Patrick Rafter

Born: December 28, 1972 in Mount Isa (Queensland)
Height: 1.85 m
Plays: Right-handed
Marked by unexpected turns, Rafter’s career can be outlined in several distinctive phases:
1. Sudden Improvement: initially unremarkable in his early ATP years, he faced a lackluster start, losing his first seven main-level matches not having a Challenger title. But a defining moment emerged when, ranked at 139, he reached the Indianapolis semifinal, notably defeating Pete Sampras in an intense all tie-break match, surviving ten break points in the final set. Following this breakthrough, Rafter’s victories expanded to include top players of the 90s like Jim Courier, Michael Chang, Ivan Lendl, Thomas Muster, as well as Goran Ivanišević and Andre Agassi in exhibition events;
2. Disappointing Slump: in defiance of garnering huge popularity in Australia and signing lucrative contracts with “Reebok”, Rafter underwent a slump between 1995 and 1996, a period when his ascent to the Top 10 seemed imminent;
3. Resurgence: Rafter’s comeback began in the Autumn of ’96, winning the prestigious exhibition event in Hong Kong. Instead of vying for big events in Europe, he chose to conclude the season early, focusing on preparing for 1997. This strategic move paid off. Although he initially disappointed in local Aussie tournaments ranked No. 62, thrilling Davis Cup victories on grass against Cédric Pioline (3-2) and Martin Damm (3-1) marked a turning point for him as he helped Australia to reach the semifinal. Subsequent months showcased Rafter’s potential – five main-level finals, his first Grand Slam semifinal, culminating in an unexpected but brilliant Grand Slam victory at the US Open ’97 which led to finish the season as the second best player in the world;
4. Premature Retirement: despite being a paradigm of athleticism between 1997 and 1999, Rafter faced an untimely injury just before the US Open ’99, halting his momentum as a two-time defending champion. Subsequently, a bitter defeat to Pioline in which he squandered a 2-0 set lead (the reversal of their Davis Cup meeting) altered the trajectory of his career. Although he remained formidable on grass, reaching two Wimbledon finals (2000 and 2001 – when just two points separated him from the title), he decided to retire in 2001 at the age of 29, even though playing at a high level and ending the year ranked No. 8. Noteworthy, Rafter remains unique as a back-to-back US Open champion who lost the opening round in this event, prior and after his titles.
Quoting Rafter himself, “The toughest player I played against was definitely Sampras – he did everything I did, only better.” Reflecting on his career, he added, “I enjoyed playing Agassi the most – I thought we had a really good battle, I really enjoyed playing him.” This rivalry was particularly featured in the years 2000-2001 when they played three five-setters. Analyzing Rafter’s great results at the turn of the 90s and 00s, I drew conclusions that his physical preparation took a huge part in the golden years. As opposed to Stefan Edberg, a player with the closest game-style among the Open Era ranked leaders, Rafter didn’t possess such a fluid backhand. He couldn’t harm his opponents from the back of the court at all, but he was strong enough to keep the ball in play with quite high net clearance, waiting to implement the chip-and-charge strategy. Overall, I consider Tim Henman a technically better player than Rafter; yet, the Brit was unable to reach the Grand Slam final, while Rafter did it four times. One thing is to play at the same level for two-three hours a day; the other is to repeat it day by day for a week or two. Rafter was physically capable of doing this; Henman was not. The best exemplification of that is their fourth-round Aussie Open meeting in 2001. This match was very telling about how they both dealt with punishing conditions under the Melbourne Sun.
Career record: 358–191 [ 187 events ]
Career titles: 11
Highest ranking: No. 1
Best GS results:
Australian Open (semifinal 2001)
Roland Garros (semifinal 1997)
Wimbledon (runner-up 2000-01; semifinal 1999)
US Open (champion 1997-98)
Davis Cup champion 1999 (didn’t play in the final)
World Team Cup champion 1999 & 2001
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