THE man who on Monday will become Australia's top-ranked tennis player has never won a grand slam match.
Out-of-favour with Davis Cup captain Pat Rafter, the 27-year-old from Dandenong North could safely walk down any street on which the enduringly popular Rafter would still be mobbed. Meet Marinko Matosevic, the keeper of a once-dominant nation's tennis flame.
It was not supposed to come to this, of course. As dual grand slam champion Lleyton Hewitt shuffled off with his chest full of war medals, the plan was that wonderboy Bernard Tomic would carry on a legacy passed from the likes of Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, John Newcombe, Pat Cash and so many others before them. But as Tomic's trajectory has hit some nasty turbulence, Matosevic has risen steadily from No. 203 at the start of the season and he will break into the top 50 when the next ATP rankings list is released.
Top dog: Marinko Matosevic has had a steady rise. Photo: Getty Images
A first-round win in the Swiss Indoor event in Basel over German Florian Mayer guarantees Matosevic a new career peak of at least 47th, while Tomic - who has been urged to call time on a troubled year and, significantly, find a new coach to replace his controversial father, John - dips another place to 49th. Hewitt is back inside the top 100, but his best days are well past.
So welcome to the future: the Bosnian-born Matosevic, an Australian-style late-bloomer and powerful right-hander with a world-class backhand, who was still mixing ATP events with second-tier Challenger tournaments as recently as June.
In tennis circles, Matosevic has long been known for his fiery temperament and maverick ways. Tennis Australia has worked hard to tame the, ahem, colourful character who only last December escaped official censure for the mock shooting of a line judge with his racquet during the Australian Open wildcard playoff.
Yet he continues to test Rafter's patience at Davis Cup level, and the captain overlooked his No. 2-ranked singles player for the world group playoff last month, declaring: ''Marinko didn't deal with things too well in the last tie, so we'd prefer not to pick him for this one.''
But there is also a Cinderella-like element to the Matosevic story, his parents, Branko and Ljubica, having migrated to Australia after the Balkans War.
He was never a favoured son of the establishment, or an exceptional junior. These, though, are unexpected heights. Strange days indeed.