When Roger Federer pulled out of the French Open on Thursday, Novak Djokovic's path to the Grand Slam title that has eluded him got a tiny bit easier. To date, the only blemish on the world No. 1's resume is his failure to win the premier clay-court event.
He has come close. Djokovic reached the French final in 2012, 2014 and 2015, losing twice to Rafael Nadal and last year to Stan Wawrinka. Djokovic calls his 11 Grand Slam titles the Djoker Slam, but while he's poking fun at himself, the Serb won't feel that his career is complete without at least one title from Roland Garros after having won multiple times at the other three majors.
"It's the one I've never won," he told Tennis.com after winning this year's Australian Open. "I'll try to put myself in a position to get that trophy."
But even if he doesn't Djokovic will be in good company. The French Open, which began Sunday, has been the nemesis of some of tennis' biggest names. Below is a look at the best players – besides Djokovic – who have never won at Roland Garros:
Until Federer came along, Sampras held the most slams won by a man with 14. But despite his multiple titles at Wimbledon (seven), U.S. Open (five) and Australian Open (two), the best server in tennis history could never solve the red dirt. Sampras came the closest in 1996 when he lost in straight sets in the 1996 semis to Russia's Yevgeny Kafelnikov, who went on to win the title that year.
Like Sampras, Connors has a title from each of the other slams but never reached the final in Paris. Connors was 0-for-13 at Roland Garros, making it as far as the semifinals four times. His best chance came in 1980 when he lost a five-setter to Vitas Gerulaitis in the semis. But Connors probably wouldn't have won the title that year anyway as Bjorn Borg went through the entire tournament without dropping a set en route to his third straight French Open crown.
Like his two fellow Americans who struck out in Paris, McEnroe was never able to triumph on the red clay. But he did came agonizingly close once, in 1984, when he reached the final against his nemesis Ivan Lendl. McEnroe won the first two sets easily but could not survive a Lendl comeback, losing 6-4, 7-5, 7-5 in the final three sets.
The hard-serving German redhead also had his troubles in Paris, failing to reach the final in his nine appearances. His best chance came in 1989 when he lost a five-setter to Stefan Edberg in the semifinals. Becker went on to win both Wimbledon and U.S. Open later that year but he joined Sampras, Connors, Edberg and Djokovic (so far) as men with six or more major titles in the Open era missing the French to complete a career Grand Slam.
The sweet-swinging Swede's best chance was came in 1989, when he bested Becker to reach his only final at Roland Garros. Edberg was beaten in five sets by 17-year-old Michael Chang, who ended the American men's 34-year title drought in Paris and became (and remains) the youngest male Slam winner in history.
Of the 15 women who own at least four Grand Slam titles, only three failed to win in Paris at least once:
While her sister Serena has three French Open titles, Venus reached just one final in Paris, in 2002, when she lost to Serena in straight sets. Until that match, Venus had four slam titles to Serena's one and had beaten her younger sister in their only slam final meeting – at the U.S. Open the year before. But that loss at Roland Garros marked the first of five straight Grand Slam finals losses for Venus – all to Serena.
The Swiss wunderkind burst onto the scene in 1997 as a 16-year-old, winning three major titles that year – only to allow the French crown to elude her grasp for a Grand Slam. Hingis was stunned in the final by heavy underdog Iva Majoli, who collected the only major title of her career. Hingis reached one more final at Roland Garros, but lost a three-setter to Steffi Graf in 1999.
The four-time slam winner reached the final in Paris twice in nine appearances, but came heartbreakingly close in 2001 against American Jennifer Capriati. Clijsters won the first set easily, 6-1, but dropped the second set 6-4. In an epic third set Capriati finally got the better of the 18-year-old Belgian, 12-10, in a match that lasted 2 hours and 21 minutes.