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Who are the Biggest Wasted Talents in Tennis?

There was news this week that Bernard Tomic has been ditched from the Australian Davis Cup team reportedly after his behaviour has consistently let him down throughout 2012.

First he got into hot water with the police for driving his BMW M3 outside of his curew, then later in the year he failed to stop for police and most recently got into a fight on a hotel rooftop where he was partying.

He's come out this week saying that he's going to be the greatest player of all time, a bout of trouble and then a bold statement usually never end well. In fact I'm hard pressed to recall a player who has successfully defended their attitude and made themselves into a great player.

With someone like Tomic I doubt his claims of slam wins will come to fruition. But that also got me thinking, who are the biggest wasted talents in the world of tennis? Let's take a look…

Richard Gasquet

Richard Gasquet

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First on my list is Richard Gasquet, probably because I've watched his generation of tennis more than any other and seen him lose matches from winnable positions time after time.

The guy has probably the best one handed backhand on tour yet he's only ever managed to win ATP Masters 250 tournaments.

A man with Gasquets talents and shotmaking ability should be able to make the latter stages of Grand Slams and surely have a couple of Masters 1000's in his trophy cabinet but sadly for him the mental side of his game lets him down. Perhaps the biggest indicator of this is where he lost from 2 sets up against Andy Murray at Wimbledon in 2008.

Gasquet is still only 26 so still has time on his side to achieve in the game but I don't see it happening, he had the cocaine scandal that pegged him back and he got a back injury at the end of this season that might be a sign of things to come.

Marat Safin

Marat Safin

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It's not often you can criticise a guy who's won 2 Grand Slams, after all most players are happy to even win one but you get the feeling with someone like Safin it could have been a lot more.

He first made a name for himself when he comprehensively beat Pete Sampras at the 2000 US Open to win his first Grand Slam.

Sampras dubbed him “the future of tennis” after that match but Safin was only able to add one more slam trophy to his resume when he beat Lleyton Hewitt in the 2005 Austrlian Open final.

For one reason or another things just didn't happen for Safin, he suffered a lot of injuries, had a habit of self imploding, smashing rackets and generally not living up to his potential. He lost a lot of matches where he was in the driving seat purely because he blew his top, let something minor effect him or just became disillusioned with the surface he was playing on; most notably grass.

Winston Churchill one said that Russia was “a riddle, wrapped inside a mystery, inside an enigma” and perhaps that's the best way of describing Safin's career.

David Nalbandian

David Nalbandian

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Anyone who's ever having the pleasure of seeing Nalbandian play will know that he's one of the cleanest ball strikers on tour.

It looked like he would go onto big things when he made the Wimbledon final in 2002 a mere two years after he turned pro. But Nalbandian or Fat Dave as he's known by the fans has been blighted by injuries, perhaps a lack of physical fitness contributed to that. He also struggles when matches become a battle of mental strength rather than raw talent.

A wasted talent? You'd have to say so, anyone who can give players like Federer and Nadal big problems has to have something about them; Nalbandian just he lacks the consistency and the mentality to keep it up for a sustained period. And at 30 years old that's not going to change.

If ever there was a video to sum up Nalbandian's career, then this was it:

Mark Philippoussis

Mark Philippoussis

The man Roger Federer beat to win his first Grand Slam and Wimbledon final; Philippoussis also made the final of the US Open where he lost to fellow countryman Pat Rafter.

A big serve and a lot of talent that was never really realised, it's widely documented he had the poorest work ethic out of any of the top players in his era and it just goes to show that talent alone isn't enough to get you to the pinnacle of the sport. Could and should have won slams but the Scud ultimately became a dud.

Xavier Malisse

Xavier Malisse

I remember seeing Malisse for the first time when he made the semi finals at Wimbledon in 2002, a complete natural but unfortunately for him a bit of a head case.

No focus, hot tempered and not blessed with the determination of other Flemish counterparts like Olivier Rochus. He's probably one of the best shotmakers out there (perhaps even close to Roger's skills), as these highlights from Chennai in 2011 show but just doesn't have that presence of mind to win when it matters.

Other Notable Candidates

  • Fernando Verdasco – after he took Nadal to five sets in 2009 at the Australian Open I thought he could go onto achieve a lot more, sadly his career has gone backwards since then and I've heard some circles say it's due to his lack of commitment.
  • Ernest Gulbis – Still young but can't seem to progress to the top echelons of the game.
  • Gael Monfils – Another young player with immense talent but blighted by injuries, has a lot of power but can't seem to turn that into attacking play. According to Henry Leconte he may quit tennis all together after he missed most of 2012 with injury.
  • James Blake – Huge groundstrokes but absolutely no court sense.
  • Guillermo Coria – Former Top 5, lost the French Open final to Gauston Gaudio after a major choke, got the yips on his serve and never recovered.
  • Tommy Haas – Maybe a little harsh putting Haas in the list as his lack of career achievements stem from injury rather than a poor work ethic or mental weakness but regardless one of the biggest talents to not win a slam.
  • Marcos Bagdhatis – One of the characters on tour that's for sure with his non stop grin but his career is another that promised so much yet never really found the heights. Made the Australian Open final in 2006 but never kicked on.
  • Marcelo Rios – the only man in the open era to reach number 1 without ever winning a slam. I didn't see a lot of his career but from what I have read he falls into the underachiever column.

It also appears that Tsonga could go the same way, a great performance to make the 2008 Australian Open final but just can't seem to make that jump.

Do you think Tomic will be another wasted talent? And who in your opinion is the player you feel has been the biggest wasted talent you have seen on the tennis tour? Let me know in the comments.


Huge fan of Roger Federer. I watch all his matches from Grand Slam level right down to ATP 250. When I'm not watching or writing about tennis I play regularly myself and have a keen interest in tactics, equipment and technicalties of the sport.

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  1. Very good article. Tomic definitely is another wasted talent. After the Aussie Open this year, he just lost his enthusiasm for playing tennis. I don’t think Gasquet has the best one handed backhand, Roger does! People say Wawrinka’s is better as well but both Gasquet and Stan’s backhands are known for consistenly more powerful than Roger’s but overall Roger’s backhand is better in my opinion even though he is my bias 🙂 Those half volley and flick winners he’s hit over the years, just incredible.

    1. Tomic still has time I guess but the jury is out on whether he can actually do anything with his career.

      Fed’s backhand is up there but in terms of raw ability to hit winners with it I think Gasquets is better.

      1. In terms of raw ability to hit winners off a shot, there are many better single-handers than Roger. Gasquet, Wawrinka, Almagro, Haas, to name a few. But Fed’s game isn’t to hit backhand winners. For those 4, the BH is their greatest weapon. For Fed, it is his FH obviously, and he runs around his BH a lot to hit it. I’m sure he could be way more aggressive with his BH than he is.

        I’d put Richard, Stan, and Tommy above Roger when it comes to pure power on the BH, but overall, I still give it to Fed. He has the best slice on tour (that is a one-handed shot), and he has the best racket-head control with his flicks, half-volleys, and angles that he can create.

  2. Nice article Jonathan! Would agree on Tomic, that guy is a complete jerk, thinks he’s better than anyone but won’t do anything with the talent he has… I also felt Tsonga would fall into the underachiever category. But the one who really comes to mind is Wawrinka: not saying he should have won slams, but if his game is on, he’s a hell of player… top ten material if he could keep it up… Sadly for him, he’s much too inconsistent….

    1. Don’t think anyone seems to be a Tomic fan these days. He’s even losing Australian fans with his attitude, never a good thing!

      Yeah Wawrinka is a weird one, on his day he’s a great player but he has a habit of always playing 5 set matches early on his slams that cost him dear.

  3. I like Nalbadian and even Federer recognizes his ball striking ability. Unfortunately Dave doesn’t have that X factor needed to win when needed. Tomic is a punk and is in need of a beating. I sense some dysfunctional problems in his family and that’s probably transferring over into his professional career. As far as Gulbis is concerned, he had a lot of talent but is probably not the smartest guy on the tour.

    1. Yeah Nalby is awesome to watch when he’s playing well. So crisp. For that first set against Nadal in the video I included he was on fire, just a shame he can’t keep it up. Should have beaten Hewitt in Wimbledon final.

  4. I’d definitely agree with Gasquet, Gulbis, Verdasco, and Monfils. Wawrinka too. Safin wasn’t a wasted talent as he is considered one of the greatest ever and his lack of more success was due to his injuries. Him, like Nalbandian, were hampered so much by that and when they were both on they were unbeatable. Even Philippousis beat Sampras twice in Slams. Haas’ problems strictly came from injuries as when he’s on he is one of the best, even now. If you put Safin and Nalbandian on the list, you might as well put Hewitt and Roddick and Davydenko on too.

    James Blake did as much as he could before the courts didn’t suit his game any more. The only time he underachieved was the US Open 2005 when he should have made the final. But otherwise, he was not an underachiever. And before Nadal, Coria was the best clay courter in the world.

    The only two that were really touted to have way more success than they’ve had are Safin and Nalbandian. There are others who should have and could have done more, and that’s where Gasquet falls in.

    1. Safin considered one of the greatest ever? I’ve never heard that and he’s not even close. He was a great talent but his lifestyle cost him not injury. Too much of a party animal. He should have won way more than he did.

      Nalbandian and Philippoussis are big wastes. Nalbandian’s fitness is to blame as well as his mental weakness. Philippoussis is a bit like Safin, too much of a playboy. They both underachieved. Beating someone good in a slam twice means nothing if you don’t win it. Every dog has it’s day.

      No chance you can include Hewitt, Roddick and Davydenko on the list as they have maximised their talents. Roddick won a title in each calendar season for like 10 years, that’s over achieving because he has limited natural ability. Hewitt is similar, he’s a grinder, nothing more. Davydenko has no weapons, just takes the ball early. Nobody expected those guys to win big tournaments.

      I’m on about players that have an abundance of talent, they have all the shots, big weapons and can cause damage but for one reason or another they can’t translate that into slam/masters 1000 wins.

      1. I don’t mean to say Safin is one of the greatest ever like Roger, Pete, Laver, etc, but as in his talent. He had such a rare combination of size, skill, power, and quickness that we may never see again. He may have been an underachiever, but that was due to his injury troubles. He missed the majority of 2003 and when he returned he was a Slam finalist (and spent loads of time on court to get there). He was never really the same after the AO in 2005. And he did make 4 Slam finals, won 5 Masters titles and was World #1, so that’s not really a “waste” of talent. Not everyone can have illustrous careers like Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic.

        As for Philippousis, I think he was close to reaching his ceiling. He made two Slam finals and actually beat Pete three times in Slams, once at the AO, FO, and USO. He was a hell of a talent and a pure attacker but could he have accomplished more? Maybe. But he was also playing in a time with Sampras, Agassi, Safin, Hewitt, Rafter, Ivanisevic, among others. He was a solid top 10 player but to make 2 Slam finals, even 5 years apart, is pretty good in my estimation.

        And I’m sure people expected Roddick and Hewitt to win majors, as they were #1 players in the world. I don’t actually think those guys fit in this conversation, I’m just making a point. I consider the ones who never showed their true potential even for a short period of time to be the true “wastes of talent.” Guys like Monfils, Gasquet, and Verdasco who continually disappoint time after time after time. At least Safin, Rios, Nalbandian, and Haas will be remembered as four of the most talented pure tennis players to ever pick up a racket.

      2. “I’m on about players…….they have all shot and big weapons”
        Have you seen Gasquet’s forehand?
        Is it a big weapon?
        He has the worst forehand in top 20 even if he has improved this shot this year…

    1. Hmm I dunno, he’s talented for how he plays, definitely entertaining but could anyone honestly say they thought he’d win a slam? I’m not sure. Shame nobody plays like him though as he’s fun to watch!

    2. Santoro will go down as oa legend but for his creativity and magician-like shotmaking. He had a style that was really unique to the men’s game even in the 80s and 90s and nobody has a bad word about him.

    3. Santoro made Nalbandian fairly angry in a match at AO. Santoro outtouched Nalbandian, if you can outdo Nalbandian in the touch department, you´re likely to be called “The Magician”

  5. Sorry Tomic is not a great talent. Certainly all the other player you mention above have more talent. Tomic got no power after all. He wants to play like old Murray but does not have the legs for it. Once you figure out how strangely he plays a current top 20 player can beat him anytime.

  6. Tomic has a lot of talent, but it looks as though his head will be the main issue. He’s lazy (Roddick USO match) and tries to show off too much, as we saw in that thrashing he received by Roger at the AO. He has a big forehand, albeit unorthodox and he has a lot of touch for a big guy. His game can succeed in today’s game but he won’t if he doesn’t shape up mentally.

    1. Bit before my generation, caught some highlights though and read around him, seems to be the general consenus that he was a big big waste.

      Number 1 with no Grand Slam wins, unheard of in the mens game.

  7. Fernando Gonzalez, too. He had a serious weapon to make everyone’s life difficult (one of the best forehands ever probably), he showed that could be a threat to the big guys (beat Federer and Nadal in 2007 by playing great tennis), but never managed to do it all for a streak of seven matches to win a Grand Slam. Of course injuries played their part, too, but I know that a lot of tennis fans expected more from him.

    1. Hey Andreas,

      Yeah man his forehand was deadly. Was the biggest on tour for quite a while I think. I quite liked watching him play too, could get pretty exciting.

      Probably his backhand let him down. Maybe could have won the Aus Open if it wasn’t for Fed playing JesusFed tennis that time.

      Useless on grass though!

  8. Gasquet definitely a waste. And even today, his court positioning is so poor, his forehand dodgy and his mental fragility still to the fore. Stubborn, will not change the way he plays, from 12 ft behind the baseline. In fact, most of the French hv underachieved, allowed to develop the way they want until it is too late to change, witness Monfils, Tsonga. Not sure they will ever achieve what they cld hv achieved if they had been taken in hand Earlier, with some severe discipline, and better match tactics! Too much style, sometimes not enough substance!

    1. Hey Susie,

      Yeah good point about him always playing way behind the baseline. He makes it more difficult for himself being all the way back there.

      And I agree with you about French guys always underachieving. Weird really that they have a huge crop of talent but can’t seem to find a big tournament player. They always suck badly at Roland Garros too. Guess it’s genetic 😛

  9. my vote goes to Richard Gasquet and Ernest Gulbis. I always look forward to see those 2 cause an upset and they end up playing pathetic. Also Alejandro Falla is another one, who somehow, manages to play well only agaiinst Federer!!

  10. I must say Marcelo(Chino) Rios, because I’m from Chile. Anyway in my opinion and from what I’ve seen Gael Monfils is the biggest wasted talent in tennis.

  11. Richard Kraijicek was the biggest talent ever but because of injuries he was more out of the tour then in.
    He should top this wasted talent list.

  12. I would say David Nalbandian. The way he can toy with his opponents at times is downright scary. His overview of the game and his ability to play the shot that he wants to makes him one of the most dangerous players, not one of the most succesful, but when on fire, he is very dominant in rallys. Marcelo is also one heck of a talent, but he lacked the dtl shot of what i´ve seen, he mostly played crosscourt, and i would pick Nalbandian to beat him 7 out of 10 times on any surface. But Marcelo like Nalbandian could always surprice, i´ve heard stories that he toyed with Agassi at times, and Sampras had a hard time doing so, and Sampras was a monster, so i think Marcelo was one big talent aswell. Same goes for Malisse who´s a great dobbeltplayer and has delicate touch at net.

    1. Hey Julian,

      Yeah Dave is a big under achiever, such a solid game yet mentally not the greatest and also lacks that bit of fitness.

      Malisse too, crazy talented but not got the work ethic.


  13. I would definitely add wawrinka to the list…he has such good work ethics, he worked ridiculously hard over the years…he has one of the best backhands in tennis, with both power and precision…but because this is another golden era of tennis, meaning there are just so many great players, one literally has to be a master in order for them to climb to the top…if wawrinka is a couple of years younger and is out after the big 4 era, he would definitely make it to the top…he is a great player, but there are others that are even better than him…

  14. Gulbis and Nalbandian for sure, but Gulbis still has the time ahead of him. A match between Gulbis and focused uninjured Nalbandian at best would be amazing, Nalbandian with his finesse and all Court game, Gulbis with his brutal hitting. Both have/had some of the greatest lobs i think. And can beat anyone, on the givin day.

    1. Agree on this one, they have actually played, and David won. Got then beat by another brutal talent in Florian Mayer the NeXT round im pretty sure. Florian Mayer, WHO has some of the same magic as the two, brutal serve and groundstrokes, amazing touch at net. Nalbandian thou, had that extra about his game when on, something you can´t descripe but just have to Watch.. It´s not that he beat some good opponents, it´s the way he beat them, he made the fun stuff happen, played a pretty good first set against Rafa in US Open 2011, then choked. Outgunned Roddick from the forehand side in US Open 2003, the guy with the forehand that never got mentioned, then Roddick came back and Nalbandian tired out. He has also outforehandet Federer on several occasions, i won´t argue that it´s better, nor as good as Federers, but it surely had a lot of poise..

  15. Safin actually was credited by some to be ininficient at net, but the guy off of the forehand side had some of the most ridiculous touch volleys/halfvolleys i´ve ever seen, same can you say about Nalbandian. Richard is great, but he lacks the ability to make the game look so gd easy at times as Safin and Nalbandian f.eks. The brutal hitting mixed with surprising touch at net from Safin, and the allcourt ability of Nalbandian WHO only lacked a brutal serve in his big arsenal of shots. His forehand was imo one of the most underrated shots in tennis. He could sometime pull the trigger on the run dtl with brutal pace. And he could angle it and play inside out aswell. His backhand and lob was worldclass. Paire and Gulbis has some of that magic aswell, with their lobs, touch shots and backhands, but Nalbandian, Rios, Federer and Santoro was/is the Kings of finesse imo.

  16. 1: David Nalbandian(If he had a better serve, the most complete allcourt game, art tennis at it´s best)
    2: Ernests Gulbis(When he´s on, he has all the strokes and hit with brutal power)
    3: Marcelo Rios(King of touch and angles)
    4: Marat Safin(Won two slams, but had the game to do much more)
    5: Florian Mayer(Amazing serve, strokes and touch)
    6: Jo Wilfred Tsonga(Haven´t won a slam)
    7: Benoit Paire(Best touch player on the tour besides Fed)
    8: Paradon Schrisaphan(Amazing athlethe, great strokes and touch)

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