Paths of Greatest Resistance: The Toughest Tennis Draws Conquered at the 4 Grand Slams in the Since 1988
by Dan Martin | July 12th, 2008, 1:29 pm

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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13 Comments for Paths of Greatest Resistance: The Toughest Tennis Draws Conquered at the 4 Grand Slams in the Since 1988

Hypnos Says:

Sampras says that the 1992 US Open loss to Edberg laid the foundation for the rest of his career — he never again packed it in mentally.

TD (Tam) Says:

Dan, I disagree with your choice of Federer’s 2004 AO win being one of his toughest. Bogomolov, Morrison, and Reid were hardly difficult opponents, they were more like practice partners. Federer was never pushed. Clay court specialist Ferrero in the semis was also a cakewalk, and Safin was too whip tired in the final to put up much of a fight in the final which in essence handed Federer the win.

IMO I would rate Federer’s 2005 USO win, and the calibre of talent he had to beat (Santoro, Kiefer, Nalbandian, Hewitt, and then Agassi in the final), much higher than AO 2004.

Dan Martin Says:

TD – I agree the Aussie one was hard to pick. None of the draws looked ridiculously tough for the eventual champ. In 1988 Wilander beat Edberg and Pat Cash back to back in 5 sets but the matches leading in … I am open to suggestions on tougher Australian Open draws. As for JCF – he was a quarterfinalist at the 2003 Aussie Open, runner-up at the U.S. Open in 2003 and won Madrid on an indoor surface in 2003. He was becoming a very good fast court player prior to his health troubles in 2004.

tennismonger Says:

While I can’t recall his opponents from the 1st week, Agassi’s ’99 French Open win was very impressive from a mental standpoint. Amidst personal issues & nearing the autumn of his career, he staged a monster comeback against defending champ Moya in round 4 (who was looking quite Nadalesque back then), beat Dominik Hrbaty (who was playing the best tennis of his life)in the semis & then came back from 2 sets down against Andre Medvedev, who was smokin’ hot for the fortnight (taking out Guga along the way) to win the title. Once he got past Moya, he was expected to win his remaining matches, adding to the pressure. Imagine the hurricane swirling in Agassi’s brain as they leveled @ 4-4 in the 3rd, w/Mededev 2 games from the title – only Goran’s mental maelstrom in the 5th set of the aforementioned Wimbledon final could compare.

Von Says:

The rain helped Agassi in that ’99 FO final. I saw that match which was shown twice on the Tennis Channel preceding this year’s FO. Agassi was awesome in his monster comeback from 2 sets down after the rain. TC also showed a clip of Gilbert talking about that match and what transpired in the locker room between himself and Agassi during the rain delay. I miss watching Agassi.

Roddick’s 2003 run at the USO was outstanding also. He beat Nalby in the semis and Juan Carlos in the final.

Voicemale1 Says:

The 2004 Australian? Hewitt and Ferrero had already maxed out their Grand Slam titles by then, Safin would pick up one more before tumbling down the rankings. And are you serious trying to sell the idea that the Djokovic 2008 Autralian Draw as one of the toughest? Gimme a break. Ferrer has never been to a Grand Slam Final and his ranking now at #4 is the highest it’s ever gonna be, and Tsonga’s career run in that tournament will need a LOT of backing up, since he spent lots of time losing early through the winter & spring before his knee went in May. Djokovic in Australia isn’t even worth honorable mention. In fact if Tsonga had been able to keep his stones in his shorts instead of his throat in the 4th Set tie break he might have actually won the thing outright in a fifth set.

Agassi in the ’94 US Open was one of the best: he was back from his first oblivion, unseeded that year, and took out 5 seeds to win that one. THAT’S tough. Sampras going through Wimbledon 2000 on basically 1 leg is about as tough an ask as you can get, since he played from the 3rd Round on with an inflamed shin that was so bad he couldn’t even practice on off days. THAT’S a tough draw.

And if you’re so willing to rate Federer and Djokovic that highly on this list, it only makes Nadal look that much better, since he had to go through both of them twice to win his last 2 French Opens. And he did so this year with neither of them winning a set against him, despite each having taken a set from him in Hamburg the week before. That’s gotta count for something.

Dan Martin Says:

Voicemale – I tried to pick one tough draw for each of the 4 slams. I admitted up front that the Australian Open did not have a really standout draw. Still, JCF had a great 2003, Hewitt beat Federer in 5 sets in Melbourne in the 2003 Davis Cup, Safin was Safin and Nalbandian was tough on Rebound Ace. I agree about Agassi in 1994, it was a great run. Sampras in 2000 at Wimbledon was an inspiring feat but beyond beating Rafter who did he face. Kucera is pretty good, but beating Gimelstob, Jan Michael Gambil and Vlad Vlotchkov to get from the 4th round to the final was not exactly a road block of a draw. Overcoming an injury might be the topic of another column, but none of the Sampras 2000 victims not named Rafter would strike fear into anyone.

Mike gaobest Says:

How about one of Agassi’s AO runs – 1995 (beating Sampras in the finals) or better, 2000 (beating Sampras, then Kafelnikov)? The 2000 run also included beating Philippousis. But most significantly he beat #2 and #3 in the tournament, with the final having #1/#2, always a dream final for any tournament! To compare with Federer’s 2004 AO final, he beat #8 and #3 along the way to a final with #86 Safin.


JCF Says:

I definately agree with Federer’s AO 04 run. Three of those guys had winning records against him, and for two of them, it was very one sided. After that, he’s turned it around and it’s been one way traffic since.

I don’t know what he did between the offseason of 03 and the beginning of AO 04, but whatever it was, the difference was dramatic.

MMT Says:

John McEnroe, US Open 1980 – Lendl, then Connors and then Borg in the final. Between them, his opponents wound up with 27 grand slam between them.

No comparison.

Dan Martin Says:

Good points on US Open 1980 and AO 1999. The survey started 1988-forward but the 1980 U.S. Open or Connors 1978 U.S. Open runs were incredibly impressive.

Noel Says:

“I don’t know what he did between the offseason of 03 and the beginning of AO 04, but whatever it was, the difference was dramatic.”
He got rid of his coach:) Although I wrote that in a slightly lighter vein,I myself haven’t been able to explain that dramatic turnaround.I guess it would be too simplistic to attribute it only to a clearer head or a freer life.A more complex set of different factors were at work although he had started his ascent in 2003 itself.However,it has not been one way traffic for quite a while now.This year has been a very disappointing one by his standards and he had some very indifferent results last year as well.In fact it was last year that he started showing some chinks in his armour but his performances in the slams and tmc helped him stay comfortably ahead.

tennismonger Says:

Von – Though Roddick seems to be everyones’s favorite whipping boy these days, his 2003 US Open Run was indeed impressive. Down a match point against Nalby, I believe. And those who bad-mouth Ferrero these days may forget that he out-Agassied Agassi in the other semi. Beat him comprehensibly – on a hard court. Damndest thing. Ferrero was at his peak in 2003 for sure – what happened? Injuries?

Mike (& Dan) – I would consider replacing Djoko’s run with Agassi’s in 2000 at the Aussie Open. His win over Sampras in the semis was huge. Pete was just hammering on him the whole match, was 2 points away from winning but Andre pulled it out. I remember reading an SI writer comparing Andre’s methodical victory to ‘a bird building a nest in a hurricane.’ Funny how Pete basically owned Andre @ US Open & Wimby but Down Under & in Paris it was the opposite. If Kafelnikov had some Russian training equivalent to Andre’s ‘Vegas sand dune hillsprint workout’ maybe he could have hung with him in the final but there was no way…

“I don’t know what he (Fed) did between the offseason of 03 and the beginning of AO 04, but whatever it was, the difference was dramatic.”
Funny you should bring that up, because for me, that was the exact time when things really ‘clicked’ for Fed in my mind. If you recall, he had won his 1st Wimbledon in ’03, but 3 other guys had won the other slams. Andre had won the AO again for cryin’ out loud! But at the end of that year, at the Masters or whatever the hell they call it these days, Fed faced off w/Andre in the round robin. Andre had a good record against Fed @ that time and it looked like once again, Agassi would take him down. Not only did Fed come back from match point to win that match, he went on to TROUNCE Agassi in the final. I don’t think Fed ever lost to Agassi after that. Shook Nalby off his back too. The rest is (& will be) history.

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