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Kyrgios' big debuts, Williamses in doubles—The 5 Most Underrated Stats
Plus: a record of Rafa's that didn't happen at Roland Garros; non-Nadal clay-court supremacy; Stan Wawrinka's singular ability to defeat No. 1s.
Published May 04, 2020
From career titles and winning streaks to ranking breakthroughs and in-match numbers, tennis is a stat-lover’s playground. And with so many big names achieving so many big things seemingly every week, many of the sport's most incredible stats are forgotten as time goes by—underrated, if you will.
As part of Underrated Week, here are five of the most underrated stats in tennis history:
5. Rafael Nadal’s Record Davis Cup Winning Streak
When Rafa’s name comes up in historical context, the conversation usually steers towards his 19 Grand Slams, his 12 French Opens, his Golden Slam or maybe even his record 35 Masters 1000 titles. But what’s gone under the radar is that he’s quietly putting together one of the longest Davis Cup winning streaks of all time.
Since losing his very first singles rubber as a 17-year-old in 2004 to Jiri Novak, Nadal has won 29 rubbers in a row, including 56 of his last 57 sets. It’s the third-longest singles winning streak in Davis Cup history, trailing only Bjorn Borg and Marcos Baghdatis, who reached 33 and 36, respectively. And, before you ask, 10 of those 29 victories came on hard courts.
When it comes to singles and doubles combined, Nadal already holds the record for the longest Davis Cup winning streak—he’s won his last 32 rubbers of any kind in a row, which includes 25 in singles and seven in doubles. His last overall loss in the competition came almost 15 years ago, on September 24, 2005, when Italy's Daniele Bracciali and Giorgio Galimberti edged Feliciano Lopez and Nadal, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2, 4-6, 9-7.
“Playing for Spain is always a special feeling,” Nadal said at the Davis Cup Finals last year. “I’ve shared a lot of great moments with a lot of good friends on the Spanish team during all these years.”
4. Chris Evert’s 125-Match Clay Court Winning Streak
With one of the most complete tennis resumes ever, Evert is usually associated with big-picture stats, such as her 18 Grand Slam titles or 260 career weeks at No. 1. But her 125-match winning streak on clay—the longest winning streak on a single surface in the Open Era, male or female—is something we will almost certainly never see again. She went undefeated on the surface for nearly six years, from August 12, 1973 to May 12, 1979, and dropped just eight sets in those 125 matches. The streak ended after a razor-thin 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (4) loss to Tracy Austin in the 1979 Rome semifinals.
And yet, Evert points to another player’s achievements on clay as even more impressive.
“I think what Rafa’s doing now is even better than what I did,” she said. “When I came on the scene in the 1970s there were two types of players: serve-and-volleyers and clay courters. And because three of the Grand Slams were on grass at the time, most top players served and volleyed. But I was raised on clay, and my style playing against a serve-and-volleyer on clay wasn’t as difficult.
“A lot of these tournaments I won against players who weren’t clay-courters. Nowadays all the players are excellent on every surface, so it would be a lot tougher in this day and age to duplicate what I did in the ‘70s.”
In terms of winning streaks across all surfaces, Evert’s chief rival, Martina Navratilova, holds that record: she won 74 consecutive matches in 1984, the longest winning streak in the Open Era, male or female. And between June 1983 and December 1984, Navratilova won an amazing 128 of 129 matches.
3. Stan Wawrinka’s 3-0 Record Against World No. 1s In Grand Slam Finals
Winning a Grand Slam title in the Big 3 era is impressive enough, and winning three of them is even more monumental. But what makes Wawrinka’s triumphs at the 2014 Australian Open, 2015 French Open and 2016 US Open worthy of this list is that he beat the reigning No. 1 in the final of all three tournaments: Nadal in Melbourne, and then Novak Djokovic in Paris and New York, respectively.
Wawrinka was asked about his perfect record against No. 1s after his third such victory.
“I think I take confidence every time I win a match,” he said. “In Grand Slams you play a best-of-five-set match every two days, so you have a little bit more time to make mistakes.
“I don’t play my best tennis in the first round, but I’m trying to improve each match, and every match I win in a Grand Slam I take confidence, and when I arrive at the final I know my game is there.”
The Swiss, who would lose his fourth and most recent Grand Slam final to a No. 4-ranked Nadal at the 2017 French Open, is 5-4 overall against No. 1s at majors, his other two wins coming against Andy Murray in the 2017 French Open semifinals, and against Djokovic in the fourth round of the 2019 US Open.
He’s had a lot more trouble against No. 1s away from majors, going 0-17.
2. Venus and Serena’s 14-0 Record In Grand Slam Doubles Finals
The Williams sisters have rewritten tennis history in countless ways, but there’s one stat that often gets lost in the mix: not only have they won 14 Grand Slam doubles titles together, but they’re a flawless 14-0 in Grand Slam doubles finals. It’s the greatest unbeaten record in Grand Slam finals across all disciplines, all-time, male or female.
The two were asked about the stat after the last major they won together, at Wimbledon in 2016.
“It’s not something you really think about—you just get to the final and try to win. But I don’t think it made us nervous. You’ve got time. If you get down a break, you always have time to get the break back. And you can always go to a third.”
They haven’t had to play many third sets either, at least not lately—four of their first six Grand Slam doubles finals went to three sets, but they’ve won their last eight in a row in straight sets.
Venus and Serena are also 3-0 in Olympic doubles finals, winning each final in straight sets.
1. Nick Kyrgios Winning His First Meeting Against Each Of The Big 3
Having victories over Roger Federer, Nadal and Djokovic is rare. Winning your first tour-level meeting against each of them? It's one of the rarest accomplishments in tennis. Only two players—Lleyton Hewitt and Kyrgios—have done it, according to our records, but for one of them in particular, the feat was Herculean.
When Hewitt won his first career meetings against the Big 3—against Federer at Lyon in 1999; against Nadal at the Australian Open in 2004; against Djokovic at the US Open in 2006—they only had one major quarterfinal between them, and at the time, none of them were ranked in the Top 20.
Kyrgios’ first meetings, though, were David versus Goliath-like encounters: when he beat Nadal at Wimbledon in 2014, the Spaniard was ranked No. 1 and a 14-time major champion; when he beat Federer in Madrid in 2015, the Swiss was ranked No. 2 and a 17-time major champion; and when he beat Djokovic in Acapulco in 2017, the Serb was No. 2 and a 12-time major winner.
“I guess that’s why you play the game, to play on these big courts against these big players,” Kyrgios said after his 6-7 (2), 7-6 (5), 7-6 (12) win over Federer in Madrid. “He’s the greatest of all time, no doubt, and when you’re growing up and playing and watching these guys, you want to go out there. That’s one thing I think about every time I step out against one of these guys on a court like that.”
“Obviously I knew Nick could play,” Federer said after the Madrid encounter. “He likes the big stage. He’s got nothing to lose, no fear, and he’s got a great game. No doubt about it, it was impressive.”
UNDERRATED TRAITS OF THE GREATS: Roger Federer—Winning ugly | Simona Halep—Boldness | Rafael Nadal—When to come to net | Sofia Kenin—Variety | Pete Sampras—Movement | Serena Williams—Plan B | Novak Djokovic—Forehand versatility | Chris Evert—Athleticism | Daniil Medvedev—Reading the room | Naomi Osaka—Return of serve
RANKINGS: The five most underrated tennis stats | The five most underrated No. 1s | The five most underrated Grand Slam runs
YOUR GAME: Why mental strength is underrated | Five underrated tennis tactics