Paths of Greatest Resistance: The Toughest Tennis Draws Conquered at the 4 Grand Slams in the Since 1988
Although the Australian Open moved to a different type of hard court in 2008, since 1988 the 4 Grand Slams have had 4 distinct surfaces. I tried to determine the toughest draws conquered at the respective events since the start of the 1988 season. The Australian Open did not have 1 draw that jumped out at me. The U.S. Open had several draws that stood out as quite difficult for the champion to navigate (1992, 1994, 1998, 2002). At any rate, these are the 4 draws I selected. Tell me and the rest of the Tennis-x readers what other draws were exceptionally deep and rough.
Australian Open 2004 – Roger Federer
This one was a tough one as Djokovic’s recent run may have been tougher than Federer’s 2004 title run. Djokovic’s win over Federer was clearly big, but David Ferrer and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga need to accomplish more before that can be clearly judged. Federer’s 2004 victory over Hewitt in the round of 16 has to be considered stronger than Djokovic’s 2008 victory over Hewitt in the same spot. Therefore, Roger’s 04 run gets the nod for the moment.
Roger Federer who held 1 Grand Slam title heading into the 2004 Australian Open used this event to subdue many of the best players of his generation. His 4 set round of 16 victory over Lleyton Hewitt avenged a tough loss vs. Hewitt in the 2003 Davis Cup. In the quarterfinals, Federer avenged his 2003 Australian and U.S. Open losses to David Nalbandian with another 4 set victory. In the semifinals, Federer toppled the 2003 French Open champion, 2003 U.S. Open runner-up, and world #3 Juan-Carlos Ferrero in straight sets. Federer then faced a surprise finalist in Marat Safin and won the event 7-6, 6-4, 6-2. In beating Hewitt, Ferrero and Safin, Federer beat 3 men who had held the #1 ranking and who had won at least 1 Grand Slam title. Beating Nalbandian helped Federer temporarily break his difficulties with a generational nemesis. Ferrero’s 2003 was outstanding and it is sad that his play never fully recovered from the problems that would occur later in 2004. The 4 consecutive victories over quality opponents within his generation helped Federer establish himself as the best of the “New Balls” generation. Fed versus the “Next Can” generation is a topic for another column.
French Open 1992 – Jim Courier
This is an easy choice despite the fact that Courier lost only 1 set as he mowed down the field in 1992. Courier faced Thomas Muster in the second round and came through in straight sets. In the third round, Courier won in straight sets over a talented Argentine named Alberto Mancini who won Monte Carlo and the Italian Open in 1989. In the round of 16, the 1991 world #1 junior Andrei Medvedev awaited. The man from Dade City proved that the men’s tour is another animal and won 6-1, 6-4, 6-2. In the quarterfinals, Goran Ivanisevic took Courier to 4 sets, but Jim reached his 4th consecutive French Open showdown with Andre Agassi. The 1992 semifinal was a rematch of the 5 set 1991 final won by Courier. Agassi hoped to avenge that loss, but Courier calmly dispatched of Agassi 6-3, 6-2, 6-2. In the final, Petr Korda provided yet another talented left-handed opponent for Courier, but Korda did no better than Muster or Ivanisevic as Courier won 7-5, 6-2, 6-1. Muster, Mancini, Medvedev, Ivanisevic, Agassi and Korda make up an impressive list of victims on the way to a title. Courier’s 1991 victim list was also impressive as he beat Derrick Rostagno, Wayne Ferreria, Magnus Larsson, Todd Martin, world #1 Stefan Edberg, Michael Stich and Andre Agassi in succession to win the title.
Wimbledon 2001 – Goran Ivanisevic
This is another easy choice. Goran entered Wimbledon 2001 as an unseeded player and that left open the possibility of many tough matches. In the second round, Goran faced former world #1 Carlos Moya. Goran overcame a 1st set loss to win the match 6-7, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4. In the 3rd round, Goran faced a young Andy Roddick. The two huge servers went 4 sets with Ivanisevic 7-6, 7-5, 3-6, 6-3. Greg Rusedski was next in line, and Goran beat the Canadian turned Brit 7-6, 6-4, 6-4. This set up an intriguing match with reigning U.S. Open champion Marat Safin. Goran won 7-6, 7-5, 3-6, 7-6. Marat predicted that Goran would win the tournament when the match ended. Goran’s semifinal match featured the home grown hope of Tim Henman. John McEnroe predicted Henman would win Wimbledon, but Goran managed a massive comeback 7-5, 6-7, 0-6, 7-6, 6-3 in a rain plagued match. 2 time U.S. Open champion and 2000 Wimbledon runner-up Patrick Rafter stood in the way of Goran’s improbable run. Goran led 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 when he began to meltdown. Rafter raced through the 4th set 6-2 and the drama of a great fifth set ensued. Goran managed to win the 5th set 9-7 as he fought off tears while serving for the match. Goran beat 4 men who had either held or would go onto hold the #1 ranking (Moya, Roddick, Safin and Rafter). Those same 4 men also had won or went on to win at least one major title in their career. Finally, Goran beat Rusedski and Henman to single-handedly end British hope for a Wimbledon title. Goran had to use the 3 Gorans to win: Good Goran, Bad Goran and Emergency Goran. It was a tough draw and a strange trip, but Ivanisevic thrilled the fans in 2001.
U.S. Open 1992 – Stefan Edberg
Then unseeded Andre Agassi’s 1994 run of beating Guy Forget, Wayne Ferreria, Michael Chang, Thomas Muster, Todd Martin and Michael Stich was a close second to Edberg’s 1992 title run. Agassi beat a lot of good to great players to win in 1994, but outside of Chang and Martin, who had a great 1994, none of the other players really threatened Agassi on a hard court if Andre was playing well. Forget, Ferreira, Muster and Stich had little chance to beat him on a hard court in New York.
Stefan Edberg entered the 1992 U.S. Open as the defending champion, but Jim Courier was #1 in the world and had won the 1992 Australian and French Open titles. Pete Sampras beat Edberg 6-2, 6-3 in the 1992 Cincinnati semifinals. Andre Agassi had won Wimbledon 1992. Michael Chang won Indian Wells and Miami in 1992. The U.S. media was expecting a major U.S. showdown or two in the draw which they got with Courier beating Agassi in the quarterfinals and Sampras defeating Courier in the semifinals. The U.S. media was also expecting a U.S. born champion. Edberg forced everyone to wait until 1993 for that to occur again. Edberg beat reasonably good players in Jacob Hlasek and Jonas Svensson to reach the round of 16. There a young Dutch player named Richard Krajicek awaited. Edberg held off the big server 6-4, 6-7, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 by coming back from a break down in the 5th set. In the quarterfinals, Ivan Lendl loomed with fresh momentum from a five set win over Boris Becker (Lendl’s only win over Becker in a Grand Slam tournament). Lendl reached 8 consecutive U.S. Open finals between 1982-1989. His U.S. Open results “fell off” with a quarterfinal loss to 1990 champion Pete Sampras and a semifinal loss to 1991 champion Edberg. For 10 years Lendl either won the U.S. Open or lost to the eventual champion. Edberg won 6-3, 6-3, 3-6, 5-7, 7-6. Once again Edberg came back from a break down in the 5th set. In the semifinals, Michael Chang pushed Edberg to 5 sets, and Chang held a break lead in the 5th set. The Swede won 6-7, 7-5, 7-6, 5-7, 6-4 in an incredibly long match. In the final, Pete Sampras was waiting. Sampras had won Cincinnati and Indianapolis heading into the final. He also thrashed world #1 Jim Courier 6-1, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 in the semifinals. Sampras had a stomach issue at the end of the semifinal match and that perhaps cost him in the final round. Nevertheless, Edberg won 3-6, 6-4, 7-6, 6-2 to win his 6th and final Grand Slam title. Considering that Sampras won the 1990, 1993, 1995, 1996 and 2002 U.S. Open titles, Edberg really accomplished a lot in the final, and his road to the final was equally impressive. Krajicek and Chang might not have been in their 1996 form, but both were playing well. Lendl was making one last run at the event where he had his greatest success.
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