kuerten. In 2002 he entered the semis in Indian Wells without losing set (beat Kafelnikov on the way), before losing to Henman 6-3 6-3. One year later he was in quarter final of Miami, now ranked outside Top 100 and just like many of his other Quarter Finals matches at this level he lost a close 3rd set to Srichaphan.
#7 Radek Stepanek
Stepanek started to play Masters 1000 series at the age of 23, so he can be fairly satisfied with almost 90 wins and 2 finals. After 2 years of average results he got his first big break, and it was a final straightaway, in Paris 2004, coming through qualifiers.
The fast indoor carpet courts brought the very best out of his S&V game, and with some luck in the draw he made his first ATP final, where he played Marat Safin for the crown. The Russian prevailed in 3 sets, 6-3 7-6 6-3, thanks to better percentage of first serve, and realization of second. The statistics of the match summed up the difference between the two players – both men hit 32 winners but Stepanek sent down 48 unforced errors compared to Safin's 18.
Next spring he made a QF on clay in Rome, even taking the first set from Nadal, but he lost the next two winning just 2 games in total. The match started according to the form book, with the 18-year-old Nadal dominating from the back of the court. When he served for the set in the 10th game, however, Stepanek conjured up a crosscourt pass and a dropshot winner to break back. The Czech was out-thinking his opponent, drawing Nadal into the net in the 12th game before dispatching a forehand winner down the line and using the same tactic on the next point to claim the first set. Nadal, who had dropped only eight games in his previous three matches, seemed unconcerned by going a set down and quickly regrouped to race through the second in just over half an hour. Stepanek tried to fight his way back into contention in the decider, but was undermined by unforced errors. He started netting dropshots and mistiming approaches to the net and in the fourth game a wild volley gave Nadal the break of serve he needed to close out the contest.
At the end of 2005 he was again great indoors, with a QF in Madrid (lost to Nadal although he had 2 set points in the first set) and semis at Paris (lost to fellow Czech Berdych). In 2006 he made final in Hamburg without losing a set, but lost to Robredo in 3 sets, 6-1 6-3 6-3. Leading 2-1 in the opening set, Robredo got three break points, but Stepanek saved the first with a passing shot, the second at the net and the third with an ace. However, a double fault then gave Robredo a fourth break point, but he needed a fifth before he could take advantage and lead 3-1. Down 5-1, Stepanek had three break points but blew all of them and handed Robredo the set when he sent the ball into the net. Robredo broke Stepanek's first serve of the second set, then again at 5-3 with a forehand passing shot down the line. Stepanek had two break points at 4-3 but Robredo saved them with a service winner and some big forehands. Stepanek missed more break points at 1-1 and 3-3 in the third set. Robredo broke in the next game for a 5-3 lead, hitting a running backhand down the line. Serving for the title, he took a 40-0 lead and won on his second match point with a volley off the top of the net.
Success on outdoor hard courts for Stepanek was long overdue, and that came in 2007 at the Canada Masters. He knocked off Gonzalez, Haas and Davydenko on the road to semis, where he couldn't do much against Federer. Next year in Rome he made last 4 again, and this time he was better than Roger, winning in 2 tie breaks in the quarter final. It was a close encounter with Stepanek showing signs of nerves but Federer couldn't pull it out the bag and went down 9-7 in the second set breaker. In semis he didn't have anything left in the tank, and needed to retire at the start of second set against Djokovic, failing to win a single game.
At the end of 2009 he was back to winning ways again, with QF in Shanghai (lost to Davydenko) and SF at his beloved Paris. He beat Murray and Del Potro, but Monfils stopped him in close match, where a few points decided the winner. At the age of almost 34 he made last 8 again in Shanghai 2012, knocking off Hewitt, Gasquet and Isner, but lost to Murray in 3 set. After winning Davis Cup for his country maybe we can expect more good matches from him in 2014, he needs 11 more wins to enter club of players with 100 Masters 1000 wins.
#6 Mardy Fish
I spent lot of time thinking in which order to put Fish, Wawrinka and Gonzalez, but in the end Mardy is last in the group, even with 2 more finals. With less than 70 Masters 1000 wins American is not even in the Top 10 on this list, but he utilized them very well. From only 9 Quarter Final appearances (again not in first 10) he made 4 finals, but all of his good results came in outdoor hard tournaments at home in North America, with no success on clay courts, or Indoor. Also, consistency is not in his favor either, cause in the first 10 and a half years in this series he only made 3 good results, and spectacularly all 3 were final appearances.
3 and a half years after his debut he made first big result, by making the final of 2003 Cincinnati. He used his great first serve on fast courts to beat 5 good players, and in the final waited his good old friend, Andy Roddick. After 2 and a half hours of bombastic serves and only one break of serve, Roddick won 4-6 7-6(3) 7-6(4). Mardy didn't lose a single service game to Roddick and won 74 consecutive service games, but couldn't close out the match when he had two match points in the 10th game of third set. Roddick fought off the first with a near ace. Two points later, Fish missed with a forehand that was just wide. Roddick went on to win that game, tying the set at 5-5. In the final tie breaker, Roddick broke to lead, 3-2, with a passing shot and Fish never recovered. This was the longest championship match at the Cincinnati tournament in terms of games since 1960.
His next notable score in Masters series came 5 and a half years later (that's another reason why he is behind Stan and Gonzo), when he again made the final, this time in 2008 Indian Wells. After wins over Mayer, Andreev and Davydenko in 2, he knocked off Hewitt and Nalbandian in 3rd set tiebreakers, making semis where Federer waited. Mardy produced one of the matches of his life, winning 6-3 6-2 over world number 1 in just over an hour, with 3 breaks of serve and only one break point he faced.
Mardy ended Federer's 41-match win streak against Americans dating to a 2003 loss to Andy Roddick, and beat him for the first time in their six meetings. Also, ranked 98 Fish became the lowest-ranked player to beat Federer since 101st-ranked Richard Gasquet of France beat him at Monte Carlo in 2005. But, Djokovic prevaild in final, with 6-2 5-7 6-3 win after 2 hours. The Serb served much better, with Mardy on only 40% first serves, and another difference were break points. Both made 6 of them, but Novak won 3 and Mardy only 1. Out of Mardy's 9 Top 10 wins in Masters 1000 series, 3 came in this tournament.
After another 2 and a half years drought he made latter stages again, and of course it was a final, for the 3rd time and second in Cincinnati. He fought off challenges of Simon, Verdasco, Gasquet, Murray and Roddick, but Federer stood between him and the title. After 2 hours and 40 minutes of great battle, Swiss prevailed 6-7 7-6 6-4. With no breaks of serve in first 2 sets, Federer made one in 3rd set and finished the match for 4th title in one of his favorite Masters events. With retirements and W/O's, Roger spent only 3 hours and 17 minutes on court before the final, but Mardy gave him run for his money.
After hat 2011 was his best Masters 1000 season, with 2 semis and again a final in Canada. In Miami he saw off Gasquet, Del Potro and Ferrer, for his first semi in the biggest Masters event. But, Djokovic stopped him with an easy 6-1 6-3 victory, saving all 4 break points and with 4 breaks of serve on his own. He played well in the summer too, with a Canada final and semi final at Cinci. Ranked number 8 he played good tennis in Motreal, making his last Masters 1000 final. Again he needed to play against top opponent, Djokovic in his stellar season put away Fish 6-2 3-6 6-4.
Next week in Cincinnati Mardy made his last Masters semi final, beating Gasquet, Davydenko and Nadal on the way, all in 2 sets. Andy Murray stopped him before the final, with 6-3 7-6 victory. The Scot absorbed the American's serves and made 15 break points, converting 4 of them. Mardy made 3 breaks but couldn't force a 3rd set.
In 2012 Mardy made 3 quarter finals, as expected in Miami, Canada and Cincinnati. In Florida he surprisingly lost to Monaco, winning just 4 games. In Toronto he won first set over Gasquet, but only mustered 3 more in second and third. In Cincinnati Federer prevailed 6-3 7-6, with no break chances for American. It was their 6th Masters 1000 clash, with a 5th win for Swiss star.
#5 Stanislas Wawrinka
After form he showed in 2013, the Swiss is well on his way to climbing this list, and has few good years in front of him to win some titles and possibly leave it for good. After debuting in Rome 2005 he needed 3 years to make the later stage of a 1000 tournament for the first time. That came in Indian Wells 2008, where he lost to Djokovic in the quarter finals. After losing in his opening match at Miami and Monte Carlo, he made his first Masters 1000 final in Rome a few weeks later. After beating 5 very good players on the road to the final, Djokovic again stood between him and title. He won first set but Serb prevailed in the next two, winning 4-6 6-3 6-3. Wawrinka broke in 5th game of first set, holding his serves until the end. The Serb hung in during a spell on the back foot and pulled himself back into contention with a break in the middle of the second set. He then took Wawrinka's serve again at the start and end of the final set to secure the title. This result was enough for Stanislas to make Top 10 for the first time in his career.
Year later he made Monte Carlo semi final, beating Federer along the way. Federer looked sloppy throughout the match and faced 14 break points. “I was making a few too many errors. That kind of gave him the advantage,” Federer said. “I guess it was Stan's game. He did a good job today. He kept the ball in play.”
In the semis there was Djokovic waiting, and Stan lost again after taking first set, 4-6 6-1 6-3 after 2 and a half hours. Novak was playing well in the first set. He had four chances to break, in the second and fourth game, but didn’t use them. The 21-year old lost his momentum in the ninth game. His service was giving him trouble, he made three double faults and several unforced errors. Novak hit 15 winners to Wawrinka’s 24, and made 32 unforced errors to his opponent’s 58. Nole converted 5 of his 14 break points, while the Swiss capitalised on 2 of his 6 chances for break. This was 3rd good result for Wawrinka in Masters 1000 series, but Novak always stood on his way.
He again waited for the next clay season for good Masters results, this time Nadal swept him aside in Quarter Finals of Rome. In 2011 he performed better on hard courts, making the quarters of Indian Wells (lost to Federer) and Canada (to Fish). In 2012 he came back to clay, with a quarter final showing in Monte Carlo, where he fought well against Nadal but lost 7-5 6-4.
A few months later he made his 3rd Masters 1000 semi at Cincinnati but as usual Federer was too strong, winning 7-6 6-3. The recently completely 2013 season was by far the best for him, making 3 QF's and one final. Tsonga was better in QF of Monte Carlo, but after that he made the Madrid final, beating Dimitrov, Tsonga and Berdych along the way. He needed to play a top player again in match for the title, and as is usually the case Nadal was too strong, winning in 2, with no break chances for Swiss player. In the last 8 of Shanghai Nadal prevailed again, and in same round of Paris he lost to Djokovic.
We must give credits to him, cause in 12 times he made at least quarter final he has only ever lost to Top 10 players, 4 times to both Djokovic and Nadal, and 2 times to Federer (Tsonga and Fish once).
#4 Fernando Gonzalez
Like Stepanek, Gonzalez started playing Masters 1000 tournaments relatively late, at the age of 21. But, that didn't stop him making a semi final in his first season, in Cincinnati. After wins over Clement, Henman, Krajicek and Roddick, the world number 1 Hewitt beat him in the match for the final 6-7 7-5 6-2. After dropping the first-set tiebreak, Hewitt managed to save five break points in the second and broke Gonzalez's serve in the 11th game to take a 6-5 lead before serving out the set. “He shows why he's No. 1,” Gonzalez said. “I mean, in the tough moments, he plays good. With Lleyton, I attack him and the ball is coming always, always, always.” Hewitt broke his opponent's serve again in the opening game of the final set and then cruised to victory. Next year in Hamburg he made the QF, beating Hewitt in the round before. He had 4-1 lead in 3rd set against Nalbandian, but eventually lost 5-7 6-3 6-4.
His next apperance in the last 4 came in Miami 2004, when he lost to Coria 4-6 7-6 6-1, after wasting 4 match points. Fernando led 5-3 in second set and had 2 match points on his own serve in 10th game at 5-4. Then he was 6-4 up in tiebreak, but couldn't finish the match. After that he needed to wait more than a year and a half for his next good result, and that was on indoor courts of Madrid 2005. In another close match, he lost to Ljubicic 4-6 7-6 6-4. Ljubicic was broken in the seventh game of the first set — the first time he dropped his serve after 81 consecutive games, but came back and turned the match, with break in the 5th game of 3rd set.
2006 was his by far the best Masters 1000 season. He made the semi final in Monte Carlo after good wins over Moya, Lopez, Soderling and Ljubicic, but Federer was too strong in the match for the final. The Swiss star saved all 3 break points, and made 3 breaks on the other side for routine win. A few weeks later in Rome he was in the QF, but lost to Nadal in 2, after wins over Wawrinka, Youzhny and Berdych. He carried good form to the hard courts, with place in the last 4 of the Canada Masters event. He was better than Soderling, Ferrero, Ljubicic, but Federer again was too strong in the semis. After racing through the opening set, Federer failed to convert several break points early in the second set and Gonzalez broke him at love in the 12th game to force a decisive set. Federer saved a break point at 1-2 in the third set, then broke Gonzalez in the seventh game when the Chilean lofted a lob long. Two games later, Federer closed out the match with another break to improve to 61-4 on the year which was 60-0 against all opponents but nemesis Rafael Nadal.
A week later he repeated this result in Cincinnati, but Roddick stopped him reaching his first Masters final.
Next spring he was on course on clay again, making the Rome final and Hamburg QF, but both times Nadal was too strong. In Rome he utilized a good draw and no Top 20 players on the way to the final, but the Spaniard was on streak of 76 wins on clay, was not to be stopped here either, winning 6-2 6-2. The metronomic groundstrokes he had used to sweep aside Italian wildcard Filippo Volandri in the semi-finals deserted him. Instead he made a succession of unforced errors, gifting Nadal breaks in the first and fifth games to lose the first set in just over half an hour.
In Hamburg he fought better, losing 6-4 6-4, with Nadal making two breaks more. He was just 26 at that moment, but things went downhill from there, with only two more good results till the end of career and no wins over Top 10 players in this series. At the end of that 2007 he was in Madrid QF where he lost to Kiefer and in 2009 he made SF of Rome, and once again was beaten by Nadal in 2. Fernando lost almost all of his matches in later stages of tournaments to Top 15 players, mainly to Federer and Nadal.
#3 Richard Gasquet
After what Gasquet showed before his 19th birthday, no one could expect that one of the most talented players in the last 15 years would still be without Masters title after 2013. In 2002, still at the age of 15 and already ranked in the Top 600 players of the world, Richard got a Monte Carlo WC, and took all advantage from it, beating Franco Squillari to become youngest player with a Masters 1000 win (probably will keep it for good).
3 years later at same courts of Principality he made his first big result in this series, beatinhg Davydenko and world number 1 Federer before losing to Nadal in semis, in what was expected to be battle of future best players of the world (only Rafa fulfiled that).
Just a month later, still at the age of 18, he took advantage from good draw in Hamburg to make the final. At 18y 10m and 27 days he is 3rd youngest player to make a Masters 1000 final, after Chang and Nadal. After 2 wins in qualifiers he lost only one set on the road to the final, with no one taking more than 2 games from him. But, in the final waited Federer, ready for Monte Carlo revenge. Richard finished 4 of 5 matches in under an hour, but he still wasn't good enough to fight with such a strong rival in best of 3 sets. It was 6-3 7-5 7-6 for Swiss, after more than 2 hours.
Gasquet made more break points, but Federer saved all 5 of them. On the other hand, he converted 2 out of 3 for one break in each of first 2 sets. This was an extension of Fed's all-time record of consecutive winning finals to 19, his 41st win in 43 matches since last year's US Open, and his third Hamburg title in four years.
It was time for some success on hard courts, 15 months later in Canada 2006. After great wins over Santoro, Blake, Verdasco, Berdych and Murray (lost only one set, against Spaniard), it was Federer standing again between him and Masters title. After 53 straight victories on hard courts of North America, it was expected to be easier to handle Gasquet's challenge than on clay, but Frenchman once again showed great fighting spirit, only to lose 2-6 6-3 6-2. After 17 unforced errors in first set Federer couldn't expected anything more than 2 games. He played better in the second, but Gasquet was on fire at the start of the third again. The young Frenchman failed to realise break points in first two games on Federer's serve, and was broken in 5th. Fed improvised a stunning backhand pass, and than longest rally of the match followed, which Federer won to go 15-40 up, before Gasquet lost concentration and netted to surrender the game. That was turning point, and Frenchman who was better player on the court till that moment failed to win single game until the end. He just turned 20 at that point, and no one could expect he will make only one more final until the end of 2013.
In 2007 he made 2 good results at home, with a quarter final in Monte Carlo, where it all started for him half a decade earlier and semi final in Paris. His first match in Principality was crazy, with a 7-5 6-7 7-6 win over Verdasco in 3 hours 20 minutes. The Frenchman had five chances to win the match in the second set but Verdasco forced a decider after winning only his second tiebreaker of the season from 10 attempts. Gasquet had another chance to clinch the match when serving at 5-4 up in the third set, but Verdasco broke him with a superb crosscourt backhand to make it 5-5. He was beaten by Ferrero in quarter, after another close match. Both made 7 break chances, but Spaniard made 2 breaks more. He played great in last Masters event of the season, at home in Paris, with wins against Tsonga, Blake and Murray. Nalbandian stopped him in semis, with 6-2 6-4 win in just over an hour.
Gasquet opened his 2008 campaign as world number 8 at Indian Wells but results just weren't there. In the next 3 years he only made one quarter final, that summer in Canada where Nadal was defeated him in 3. 2011 was little better, with a quarter final in Indian Wells (lost to Djokovic), and a semi final in Rome, where Nadal prevailed. In these 2 tournaments he scored 4 wins over Top 10 players, including win over Federer in Rome, in a 3rd set tie break.
In 2012 he made two good results in a row, in both Rome and Canada. Ferrer was better in Rome quarter's but in Toronto he made his 3rd and so far the last Masters 1000 final. He beat Berdych, Fish and Isner on the road to the title match, but Djokovic was too strong in 6-3 6-2 win, losing only 8 points on serve.
2013 saw him back on the course, with 3 quarters and one semi final. In the biggest Masters event in Miami he fought off Almagro's challenge in R16 in a 3rd set tie break after 2 hours and 40 minutes of great fight. In the QF he played great against Berdych, with 6-3 6-3 win. Murray prevailed in semis after 2 hours, in strange match where players saved only 1 out of 11 break chances. the Scot made 7 breaks for 6-7 6-1 6-2 win. In Monte Carlo Italian Fognini beat him in the quarters, 7-6 6-2, with more than twice as many winners.
Djokovic destroyed him in the quarters of Canada, in just 50 minutes. Richard served under 40%, which is suicide against world number 1 and great returner like Novak. The Serb made 30 winners to Frenchman's 10, enough for 6-1 6-2 win. In quarter finals of Paris Nadal was better, 6-4 6-1. The Spaniard played reasonably well and Richard struggled on his second serve, winning just every 5th point.
#2 Juan Martin Del Potro
The big Argentinian is the only player to steal a Grand Slam title from Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray in the last 35 Majors, but he is still without a Masters 1000 title. I put him in front of Gasquet because he played 30 tournaments less, and achieved similar things to the Frenchman even with one full season skipped because of injury. In 2010-11 seasons, he played only 5 Masters 1000 tournaments. With less than 40 tournaments played he deserves second place on this list, with chances to leave it in some point of 2014, cause he is performing well in literally every tournament.
After his debut in Madrid in 2006, his first notable result came 2 years later in that tournament, when he lost to Federer in the quarter finals. Federer used an effective slice serve on the fast indoor surface against Del Potro and was never broken.
2009 was great for him, with US Open title and great results in Masters series. In Indian Wells Nadal stopped him in quarter, but the Argentinian got his revenge in the same round of Miami 10 days later, beating world number 1 in 3rd set tie break. When Nadal went two breaks up in the third set, to take a 3-0 lead, it seemed as though he was on his way into the last four. But Nadal was not his usual self, he lost his next two service games, and then ended up losing the decider, and so the match, on a tiebreak, with Del Potro going through 6-4, 3-6, 7-6.
In his first Masters semis, Murray stopped him from making the final. After that it was time for success on clay, with a Rome quarter final and another semi in Madrid. In Rome, after a great match with Wawrinka which took almost 3 hours to complete, Delpo couldn't produce much against Djokovic, losing 6-3 6-4. Two weeks later he made last 4 on the fast Madrid courts, with wins against Berdych, Wawrinka and Murray. But, Federer beat him with same 6-3 6-4 after 80 minutes.
The Swiss served better and saved all 4 break points. On the other hand, he needed one break in each set for routine win. It was time for hard courts again, and his first Masters 1000 final in Canada. He beat Nadal and Roddick on the way to the title match, where Murray stood between him and first big title of career. After a titan fight in first two set, Andy prevailed 6-7(4) 7-6(3) 6-1, in 2 hours 45 minutes.
After long matches against Safin and Gonzalez, Juan Martin retired in Paris quarter to Stepanek due to an abdominal injury, failed to win a game. He played more tough matches in World Tour Finals, losing in final to Davydenko, with his wrist in worse and worse condition. He made mistake to hold off surgery, which he eventually had done at the start of May 2010, and missed all Masters 1000 events that season.
He came back in Indian Wells 2011, ranked 90, and instantly he made the later stages, losing to Nadal in the semis.
He played only 4 more Masters tournaments up till the end of 2011, with no good results. Starting all over again in Indian Wells 2012, he made solid Masters season. In the Californian desert he made the quarters, where Federer won in easy fashion, after 70 minutes of play. Federer started slowly against Del Potro, saving two break points in an opening game that lasted 11 minutes.
On famous blue clay of Madrid Delpo played very well and made the semis, where he lost to Berdych in 2 tie breaks after 2 hours and 20 minutes of amazing fight. They both served in similar way, but the Czech made more winners and attacked the net much more. Delpo had 5 breaks points, but they each made 2 breaks of serve. Berdych kept up the pressure at the beginning of the second by taking Del Potro's first service game. Although Del Potro broke back, Berdych prevailed in the second set tie-break.
He then made the Cincinnati semis too, losing to Djokovic 6-3 6-2. Djokovic and Del Potro exchanged a lot of shots from the baseline in the first set, with both players wasting chances to take control early. Djokovic got to the semi-final by holding serve in all 22 games during the tournament, facing only four break points. He faced that many in the third game of the match.The Serb saved one of those break points with a 30-shot rally that ended with del Potro dumping a backhand into the net, then dropping his head.
The just finished 2013 season was his best of his Masters series career so far, with 2 finals out of his total number of 3. He beat Davydenko, Hass, Murray and Djokovic to reach Indian Wells final, but Nadal stopped him with 4-6 6-3 6-4 win in 2 and a half hours. He broken Djokovic's strike of 22 consecutive wins in semis, after great fight.
In Miami, Monte Carlo, Rome and Canada he won just 3 matches in total, but played good in Cincinnati, making the semis. Isner stopped him from making the final, after 2 hours and 50 minutes of fantastic battle. Isner hung tough with Del Potro through a set and a half but he found himself a set and a break down with Del Potro serving for the match at 5-3 in the second set with match point at 40-30. Serving into the sun, Del Potro double-faulted on match point to let Isner back into the game and the American eventually broke with a perfect backhand down the line to earn the break back and get on serve.
He then survived a scare in the Shanghai opener, with 3rd set tie break win over Kohlschreiber. After that it was easier for him, and in semis he beat world number 1 Nadal 6-2 6-4 in great display of power for his first win over the Spaniard in 4 years. He employed an aggressive brand of tennis, putting the pressure on Nadal with great depth, pace and precision from the baseline and utilising the fast conditions at the Qizhong Forest Arena to his advantage. But, it was big challenge in front of him in the final agin, with in form Djokovic looking for second Masters title of the season and battleing with Nadal for Year end number 1 spot. Djoker prevailed 6-1 3-6 7-6(3) after 2 and a half hours.
In the Paris quarter final, Federer avennged his Basel final loss, with 6-3 4-6 6-3 win over Argentinian. The Swiss lost only 2 points on serve in first set, taking it half an hour time. In closer second set the Argentinian broke Fed's serve in 10 game, after too many unforced error's from Basel native. Roger broke Delpo to love in 5th game of third set for 3-2 lead, but suffered break back in the very next game, after stunning crosscourt forehand pass by Del Potro. Federer broke again in the next game, and than hold his serve for 5-3 lead. In 9th game he broke Delpo for the third time in third set, for victory and place in the semi.
#1 Yevgeny Kafelnikov
After 18 semis and 5 finals in Masters 1000 series, the fact that a 2 times Grand Slam champion is without a Masters crown is just mind blowing! Just after tunring 20, in his second and third Masters tournaments, he had a chance to win a title. In 1994 Monte Carlo and Hamburg events he lost to his friend and former junior partner Andrei Medvedev, in both the semis and in the final. In Principality Medevedev won in straights, but we saw a bigger fight in Hamburg final, which the Ukrainian won 6-4 6-4 3-6 6-3, after 2 and a half hours. Medevdev took advantage of Yevgeny's problems with strong wind, breaking his rival 6 times. On the other hand, Kafelnikov made 4 breaks from same number of chances, and in the end he just won a few points less, but obviously important ones.
He made another good result on carpet in Stockholm in October, beating Forget, Edberg and Bruguera before Ivanisevic stopped him in the semis. 5 of his 13 wins over Top 10 players in Masters series came in this season, but in the next year and a half he couldn't manage another last 4 result. That came in Hamburg 1996, with wins over Pescosolido, Moya and Bruguera (was 2-5 down in second). But, in the semis waited world number 143, Roberto Carretero, a 20-year-old Spanish qualifier, who produced little miracle and went all the way, to win his only ATP title. It was the 8th match that week for Spaniard, but he showed strong nerves and a powerful forehand, coming back from 1-4 down in first set to take it 7-5. After breaking Kafelnikov in first game of second set he never looked back, taking victory in 75 minutes.
After losing to Agassi in quarter finals of Cincinnati the Russian was good again in indoor conditions, making a Paris final at the end of that 1996. With no Top 15 players on the road to the title match, Thomas Enqvist stood between him and crown. The Swede produced great serving performance, in 6-2 6-4 7-5 win in hour and a half. Ten minutes into the match, Enqvist was up 4-0 behind sizzling service returns and penetrating groundstrokes. He went on to take the first set as they split the next four games. Enqvist served just four aces in the second set but three came at key times. He ended two games with an ace and another brought him to set point, which he won with a service winner. Kafelnikov gained the lead for the first time in the match when he went up 3-0 at the start of the third set, dropping just one point in those games. But Kafelnikov lost his next service game at love with a double fault and a netted smash. Things were even in the third set until 5-5. Then two unforced errors by Kafelnikov and two winners by Enqvist put the Swede up 6-5 and serving for the match. He ended it in style, serving four aces.
1997 was good again, with 3 semi final appearances. Like 3 years before, he lost in the last 4 of Hamburg to Medvedev, taking just 4 games in a one hour match. He had a chance to make the Canada final a few months later, but world number 57 Chris Woodruff stopped him in semis, 5-7 7-5 6-3. It was fourth consecutive win over seeded opponents for Chris, on the road to the title.
He lost to Sampras in the Cincinnati quarters, but than again came a notable result on an indoor carpet court, in Paris. Sampras was too strong again, winning 7-6 6-3.
The start of 1998 wasn't so good, with only 5 Masters wins before the summer. But, the finish was very very strong. After losing to Krajicek in the QF of Canada, he made a last 4 appearance in Cincinnati. Patrick Rafter, who played tennis of his life in those weeks, prevailed in easy fashion, with 7-5 6-0 win in just an hour. Yevgeny used his powerful game for another great results in season ending indoor tournaments, in Stuttgart and Paris. In Germany he made his 3rd Masters final, beating Philippoussis in third set tie break in first match, and then Martin and Bjorkman in 2. In the final waited Krajicek, and after a tremendous performance the Dutchman won 6-4 6-4 6-3 in hour and a half. Kafelnikov couldn't create even a single break points(Richard dropped only 14 points in 14 service games), and on the other hand was broken 4 times. One break each was enough for Richard in first two sets, and he made 2 in third, to start and finish the set.
The week after in Paris Yevgeny made his new Masters semis, but lost to Rusedski in 3. Rusedski, who hit a 134 mph serve in the match, raced to a 5-2 lead in the first set and looked as if he would make short work of the erratic Kafelnikov. But the Russian came back to win the second set; the most dramatic point of the match came in the third set at 4-3, Rusedski serving, when a Kafelnikov shot was called out. He argued bitterly and the crowd agreed, becoming so boisterous that for several moments Rusedski couldn't serve. But the Briton held on to go up 5-3, then closed out the match two games later.
Like last '98, 1999 started slow, with only 2 wins before August. But, he made his 4th Masters final in Canada, with a great chance to beat world number 22 Thomas Johansson and finally to win crown in this seroes, especially after a win over Agassi day earlier. But, he left empty handed once again, losing to the Swede 1-6 6-3 6-3.
Next week in Cincinnati Yevgeny lost to Rafter in the semis, completely overpowered by his rival. The Aussie served great, losing only 7 points in the match after his first shot. He broke the Russian 3 times for easy 6-4 6-2 win. Unlike last season, Kafelnikov played poorly in two indoor tournaments, losing in first rounds to players outside Top 20. In 2000 he only made one Masters semis, in Stuttgart at the end of the season. He beat Federer in round one, but Hewitt stopped him before the final, 6-4 6-7 6-3.
He started 2001 in good way, making the semi final in Indian Wells. Sampras stopped him in strange 7-5 6-4 win, with even 8 breaks of serve, two more for the American. He only won 2 matches before reaching the Cincinnati quarters, where he lost to world number 1 Kuerten.
It was time for indoor tennis again, and Yevgeny was on his own in favourable conditions. Tall Belarusian Mirnyi stopped him in Stuttgart semis, 7-6 6-3 with one break more. Two weeks later he made his 5th and last Masters final, on carpet courts in Paris. He didn't lose a set in his first 4 matches, and in the final waited home player Sebastien Grosjean. After 2 hours 40 minutes Frenchman won 7-6 6-1 6-7 6-4, with only two break point chances for Russian. There were no break points during the first set and Grosjean closed the tiebreaker with a crosscourt forehand. He won the next five games and sealed the second set 6-1. In the third set he broke for a 4-3 lead but was broken back. In the tiebreaker, Kafelnikov shook his head in irritation as the crowd jeered calls in his favor. But the Russian won the game with a drop shot. In the fourth set, Grosjean broke in the final game, closing the match on his third championship point after a series of unforced errors by the Russian. “I can read his game perfect,” said Kafelnikov, who was seeded fourth. “But he was on top of the game. When I was dictating the point, he would come up with amazing shots. That's just too good.”
That was zenith of his results in Masters series, with only one semi final in Rome 2003, before playing his last Masters tournament in Madrid later that year at the age of just 29. He was very close to make final in eternal city, losing 4-6 7-6 6-4 to Spaniard Mantilla in 2 hours 40 minutes, even with almost 60 unforced errors.
Honorable mention – Fabrice Santoro
Even though he never made Masters final, Fabrice probably could break in Top 15 list, with 120 wins (24 over Top 10 players) and 15 quarter final apperances in this series. Also, he played in 20 out of 24 Masters seasons, and its really shame he never played match for the title, or had better score in many quarter's he made. That's why he is in this honorable mention spot.
He debut in Miami 1990 at the age of 17, and took set from world number 2 Boris Becker. His first quarter came in Rome next year, where he lost to Bruguera in 2. In the next few years he wasn't that good, making just one quarter final before Monte Carlo 1997, where he entered semis for the first time. After great wins over Muster, Bruguera and Costa, he lost to Corretja in the match for the final, 6-4 6-4. In 1998-99 seasons, he was in the last 8 3 times, and again in Cincinnati and Paris in 2000.
His 7th consecutive quarter loss came in Hamburg 2001, but in the next tournament he made the semis in Canada. The draw was on his side, but he lost to Rafter in an easy 2 sets, thanks to better break point realisation from the Australian. His last appearance in the last 4 came in Madrid 2002, after great wins over Haas, Nalbandian and Federer. He lost to Jiri Novak in semis, taking just 4 games.
In summer of 2004 Fabrice made his last notable Masters results, making quarter's in back to back weeks in Canada and Cincinnati. In Toronto he fought bravely against Federer, losing 7-5 6-4. Roger created 14 break points but won just 3 of them, and Frenchman also broke his serve once. In Cincinnati he failed to convert break points against Robredo, losing 6-2 6-3. He never made Masters quarter again, and his last win came in Miami 2009, at the age of 36. His last Masters 1000 tournament was Paris later that year.