Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Patrick Rafter: A One-Hit Wonder?

In the world of music, we hear the term "one-hit wonder" get thrown around a lot. As we all know, these are artists, whose claim to fame is, they've had one hit song and then disappeared into obscurity. Many artists have become iconic because of this uncanny distinction. The band Soft Cell with their one hit "Tainted Love" comes to mind. But anyway--

If we were to apply this to the world of tennis-- this honor, undoubtedly, belongs to the pony-tailed Australian extraordinaire, Patrick Rafter.

Rafter (a.), played a relatively short career on the ATP tour, from 1991-2001. His most prized accomplishment was winning back-to-back U.S. Open titles in 1997 and 1998. He also reached the Wimbledon finals in 2000 and 2001, falling short both times. So why is Rafter a one-hit wonder if he has two grand slam titles under his belt? Andy Roddick, for example, only has one (2003 U.S. Open) grand slam title and past greats like Michael Chang (1989 French Open) and Thomas Muster (1995 French Open), also have only one.

What makes Rafter a unique one-hit wonder, in my book is-- he's the only player in tennis history to hold the number one ranking for just one week. As we all know, in tennis, the #1 ranking is judged on a weekly basis. For example, Roger Federer (b.) has been #1 for a total of 246 weeks, including a record 237 straight weeks. Rafael Nadal (b.) has held the #1 ranking for 46 total weeks. The record, currently, belongs to Pete Sampras (b.), who during his illustrious career held the #1 ranking for 286 total weeks.

When Rafter won his first U.S. Open, John McEnroe-- who won 7 Grand Slams and held the #1 ranking for 170 total weeks-- called Rafter a "one-slam wonder." Of course, Rafter proved him wrong by winning a second U.S. Open the following year. What McEnroe didn't foresee, was Rafter's unique record of holding the #1 ranking for a total of one week.

Here are the players who have held the #1 ranking in the Open Era:

Player Weeks No. 1
Pete Sampras (USA) 286
Ivan Lendl (CZE) 270
Jimmy Connors (USA) 268
Roger Federer (SWI) 246
John McEnroe (USA) 170
Bjorn Borg(SWE) 109
Andre Agassi (USA) 100
Lleyton Hewitt (AUS) 80
Stefan Edberg (SWE) 72
Jim Courier (USA) 58
Rafael Nadal (ESP) 46
Gustavo Kuerten (BRA) 43
Ilie Nastase (ROM) 40
Mats Wilander (SWE) 20
Andy Roddick (USA) 13
Boris Becker (GER) 12
Marat Safin (RUS) 9
Juan Carlos Ferrero (ESP) 8
John Newcombe (AUS) 8
Yevgeny Kafelnikov (RUS) 6
Thomas Muster (AUT) 6
Marcelo Rios (CHI) 6
Carlos Moya (ESP) 2
Patrick Rafter (AUS) 1

It's important to note that this phenomena usually occurs during a stretch of time when there are no clear dominant players. For example, 1998-1999 was the tail-end of Sampras' career and it wasn't until the end of '99 that Andre Agassi got his second wind and began dominating again.

This gave players like Rafter, Carlos Moya, Marcelo Rios and Yevgeny Kafelnikov time to exchange the #1 ranking. Once Agassi reemerged, he held it for 52 straight weeks. Then when Agassi cooled off, Marat Safin was able to hold it for a few weeks until Gustavo Kuerten became #1 and held it for a respectable 30 consecutive weeks.

But with the exception of Rafter, all those players were able to cling on to the top spot for more than one week.

It's almost like Rafter borrowed it just to see what it smelled like and then gave it right back.

But one thing I can say, Rafter was fun to watch and I'm sure he cherishes that lone week at the top as much as he does his 2 U.S. Open titles.

Stats courtesy of

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