Janko Tipsarević

Born: June 22, 1984 in Belgrade (Yugoslavia)
Height: 1.78 m
Plays: Right-handed (two-handed backhand)
Jанко Типсаревић… one of three representatives of the golden generation in Serbian tennis – much less successful than Novak Đoković, but notably better than Viktor Troicki. When all three, along with Nenad Zimonjić in doubles, secured the Davis Cup for Serbia in 2010, Tipsarević contributed three points in the entire edition, including two crucial ones in the semifinals against higher-ranked Czech opponents. However, Troicki, who scored one point less, replaced him in the final rubber and clinched the decisive victory. At the time, Tipsarević held a 3-0 head-to-head record against Michaël Llodra, making him a potential favorite in that rubber and a contender for the most important victory of his life. Nevertheless, the Davis Cup triumph, akin to Đoković’s experience, propelled him to another level: Đoković went on to become the best player in tennis history following the Belgrade success, while Tipsarević, previously known as a solid player participating in all major events and often seeded, achieved Top 10 status for two seasons, notably highlighted by thrilling US Open quarterfinal in 2012 (where he led 4:1, 30/0 in the fifth set against David Ferrer). It makes Tipsarević a bit special that with only four titles (Stuttgart on clay the biggest), and a lack of Masters 1K final (his best results comes from Madrid ’12 as he ousted his friend in the quarterfinal) or Grand Slam semifinal, he finished two consecutive years as No. 9, and played in “Masters” twice thanks to withdrawal of higher ranked players.
He was the first player in history with many visible tattoos (both arms and shoulder blades), one of them quoting the famous 19th-century Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky: «Красота спасёт мир» (Beauty will save the world), yet inked in Japanese kanji 美は世界を救う. Apart from the tattoos, also his plastic eyeglasses made him to look futuristically. Between 2014 and 2017, Tipsarević underwent seven surgeries: two on his left foot, two on his right knee, and two on each hamstring. Due to these injuries, he did not compete at all in 2014 and 2018. Known for his strong serve (given his modest height), with flat strokes off both wings, Tipsarević, when in form during matches in the mentioned period of his Top 10 status, was capable of hitting impressive winners with higher frequency than most.
Trivia: at the Australian Open ’11, he lost a five-setter to Fernando Verdasco despite leading two-sets-to-love and squandering three match points in the fourth set. A similar situation seemed to unfold at Roland Garros two years later when Verdasco came back from 0-2 again, saving two match points in 4th; however, “Tipsy” ultimately prevailed 8-6 in the decider.
“During my injuries there were definitely some serious mental problems I was dealing with, you can even use the term depression to describe how I felt. Dealing with all the ups and downs, doctors and opinions, you just become fucking insane from not knowing what to do.” he reflected on his career. Certainly he had a syndrome of hypochondria, often withdrawing from matches even when his physical condition appeared relatively fine; he holds a high ranking among players with the most retirements/walkovers – a total of 26 times.
Career record: 288-257 [ 245 events ]
Career titles: 4
Highest ranking: No. 8
Best GS results:
US Open (quarterfinal 2011-12)
Davis Cup champion 2010
World Team Cup champion 2009
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Aaron Krickstein

Born: August 2, 1967 in Ann Arbor (Michigan)
Height: 1.83 m
Plays: Right-handed (two-handed backhand)
One of two prodigies of American tennis in the mid 80s along with three years older Jimmy Arias (they were the first famous pupils of Nick Bollettieri‘s academy in Bradenton). He became the youngest player to win a main-level title at the age of 16 years 2 months in Tel Aviv ’83 – an intriguing feat given his Jewish heritage. Krickstein also set a record for being the youngest player ever to break into the top 10, achieving this milestone at the age of exactly 17; a few months earlier he reached the final in Rome, where he faced Andrés Gómez and lost in four sets. Following this final, Gómez became Krickstein’s most frequent opponent, winning all eight of their subsequent meetings between 1984 and 1986.
The playing style of the Ecuadorian certainly didn’t complement Krickstein’s game, but the US teenager also faced a big challenge in other left-handed, and much older foe – Jimmy Connors. Connors, a legend of American tennis, handed Krickstein a double bagel in their first encounter in 1984. This mental edge perhaps proved pivotal in their iconic five-set match at the US Open ’91, where the 38-year-old Connors emerged victorious despite Krickstein’s impressive five-set record. “After I won the first few of those, it really boosted my confidence in the other matches where I got down 0-2,” Krickstein said in 1995 about his unique ability to win matches from two-sets-to-love down (he did it ten times, a record for many years). “When I’m down like that, it seems like I start going for my shots more. Like I’ve got nothing to lose. The only time I really got tight in a fifth set was in that match at the U.S. Open against Connors.”
Krickstein’s style was that of a counter-puncher, capable of frustrating a great player like Stefan Edberg, with precise top-spin passing-shots and lobs off both wings. They played three dramatic five-setters against each other, and Krickstein always left the court as a victor, even when there was a big gap in their ranking positions, in Melbourne ’95. However, he found it challenging to overcome more powerful serve-and-volleyers like Boris Becker or Pete Sampras (lost twice to him blowing match points). As Connors and John McEnroe neared the end of their greatness, Krickstein became America’s brightest hope in the mid 80s. His ability to win five-set matches was commendable (28-9 record in the end), but the toll of prolonged matches on his body eventually halted his progress.
Injuries plagued him in the mid-80s, including knee and wrist problems, as well as a car accident in 1987 that left him with two broken ribs and sidelined for six months. “I had to start all over again psychologically,” Krickstein said about his attempt to recreate his successful career at the beginning of 1988. He came back with a modified service motion, a headband, and within two years, he returned to the Top 10, advancing to his first Grand Slam semifinal (the second would occur six year later), and making his only appearance at the ‘Masters’ tournament, albeit unsuccessfully. In the early 90s injuries haunted him again (the most serious was a broken bone in his left foot, August ’92).
The “Marathon Man” certainly could have achieved better results at majors as well as triumphing in a very prestigious event (let’s say ‘Mercedes Super 9’). His most significant title – from financial point of view – is not listed in his official résumé. It occurred in Antwerp ’91, a year before the event gained ATP status, when the prize money reached a historic high of $1,250,000. Krickstein was typically most effective on hardcourts, but in Autumn ’91, he showcased his best tennis on carpet. He first reached the Stockholm semifinals, defeating specialists of this surface, Michael Stich and Goran Ivanišević, before heading to Belgium, where he dominated four opponents. In the final, he was slated to face Becker, whom had never been defeated before, but unfortunately, the German withdrew due to flu. Krickstein received $250,000, his largest pay-check. A few months later, they crossed paths in Monte Carlo, where Krickstein defeated Becker (6-1, 6-4) for the only time in their eight encounters, and advanced to the final – his biggest one since Rome ’84. He had a similar experience with Ivan Lendl, managing just one victory over the Czech in their eight meetings (Tokyo ’90).
Krickstein’s energetic game-style, which demanded a lot of side running on the baseline because he was deprived of big strokes (he was an ultra defensive player among those 5’11” or taller), coupled with his penchant for long matches and numerous injuries, led to his premature retirement at the age of 28. He ended his career with 12 consecutive defeats, the last occurring at Key Biscayne ’96 against Wojtek Kowalski – the top Polish player of the late 80s/early 90s – who never broke into the Top 100… he was also near to finish his career when defeated Krickstein.
Career record: 395–256 [ 260 events ]
Career titles: 9
Highest ranking: No. 6
Best GS results:
Australian Open (semifinal 1995)
US Open (semifinal 1989; quarterfinal 1988 & 90)
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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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Karel Nováček

Born: March 30, 1965 in Prostějov (Moravia)
Height: 1.90 m
Plays: Right-handed
One of the biggest malcontents on the tour. Discontent with everything surrounding him from the first points of a match. Grimaces, throwing rackets (once even towards the umpire!), jeering at the linespersons. I’m not sure he was like that already as a young player or off the court; the negative aspects I write about him are what I remember from watching his matches in the 90s, what I noted about him at the time he was active. Dangerous – tennis-wise – mainly on clay courts. He showed his potential for the first time in 1986, triumphing in Washington (on clay at the time!) as a player ranked No. 110. En route to the title, he defeated six players, four of whom were clay-court specialists. He had to wait until 1991 for his best season – that year he won four titles (three of those finals against Magnus Gustafsson, the biggest one occurred in Hamburg). That year he shared the court five times with Gustafsson, losing to him inter alia in the French Open first round. They were both Top 20 players then, both could count on going far in Paris, so it was a very brutal first-round match-up, impossible after the change of rules for seeded players (in 2001). For a few years Nováček had a status of one of the best players who had never reached a major semifinal.
His third quarterfinal opportunity came not in Paris, but in New York ’94. I had never seen Nováček before being so calm, as he convinced himself that only utter focus would guarantee him a win over Jaime Yzaga. The Czech player kept his composure after squandering chances to win that match much more quickly: he wasted six set points from leading 5:2* in the 2nd set, and a 5:4* (30/0) lead in the 4th set. Nováček fired career-best 28 aces and ultimately left the court as a winner 6-2, 6-7, 6-1, 5-7, 6-3. “It was the dream destination to break the quarterfinals of the Grand Slams, and I am endlessly happy that I did it today,” Nováček said. “I won 13 tournaments. I have been playing Davis Cup. I have been playing Masters. I have been playing everything that basically exists in tennis, but I never went to play in the semifinals of Grand Slams.” Earlier, in the third round, he’d survived a rare match withstanding match points in sets 3 and 5 (Todd Woodbridge). In the semifinal, he lost in straights to Michael Stich, a player whom Nováček beat in straights a few months later in Melbourne, so in retrospect, he can think that a major final was really within his grasp. Following the Australian Open ’95, he was losing almost everything and decided to retire at the age of 31.
Similarly to his team colleague Petr Korda from the Czechoslovakian times, Nováček had all strokes very classical, but he lacked Korda’s finesse. At the time they were both at their peaks (early 90s), their older compatriot Ivan Lendl wasn’t interested in representing Czechoslovakia anymore; he was applying for US citizenship. It’s a pity for Czechoslovak tennis because in the years 1991-93, with the still fit Lendl on the board, and good young doubles players like Daniel Vacek (alert: different pronunciation than “váček”… the /tʃ/ vs /ts/ distinction) and Martin Damm, Korda and Nováček could have had a big chance to triumph in the Davis Cup (they lost in the quarterfinals those years, to Yugoslavia, USA & Germany respectively) as well as in the World Team Cup (they played the ’92 final against Spain).
Trivia: Nováček [48] was in sensational form at Roland Garros ’87, dropping just four games in his first eight sets of the tournament (!), against average players nonetheless: Dutchman Tom Nijssen 6-2, 6-1, 6-0; “triple bagel” against Eduardo Bengoechea of Argentina; and Eric Winogradsky of France 6-1, 6-0, 2-6, 6-4. In the quarterfinal he lost to fellow Czechoslovak.
Career record: 299245 [ 242 events ]
Career titles: 13
Highest ranking: No. 8
Best GS results:
Roland Garros (quarterfinal 1987, 1993)
US Open (semifinal 1994)
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Magnus Larsson

Born: March 25, 1970 in Olofström (Blekinge)
Height: 1.95 m
Plays: Right-handed (two-handed backhand)
A highly skilled player known for his unconventional choices on the court, Larsson, similarly to other distinctive, very tall players born in 1970 (Marc Rosset and Richard Fromberg) possessed two significant assets: serve and forehand. In 1991, he showcased his potential by defeating the top two players in the world at that time, Boris Becker in Adelaide and Stefan Edberg in Monte Carlo, both in deciding third-set tie-breaks (he would defeat Becker again – in New York – to reach his first major quarterfinal). Excelling in winning deciding tie-breaks was a hallmark of his early years on the tour; however, his streak ended in Estoril ’93 when he lost to Karel Nováček, marking his first defeat after twelve (!) consecutive tie-break victories in decisive sets at the main level.
Larsson was a formidable threat to the best players of the early ’90s but had to wait until 1994 for his breakthrough moment. His journey to the French Open semifinal was punctuated by an incredible match against the tournament sensation Hendrik Dreekmann, in which Larsson saved six match points in the third set. This breakthrough allowed him a berth in the season-ending “Grand Slam Cup” in München, where he experienced his most memorable tournament. Following his contributions to Sweden’s Davis Cup victory against Russia, Larsson triumphed over two of the decade’s best players, Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras, along with other top-tier competitors like Edberg and Todd Martin, earning a remarkable $1.625 million for his four-match performance. Due to this success, concerns arose that he might lose motivation, akin to David Wheaton‘s situation three years before.
In 1995, Larsson continued to perform well (at the time he had three times defeated Thomas Muster, who was in amazing form) positioning himself strongly for a “Masters” appearance until an unfortunate incident on June 15th drastically changed his trajectory. During an exhibition match against Jan Gunnarsson in Sweden, he suffered a broken leg, sidelining him for almost six months and causing a decline in his ranking. Despite returning to professional play for another eight years, his movement was somewhat restricted post-injury. Larsson remained a dangerous competitor mainly indoors, relying on a diverse serve (great angle at slice serve on deuce court) and a powerful forehand struck effortlessly.
After a six-year title drought, he secured his last ATP championship in Memphis ’00. A glimpse of a career resurgence emerged when he reached the Copenhagen final the following week, notably defeating a teenage Roger Federer 6-3, 7-6(6), from a 1:6 deficit in a tie-break. However, a recurrence of his broken leg necessitated surgery on his right knee on August 14, 2000, leading to nearly a year away from competitive tennis. His final period from 2001 to 2002 marked a gradual decline, culminating in an impressive performance in his last major (Australian Open ’03), taking the favorite for the title, Lleyton Hewitt, to five sets. Larsson comes from Olofström, an industrial town of only 7K inhabitants, yet the town known for the automotive industry, produced two Grand Slam semifinalists, the first was Gunnarsson as he reached the Aussie Open ’89 semifinal.
Career record: 310-221 [ 225 events ]
Career titles: 7
Highest ranking: No. 10
Best GS results:
Roland Garros (semifinal 1994)
US Open (quarterfinalist 1993, 97 & 98)
Davis Cup champion 1994 & 1997
World Team Cup champion 1995
Grand Slam Cup champion 1994
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Tommy Haas

Born: April 3, 1978 in Hamburg
Height: 1.88 m
Plays: Right-handed
Began playing at age 4 with his Austrian father (“haas” is a Dutch word, means ‘hare’), Peter, who is a former European champion in judo and an ex-schoolmate of actor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Haas’ career is one of the longest (21 years at the main level) & strangest, interrupted as many as four times by long breaks, even six times if we count his junior career. Haas’ potential was noted by tennis guru Nick Bollettieri. The US coach was so impressed by the young German’s talent that he offered Haas the chance to stay and train at his Bollettieri Academy in Bradenton, for free. Haas began attending at age 11. At 13, speaking little English, Haas moved full-time to Florida to train at the academy along with his older sister Sabine. Two years later, he appeared on the ATP ranking thanks to some points obtained in American Satellites.
In January ’95, Haas broke his leg and didn’t play for four months at all. When he came back, he had to modify his plans, and instead of attacking bigger events (Challengers & ATP), he continued his junior career, achieving the best result at the end of the year when he lost the Orange Bowl final to Mariano Zabaleta, coming back from another injury which prevented him for playing several months. First attempts to enter the ATP events (progressing through qualifications) weren’t successful, and Haas decided to play his farewell junior event (Roland Garros, quarterfinal). Afterward, as an unranked player, he debuted – thanks to a ‘wild card’ – in a Challenger in Weiden and advanced to the final, defeating players with ATP experience. It boosted his confidence, and when he got a ‘wild card’ to his first main-level event in Indianapolis, he reached the quarterfinal, being stopped by the best in the world – Pete Sampras.
A few months later, they met again, and Haas easily took a set in Basel (4-6, 6-2, 3-6). Then it was quite obvious that he’d be a Top 10 player soon. Bollettieri said that Haas was the most gifted player he had ever trained. Indeed, the young German sometimes was playing like “unbeatable Roger Federer” many years later: a very good serve, great movement, equal easiness to hit the ball off both wings, amazing backhand… attacks to the net? – no problem after the serve and during rallies with different approach-shots. When they met in the Aussie Open ’02 it seemed their technical skills were at the same level. The big problem was consistency, something that was bothering the young Andre Agassi (albeit the teenage Agassi achieved much more than the young Haas) – if Haas had had a good day in the years 1997-98, he would have easily won; if things didn’t go his way, he complained, mixing English & German, was throwing his racquets & losing quickly. He was almost deprived of really dramatic matches in the first two years of his career.
Another two years finally delivered complex matches. Haas reached the Australian Open ’99 semifinal & obtained an Olympic silver medal in Sydney ’00, on both occasions being beaten by Yevgeny Kafelnikov. It seems the end of 2001 brought the best version of Haas, and he would be able to fulfill expectations. Between Long Island ’01 and the Australian Open ’02, he was actually the hottest player on the tour, winning 29 out of 34 matches (three titles, including the biggest in his career, Stuttgart indoors) – it meant more wins than notched the best player at the time – Lleyton Hewitt. That fantastic streak was soon reflected in the ranking. Haas became No. 2 in the world in May 2002 (after the final in Rome), and there are two curiosities connected to that year proving Haas’ weird career: despite being No. 2, he didn’t play the “Masters,” neither that year (one match in Paris separated him from that) nor in the future – no other player ranked so high, never participated in the season-ending championships. The second curiosity – he underwent right rotator cuff surgery in New York on Dec. 20, 2002, which caused the first of his four long breaks (2003, 2010/11, 2014/15 and 2016 – each time he missed ten months at least).
In 2003, he didn’t play at all, another time sidelined for a year he was between the seasons 2010-11 as he underwent right hip surgery on Feb. 21, 2010, and one month later underwent right elbow surgery (at the time he had an abysmal 3-12 record); the third long break as a pro it’s a period between May 2014 and June 2015 (arthroscopic surgery on right shoulder again), finally, the fourth break, the longest in his career, occurred in the entire 2016 as on April 13 that year, he underwent the ninth surgery of his career to repair a torn ligament in his right foot! He was sidelined for fifteen months. As a 39-year-old father of two daughters, he came back one more time in 2017 to play his farewell season, losing more often than winning, but in Stuttgart as No. 302 he stunned 36 y.o. Federer [5], saving a match point, in the oldest ATP match since the 1981 Brisbane 1R (46 y.o. Mal Anderson defeated 28 y.o. Jim Delaney), thus 75 years combined beat 74… Haas was an all-court player, capable of playing well on each surface. There’s one interesting thing about his five-setters: no other player in the Open Era has won so many 5-set matches being 1 or 2 points away from defeat. The German won six five-setters saving match points (out of twelve matches of this type he won), including one of the most amazing matches in history at Roland Garros 2013 when he ousted John Isner, having wasted twelve match points in the 4th set (nine at 6:5!)… then he saved 1 MP at *4:5 in the 5th set, earlier trailing 0:3 (30-all). If he had lost that match, it would have been the record of match points wasted before a loss. Besides six “best of 5” MP-down wins, he also won thrice in five-setters being two points away from defeats.
Career record: 569–338 [ 348 events ]
Career titles: 15
Highest ranking: No. 2
Best GS results:
Australian Open (semifinal 1999, 02, 07)
Roland Garros (quarterfinal 2013)
Wimbledon (semifinal 2009)
US Open (quarterfinal 2004, 06, 07)
Silver medal at Olympics in Sydney 2000
World Team Cup champion 1998 and 2005
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Carlos Moyá Llompart

Born: August 27, 1976 in Palma (Majorca)
Height: 1.88 m
Plays: Right-handed (two-handed backhand)
Moyá left the tennis circuit in the shadows, which is unfortunate because he considerably contributed to modern tennis. I wish he hadn’t announced his retirement at the end of 2008 or followed the path of other notable players like Stefan Edberg, Marat Safin, or Patrick Rafter, who opted for a farewell season. In the last two years of his career, during the struggle with a foot injury, Moyá was practically non-existent at the main level, with only ten tournaments and four wins.
Considering that he had already won a major title and reached a final of the other at the age of twenty-one, one might say he finished his career as an underachiever. On the other hand, who could have expected in 1996 that this 20-year-old long-haired clay-courter would become the No. 1 player in the world one day in March ’99? Above all, he exemplified a player who maximally adjusted his game-style to his abilities. Sometimes it was almost ridiculous how he played forehands from the backhand side, but somehow it worked very efficiently thanks to his brilliant footwork.
While his forehand alone wouldn’t have achieved so much, he was a big server at times and a very clever volleyer. He used his net skills on faster surfaces wisely, in some sense beginning a new era in Spanish tennis. Before Moyá, every Spanish player was synonymous with a clay-court specialist. He achieved a lot on hardcourts and indoors but never adjusted his game to grass. I think it’s more a matter of his return games because he simply didn’t have time to prepare himself properly for powerful forehand shots from his left side.
The alleged clay-courter Moyá built his name by defeating Boris Becker twice within a few months on two different surfaces. First, he did it in Paris-Bercy ’96 (2R, carpet!), then in the Australian Open ’97 first round. The second victory over the defending champion on Australia’s main tennis arena had a significant impact on the rest of Moya’s career. “Playing against him gives me extra motivation,” admitted Moyá. “Becker is one of the greatest players in tennis history.” Suddenly, he became a fan favorite, especially for teenagers, with his oversized Nike clothes, headband, and Babolat racquet – he definitely helped popularize the brand, which had been primarily known for strings before.
Expectations were high since the second round, and he rose to the challenge, advancing to the final where he received a lesson from Pete Sampras. There was a big gap between them, as Moyá admitted, but already ten months later, he defeated the American in Hannover (Masters). When Moyá advanced to No. 1 in March 1999, he surpassed Sampras on the top spot. He held the top spot for two weeks (only Rafter has had a shorter reign among the 28 ATP ranking leaders of the Open Era). “I always believed that winning a Grand Slam was the best thing that could happen to you. But this [being No. 1] surpassed that. There were a lot of players that wanted to dethrone Sampras. There was pressure. And for me, it was the only chance.”
Trivia: Moyá is a record-holder for the most consecutive wins when a deciding third set tie-break was required. He won 17 matches of this kind in a row in the years 2002-08 before losing 7-6, 6-7, 6-7 to his protégé Rafael Nadal, in what was then a record-tying three-setter in terms of duration. For the past few years, Moyá has been Nadal’s coach. Nadal on his fellow Mallorcan said: “Moyá was a pioneer in this sport. He deserves everybody’s recognition. He has done very significant things in the world of tennis. He was No. 1 in the world, a difficult thing to achieve, won the biggest tournaments… He has contributed greatly to Spanish sport.” Indeed, Moyá secured the Davis Cup trophy for the country from the Iberian peninsula in 2004.
Career record: 575–319 [ 326 events ]
Career titles: 20
Highest ranking: No. 1
Best GS results:
Australian Open (runner-up 1997; quarterfinal 2001)
Roland Garros (champion 1998; quarterfinal 2003-04 & 07)
US Open (semifinal 1998; quarterfinal 2007)
Davis Cup champion 2004
Masters runner-up 1998
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Lleyton Hewitt

Born: February 24, 1981 in Adelaide (South Australia)
Height: 1.78 m
Plays: Right-handed (two-handed backhand)
I distinctly recall the moment I read in the newspaper about Hewitt’s victory over Andre Agassi in the Adelaide ’98 semifinal. At that instant, I thought he would ascend to become the best player in the world – a prediction that came true, albeit without the decade-long dominance I anticipated. He was just shy of 17, ranked at 550, and secured his place in the event through a ‘wild card’ entry. Although Agassi was recuperating from a notably poor 1997 season, during which he suffered a significant drop in rankings, his name alone could be intimidating for a kid. Thus, when this inexperienced Aussie teenager triumphed in two tie-breaks (repeated it in San Jose ’02 in much more dramatic encounter) against a player who had firmly established himself as the second-best of the ’90s, I foresaw remarkable achievements in Hewitt’s future.
The following day, Hewitt navigated a tense match against his future coach, Jason Stoltenberg, becoming the lowest-ranked champion in ATP history (the third youngest, following Aaron Krickstein and Michael Chang). Hewitt’s career unfolded in two phases: a period when he was a top-tier player, the standout in the first half of the 2000s, and a later phase comprised of ten years when his momentum waned, leading him to countless five-setters against inferior opponents (32-25 record in the end… began with 0-3, finished with 0-6).
Contemplating why the Australian, lacking a dominant shot, was exceptionally successful at a young age (two major titles: US Open and Wimbledon and two “Masters’ titles 2001 / 02), I believe two factors were pivotal:
– at that time, serve-and-volley players still held sway in men’s tennis, albeit declining, and Hewitt found a winning formula against them;
– Hewitt matured earlier than the more naturally gifted players born in the early ’80s (Roger Federer, Andy Roddick, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Marat Safin… none of whom achieved impressive results as teenagers)
Drawing a parallel between Hewitt and another legendary champion, Jimmy Connors comes to mind. Like the American icon, Hewitt played with flat strokes, wasn’t naturally inclined to serve-and-volley, but in line with Australian tradition, regularly engaged in doubles, allowing him to confidently approach the net during rallies. Another similarity lies in their incredible competitiveness – they’re the kind of players who leave everything on the court, relentlessly fighting until the last point, utilizing every legal tactic to mentally intimidate opponents.
Hewitt’s records against serve-and-volleyers a decade his senior in the early 2000s were significant: 9-1 against Tim Henman, 5-4 versus Pete Sampras, 4-3 facing Greg Rusedski, 3-1 against Patrick Rafter, Mark Philippoussis and Todd Martin, 3-0 versus Goran Ivanišević, and 1-0 against Richard Krajicek. These records underscore his phenomenal reflexes, the ability to maintain a solid return against opponents who earned numerous points directly behind their serves, compelling them into volleys and exploiting opportunities with passing-shots or lobs – Hewitt’s distinctive strokes, particularly effective against attackers but less advantageous against defensive players.
One of these grinders, Tommy Robredo, defeated Hewitt in five sets at the French Open ’03 (it was followed by a shocking loss to Ivo Karlović at Wimbledon), marking the beginning of the end of Hewitt’s reign in men’s tennis. The early 2000s witnessed a notable transformation in tennis dynamics: the introduction of improved racquets empowered players to generate more topspin and craft tighter angles in their game, thus the serve-and-volley technique declined in popularity while an increasing number of players adopted double-handed backhands. This period saw a strategic shift towards patiently waiting for an opponent’s error or seizing opportunities to attack with groundstrokes. It became evident that Hewitt’s energetic style wasn’t as effective against the diverse range of baseliners dominating the scene. The shift in tactics was particularly highlighted in Hewitt’s rivalry with Federer. Initially, the Australian held a 7:2 advantage in their meetings. However, when the Swiss opted to alter his strategy, the change in approach led him to winning 15 consecutive matches, starting with their Australian Open ’04 encounter. Hewitt’s dominance on the men’s tour, initiated with his US Open ’01 triumph when he dismantled Sampras’ potent serve like no one before on hard courts, endured for approximately two more years. “He returned and passed about as well as anyone I’ve ever played,” remarked the 14-time Slam champion. “He’s got the best return and the best wheels in the game.”
Throughout his peak years, Hewitt’s serve was also formidable; he took significant risks with his second serves, perhaps more than any other player of his stature. I think he enjoyed a beautiful career given his technical skills, and it would have been thoroughly fulfilled if he had won the Australian Open once. For some strange reasons, he was playing below expectations in his home Slam, surpassing the fourth round only once in twenty appearances; it happened in 2005 when he had an exceptionally tough route to the final and ran out of gas facing Safin.
Career record: 616–262 [ 271 events ]
Career titles: 30
Highest ranking: No. 1
Best GS results:
Australian Open (runner-up 2005)
Roland Garros (quarterfinal 2001 & 2004)
Wimbledon (champion 2002; semifinal 2005; quarterfinal 2004, 06 & 09)
US Open (champion 2001; runner-up 04; semifinal 2000, 02; quarterfinal 2003 & 06)
Davis Cup champion 1999 & 2003 (in both editions he highly contributed as a singles player)
Masters champion 2001-02
World Team Cup champion 2001
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Marcos Baghdatis

Born: June 17, 1985 in Paramytha (Limassol)
Height: 1.79 m
Plays: Right-handed (two-handed backhand)
Μάρκος Παγδατής developed his tennis talent in France, where he moved from Cyprus as a 12-year-old boy. However, his career highlights were closely connected to the Australian Open, where he consistently enjoyed the strong support of the Greek diaspora. Hailing from the southern part of the island, which is a Greek speaking area, while northern belongs to Turkey, Παγδατής made a name for himself in the tennis world of the mid 00s and he’s the best Cypriot player in history by a country mile (an enormous 47-4 record in the Davis Cup, but it shouldn’t be treated super seriously as he never took part in a tie of Group One which I estimate as the Challenger level… among those 47 wins there are only 2 against an equal opposition, both against Jarkko Nieminen).
His first appearance Down Under was in 2005 (he’d claimed a junior title there in 2003) when, as the 155th-ranked qualifier, he surprised everyone by defeating two seeded opponents. One year later, he made significant progress, reaching the final (defeated by Roger Federer) which puts him in a similar category with Mikael Pernfors, Martin Verkerk and Mariano Puerta, so unseeded players who advanced to a Grand Slam final not having played a quarterfinal before, marking career-best achievement. Along the way, he outlasted three higher-ranked opponents in five-setters (including quarterfinal and semifinal – another resemblance to Puerta’s case), displaying resilience and fantastic interactions with the crowd. However, the fifth set wasn’t his strong suit overall, as he concluded his career with a 14-10 record (9-2 in Melbourne). One of his most memorable five-set encounters occurred at the Australian Open ’08 when he lost a 4:43-hour thriller to Lleyton Hewitt, marking the latest finish in Melbourne at 4:33 a.m., despite a comeback from 1:5 in the 4th set. In the first two rounds, the Cypriot had defeated the finalists of 2002.
His appearance in Melbourne in ’09 marked the only time he shaved his head throughout his career. One year later, he stunned David Ferrer, then considered one of the best five-set specialists, in the second round. It was the biggest comeback of his career, trailing 4-6, 3-6, 3:4 on return. The Australian Open ’12 showcased a different side of Baghdatis; always cheerful and smiling, yet occasionally throwing his equipment, facing Stan Wawrinka for the first time, he demonstrated unprecedented anger, smashing four racquets in just one minute during a change of ends! “I cannot have any regrets. Maybe the only regret I have is the message I gave by breaking those four racquets in Australia to the young fans,” he admitted a few years later after retirement. I consider him an underachiever. In spite of his modest height, his serve was a significant weapon at times, and his ground-strokes off both wings were exceptionally fluid. Moreover, he moved around the court with ease, and his heart-on-hand attitude always helped him garner support from the spectators. Nonetheless, as one commentator pointed out, “he loves women, wine, & singing” – with this free-spirited attitude, it’s not easy to maintain a consistently high level of play week by week for eleven months a year.
Trivia: he defeated all the best players born in the 80s he faced, except Novak Đoković (0-8 Head-to-Head), but came very close to doing so at Wimbledon ’07 when succumbed a five hour epic being within a few points to win each set he lost. Baghdatis had overcome the two-years-younger Serb (6-2, 2-6, 7-5) when they faced each other for the only time as juniors in 2002.
Career record: 349-274 [ 278 events ]
Career titles: 4
Highest ranking: No. 8
Best GS results:
Australian Open (runner-up 2006)
Wimbledon (semifinal 2006; quarterfinal 2007)
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Mariano Puerta

Born: September 19, 1978 in Córdoba (Sierras Pampeanas)
Height: 1.76 m
Plays: Left-handed
Part of an intriguing generation of South American players emerging on the tennis circuit in the late ’90s, the infamous Argentinian wasn’t as naturally gifted as his counterparts like Chilean Marcelo Ríos, Brazilian Gustavo Kuerten, or Ecuadorian Nicolas Lapentti. Nevertheless, Puerta solidified his status as a regular ATP player after Wimbledon ’98 and was seen as a potential future top Argentinian player among the likes of Mariano Zabaleta, Franco Squillari, and Guillermo Cañas.
The year 2000 proved pivotal for Puerta. He had a highly successful Latin America swing, securing finals in Mexico City and Santiago, and ultimately claiming the Bogotá title despite facing a match point down against Kuerten in the semifinal. However, his progress halted in 2001 due to a left wrist (ligaments) surgery in January, causing him to miss almost five months, and playing poorly after the comeback. Later, he served a nine-month suspension after testing positive for clenbuterol at Viña del Mar in February 2003.
It seemed Puerta’s career was in jeopardy. His ranking plummeted to No. 440, and he grappled with weight gain. Yet, in October ’04, he participated in and won a Futures event in Chile; it activated an inspiring resurgence from a player once eyeing the Top 10. A little over six months since playing in an obscure Chilean court, Puerta displayed outstanding tennis on Centre Court in Paris. The Argentinian showcased remarkable clay-court prowess, defeating formidable opponents like Cañas (quarterfinal) and Nikolay Davydenko (semifinal) in similar five-setters. His play was characterized not only by colossal forehand winners but also by incredible dives, a rarity on clay courts. In the opening set of the final, he performed exceptional tennis against Rafael Nadal, who claimed his maiden French Open title though, but had to give his all to avoid a decider.
Unfortunately, Puerta faced another accusation of using illegal substances, this time the cardiac stimulant etilefrine. Consequently, in December 2005, having lost six straight matches at the main-level (three at “Masters” included), he received an eight-year suspension as a recidivist, the longest in tennis history at that time, effectively terminating his professional career. However, this suspension was later reduced on appeal, permitting Puerta to return in 2007.
Puerta had to forfeit all his ranking points and prize money from the 2005 French Open onwards. However, his finish as a finalist at the 2005 French Open was allowed to remain on the record books. In June 2007, after a 1.5-year hiatus, Puerta embarked on an unsuccessful comeback. Despite climbing back to the Top 300, ATP event officials were uninterested in offering him ‘wild cards’. After two years competing at the Challenger level (193-121 record at this level throughout career, ten titles), the forgotten Puerta decided to retire at the age of 31.
Career record: 128–118 [ 117 events ]
Career titles: 3
Highest ranking: No. 9
Best GS result:
Roland Garros (runner-up 2005)
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