Feliciano Lopez turned pro in 1997, when players like Stefanos Tsitsipas, Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime weren’t even born—but he’s still fighting just as hard as any of them.
On Thursday, the 39-year-old Spaniard battled back from two sets to love down—even coming within two points from losing—against No. 31 seed Lorenzo Sonego in a three-hour, 18-minute grinder in the second round of the Australian Open, 5-7, 3-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4. Awaiting him in the third round will be red-hot No. 7 seed Andrey Rublev.
But let's stop for a moment to appreciate Lopez, who is no stranger to the five-setter. Here are five fantastic stats about the Iron Man of the majors:
1. He’s playing his 75th consecutive major, the longest streak of all time. It’s not just the men’s record, either—no woman has ever played that many in a row. He began the streak at Roland Garros in 2002.
2. He’s now won at least one five-setter at 21 of those major appearances. This was his fifth career comeback from two sets to love down, having previously done it against Guillermo Canas at Wimbledon in 2002, Franco Ferreiro at the French Open in 2009, Lukasz Kubot at Wimbledon in 2011 and Fabio Fognini at Wimbledon in 2016.
“I love the five-setters, honestly,” Lopez said on Thursday. “I think the five-set matches bring something different to tennis, especially when they go into the fifth set, sometimes you have big matches, and I honestly love them.
“I don’t know if they are the best given the circumstances that we have right now where most of the players, we haven’t played much in the last year, nearly one year and a half. This I don’t know. But I wouldn’t change the five-set matches in the Slams, honestly. I think if you ask about my opinion, I’ll keep it like this. I will still play best-of-five in the Slams. I think it’s something different.”
3. He’s making this run after having lost his last 15 sets at the Australian Open, coming into this year’s event. He’d exited in the opening round the last four years in a row, all of those losses coming in straight sets. It added to losing the last three sets of his 2016 campaign, when he fell to John Isner in the third round, 6-7 (8), 7-6 (5), 6-2, 6-4.
4. He’s creeping up on the men’s record for most Slams played, overall. Roger Federer holds that record with 79. The 2021 Australian Open is Lopez’s 76th overall major—before his streak of 75, he also played the 2001 French Open.
“I think I got killed in the first round by Carlos Moya, if I’m not wrong,” Lopez said when asked about his 2001 debut. “I qualified and I lost to him. He was my idol when I was growing up as a junior. Carlos was always someone I really admired when I started playing professionally. And for me it was like a gift to play against Carlos in the French Open. So nothing else to say about the match. I think he was a much better player than me. But this is my first memory from a Slam.”
5. He does have the longest active men’s streak of Australian Open appearances now, though. Federer played his 21st straight Australian Open last year, but his absence from the Happy Slam this year means that Lopez now has the longest current string of appearances here, this being his 19th.
Nestled between January's summer swing of tournaments in Australia, and March's Sunshine Double in the U.S., February can be overlooked in tennis. But not in 2021, with the Australian Open's temporary move to the second and shortest month of the calendar. Beyond that, February is Black History Month, and also a pivotal time for the sport in its rebound from the pandemic.
To commemorate this convergence of events, we're spotlighting one important story per day, all month long, in The 2/21. Set your clock to it: it will drop each afternoon, at 2:21 Eastern Standard Time (U.S.).