My mind was wondering today and I wondered: which male player in the past 10 years had the most difficult path to Wimbledon victory? And conversely, who had it easiest? With apologies to the pigs from Animal Farm, all Wimbledon tournaments are difficult, but some are more difficult than others.
So I crunched the numbers and came up with the following theory.
Roger Federer had it tough in 2005, but Goran Ivanisevic probably did it toughest in 2001 while on paper Pete Sampras had it easiest in 2000, his 1999 victory was less troublesome.
En route to becoming champion in 2005, Federer, the defending champ and world number one, beat two top-five players, Lleyton Hewitt (No.2) in the semi-final and Andy Roddick (No.4) in the final, and did not face an opponent ranked outside the top 100.
A look at the opponents Ivanisevic beat to claim his crown make his achievements all more the remarkable. The Croatian beat two top-ten players, Pat Rafter (No.10) in the final and Marat Safin (No.3) in the quarters, plus No.11 Tim Henman in the semi-final. He faced just one opponent ranked over 40 – No.197 Fredik Jonsson in the first round. Ivanisevic played two five-set matches and three four-set matches and was on court for a total of 929 minutes – that’s over 15 hours.
Using the same rational as above, look at Sampras’s win in 2000. That year, Sampras, the world No.1 chasing his fourth straight title and seventh in total, did not face any player in the world’s top 20. His opponent in the final, Pat Rafter, was ranked No.21 while in the semi-final he beat Vladimir Voltchov, ranked 237. Rafter aside, Karol Kucera, ranked 44, was the only player in the world’s top 50 that Sampras had to beat on his way to the title. Yet he played four four-set matches and spent just six minutes fewer on court in total than Ivanisevic in 2001.
In 1999 Sampras won Wimbledon having spent just 692 minutes on court (a number greatly lowered because Mark Philippoussis retired hurt having won the first set in their quarter-final). That year, Sampras played four players with a ranking 75 or higher, including Britain’s Danny Sapsford, the world No. 595.
So Ivanisevic in 2001 did it toughest and Sampras in 1999 had the easiest run? Does that tally with your memory?