3 players who took the longest to make their Grand Slam breakthrough

Stan Wawrinka
Stan Wawrinka

Since tennis opened its doors to professionals in the summer of 1968, 207 Grand Slam tournaments in the Open Era have witnessed 93 different players reaching a final. Of the 54 different players to lift a Grand Slam title, Roger Federer (20) leads a group of 30 players to triumph multiple times at a Major.

Tony Roche is the only player to lose three Grand Slam finals without winning one, while Dominic Thiem (2019 Roland Garros) is one of 11 players to reach multiple Slam finals without winning one.

At the other end of the spectrum, Gustavo Kuerten (three) leads a group of 12 players to have a 100% success rate in Grand Slam finals. Apart from Kuerten and Johan Kriek (two), none of these 12 players played more than one title match.

Ken Rosewall (1968 French Open) won the first Grand Slam tournament in the Open Era but the Australian had also won four titles in the Amateur Era. If players who have won a Grand Slam tournament in the Amateur Era are excluded, no player has ever won the title on his Grand Slam debut in the Open Era.

On that note, let us meet the three players who took the longest to win their first Grand Slam title.

#3 Petr Korda (1998 Australian Open)

Petr Korda (right) won his first Grand Slam title at the 1998 Austrlian Open
Petr Korda (right) won his first Grand Slam title at the 1998 Austrlian Open

Since going down to American Jim Courier in straight sets in his maiden Grand Slam final at Roland Garros 1992, Petr Korda made quarterfinals at the 1993 Australian Open and the 1997 US Open before making his second Grand Slam final at the 1998 Australian Open.

Contesting the first all-lefty Grand Slam final since John McEnroe beat Jimmy Connors at 1984 Wimbledon, Korda faced Marcelo Rios of Chile. Rios holds the rather unwanted distinction of being the only player ranked World No. 1 to have never won a Grand Slam title.

It would be Rios' first and last opportunity to do so. The maverick Chilean, plagued by numerous injuries, would never reach another Grand Slam title match.

The final itself between the two left-handers turned out to be a rather one-sided one. Korda beat Rios for the loss of two games in each set for the most lopsided Grand Slam final in the decade since the 1991 US Open (Stefan Edberg beat Jim Courier 6-4, 6-2, 6-0). With the win, the then 31-year-old Korda ascended to a career-high of World No. 2.

With his maiden Slam title coming in his 34th appearance at a Major, only two other players have taken longer than Korda to make their Slam breakthrough in the Open Era.

#2 Stan Wawrinka (2014 Australian Open)

Stanislas Wawrinka
Stanislas Wawrinka

Making a trio of Grand Slam quarterfinals (2010 US Open, 2011 Australian Open, 2013 French Open) in his 35 previous Grand Slam appearances, Stan Wawrinka made his Grand Slam breakthrough at the 2014 Australian Open.

The 'other Swiss' dethroned three-time defending champion Novak Djokovic in a five-set quarterfinal before seeing out Tomas Berdych in a four-set semifinal featuring three tiebreaks to reach his maiden Slam final. Up across the other side of the net stood 13-time Grand Slam winner Rafael Nadal.

Nadal had not dropped a set against Wawrinka in 12 previous meetings, and had never lost to a first-time Grand Slam finalist (2005 French Open: beat Mariano Puerta, 2010 Wimbledon: beat Tomas Berdych, 2013 French Open: beat David Ferrer). But both would change on the day against an inspired Swiss who displayed little big stage nerves in the biggest match of his career.

Employing his laser-like single-handed backhand to devastating effect, Wawrinka punctured Nadal's baseline game to take a two-set lead for the loss of just five games. Much against the run of play, Nadal, afflicted by an injury at the end of the second set, gamely fought on to avoid a straight-sets defeat by taking the third set 6-3. But that would be as good as it got on the day for the Spaniard.

Wawrinka soon re-asserted his momentum to become the 53rd different player in the Open Era to win a Grand Slam title and the 26th different player (Nadal being the 25th) to reign at the Australian Open. The Swiss' breakthrough came in his 36th appearance at a Major.

#1 Goran Ivanisevic (2001 Wimbledon)

Goran Ivanisevic lifted his only Grand Slam title at 2001 Wimbledon
Goran Ivanisevic lifted his only Grand Slam title at 2001 Wimbledon

The tall lefty with a booming serve could have been forgiven for thinking he was not destined to win a Grand Slam title following a trio of Grand Slam final reverses. Ivanisevic made his 48th Grand Slam appearance at Wimbledon 2001.

In the 1992 Wimbledon final against Andre Agassi, Ivanisevic served 37 aces in the final - which was the same number served up by his opponent during the entire tournament. But it was the American who triumphed in a five-set battle between two players looking for their maiden Grand Slam title.

Two years later at Wimbledon, Ivanisevic made his second Grand Slam final and this time the Croat would not win a set. Pete Sampras, who lost to Ivanisevic in the 1992 semifinals, successfully defended his title with a straight-sets win.

In 1998, the pair met again in the title match. Although it turned out to be a sterner affair than their 1994 final clash, it was Ivanisevic again who fell short in five sets.

Three years later, an out of sorts 125th-ranked Ivanisevic was awarded a wildcard for Wimbledon - more as a sort of recognition of the Croat's record at the tournament than for his recent form. Nobody in their wildest dreams, not even Ivanisevic, could have envisaged what lay in store at the end of the fortnight.

Ivanisevic fought back from a two sets to one deficit to down perennial local favorite Tim Henman in a five-set semifinal, to make his first tour-level final in over four years. In the final against two-time Grand Slam champion Pat Rafter, the Croat triumphed 9-7 in the fifth set to become the first wildcard and the lowest ranked player to remain the last man standing at the grasscourt Major.