Patrick Rafter: When Nice Guys Finish First

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Bionic Poster
"In the latest profile on a series of the 26 players to rise to No. 1 in the FedEx ATP Rankings, ATPTour.com looks back on the career of Patrick Rafter.

First Week As No. 1: 26 July 1999
Total Weeks at No. 1: 1

As World No. 1
Rafter holds two unique distinctions of being the only player to reach No. 1 in the FedEx ATP Rankings for a single week and the only man to not play a match while holding that position. He took the top spot from Andre Agassi on 26 July 1999, but lost it the following week after Pete Sampras won a tournament in Los Angeles.

“I always joke with the players,” Rafter said. “They say, ‘Congratulations, mate, you made No. 1.’ I say, ‘Yeah, one week.’ They say, ‘At least you bloody got it. At least you can say you got there.’”

 

travlerajm

G.O.A.T.
The thing about Rafter that is different than all other guys who reached #1 is that nobody expected him to get there. He was on his way to being a journeyman player, in his mid 20’s, ranked in around 20th in the world, when he suddenly elevated his game to a new level and became a world-beater. Sampras clearly had trouble accepting it that this guy - who used to be ‘just another guy‘ in the draw - had suddenly improved enough to start beating him. Even when he got to #1, his groundstrokes still looked like trash, but he found a way to win the US Open (the title that usually went to the top overall player in the game) twice in a row anyway.
 

Phoenix1983

G.O.A.T.
But it reminds people who the players were who got to #1 and how they got there. It's an important part of tennis history. Not everything is about the current players.
Didn't say it was all about the current players. I said I found it boring after a while - I'm allowed to hold this opinion.
 

BorgTheGOAT

Hall of Fame
Even when he got to #1, his groundstrokes still looked like trash, but he found a way to win the US Open (the title that usually went to the top overall player in the game) twice in a row anyway.
His ground strokes really had improved by then. In his matches with Agassi he hits a fair amount of return and baseline winner and in his later matches with Sampras his passing shots aren’t shabby either. What is also a sometimes underrated aspect of his game is his serve.
 

buscemi

Hall of Fame
His ground strokes really had improved by then. In his matches with Agassi he hits a fair amount of return and baseline winner and in his later matches with Sampras his passing shots aren’t shabby either. What is also a sometimes underrated aspect of his game is his serve.
Yeah, I think a lot of people remember his diminished serve after his shoulder issues. Before that, he could crack it.
 

Cashman

Hall of Fame
The thing about Rafter that is different than all other guys who reached #1 is that nobody expected him to get there. He was on his way to being a journeyman player, in his mid 20’s, ranked in around 20th in the world, when he suddenly elevated his game to a new level and became a world-beater. Sampras clearly had trouble accepting it that this guy - who used to be ‘just another guy‘ in the draw - had suddenly improved enough to start beating him. Even when he got to #1, his groundstrokes still looked like trash, but he found a way to win the US Open (the title that usually went to the top overall player in the game) twice in a row anyway.
I am not entirely sure about this. Rafter was a late bloomer, having had a fairly inconspicuous junior career, but by 1994 (age 22) he was starting to make waves – that year he won Manchester, beat Sampras, and cracked the top 20. From what I recall, a lot of people were talking about him then as a future Slam winner. Unfortunately he had a bit of an annus horribilus in 1995, plagued by a wrist injury that ultimately forced him into surgery before the end of the season. In 1996 he had further wrist and ankle problems that limited his appearances and disrupted his results.

His return to the tour in 1997 was pretty hotly anticipated, and he didn’t disappoint – he took a few months to get back into the swing of things, but then he stormed into the semi-finals at Roland Garros and didn’t look back. I doubt anyone expected his rise to be quite as meteoric as it was, but by the same token I don’t think it was a complete bolt from the blue. He was acknowledged to be a very talented player who had been held back by injuries. Even Pete’s comment was mostly tongue in cheek, I believe.

From RG 1997 to USO 1999 he was pretty consistently one of the best players in the world. Unfortunately he tore his shoulder at the latter tournament, and after that he was never quite the same. His serve in particular lost a little of its pop, which was crucial to a player of his style.
 
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NicoMK

Professional
A nice guy in every aspect.

What happened to his shoulder? Keep reading here about a tore shoulder but I can't remember what really happened, where and when. I'm seeing him storming into the 1997 and 1998 US Open finals, playing the 2000 Wimbledon final and then... All that I recall is that he was in trouble with that shoulder at least throughout 2001, which led him to retirement that year after the DC final...
 

Cashman

Hall of Fame
A nice guy in every aspect.
He has a reputation of being pretty standoffish with fans, to the point of rudeness. I think mostly just because he is a private guy, but I know of a few people who approached him and got a bit of a shock at how they were received.

On the flip side a lot of people expect Hewitt to be a bit of an arsehole, but he has a reputation of being very good with fans.
What happened to his shoulder? Keep reading here about a tore shoulder but I can't remember what really happened, where and when. I'm seeing him storming into the 1997 and 1998 US Open finals, playing the 2000 Wimbledon final and then... All that I recall is that he was in trouble with that shoulder at least throughout 2001, which led him to retirement that year after the DC final...
Torn rotator cuff. Happened at Indianapolis 1999 whilst serving against Daniel Nestor.

He initially played it off as tendinitis, but after having to retire in the first round of his USO title defence he got scans and it showed the damage.

The shoulder remained a problem during 2000, then in 2001-2002 he had issues with stress fractures in his arm. I think it was the latter that primarily caused his retirement.

Poor old Pat was a bit of a crock. Took after Cashie a bit too much in that respect.
 
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NicoMK

Professional
He has a reputation of being pretty standoffish with fans, to the point of rudeness. I think mostly just because he is a private guy, but I know of a few people who approached him and got a bit of a shock at how they were received.

On the flip side a lot of people expect Hewitt to be a bit of an arsehole, but he has a reputation of being very good with fans.

Torn rotator cuff. Happened at Indianapolis 1999 whilst serving against Daniel Nestor.

He initially played it off as tendinitis, but after having to retire in the first round of his USO title defence he got scans and it showed the damage.

The shoulder remained a problem during 2000, then in 2001-2002 he had issues with stress fractures in his arm. I think it was the latter that primarily caused his retirement.

Poor old Pat was a bit of a crock. Took after Cashie a bit too much in that respect.
Thank you, very accurate :)

I once found myself in a nightclub during an ATP tournament along with Safin, Kuerten, some Frenchmen and also Pat and I remember that he was very nice with people... of course I don't know him personally but I'll remember him that way :)
 

EP1998

Semi-Pro
The thing about Rafter that is different than all other guys who reached #1 is that nobody expected him to get there. He was on his way to being a journeyman player, in his mid 20’s, ranked in around 20th in the world, when he suddenly elevated his game to a new level and became a world-beater. Sampras clearly had trouble accepting it that this guy - who used to be ‘just another guy‘ in the draw - had suddenly improved enough to start beating him. Even when he got to #1, his groundstrokes still looked like trash, but he found a way to win the US Open (the title that usually went to the top overall player in the game) twice in a row anyway.
It was the 1990s...
 

HitMoreBHs

New User
... Even when he got to #1, his groundstrokes still looked like trash, ...
When one has such a masterful S&V game as Rafter, one’s groundies can look like trash and still win! Especially on the slick NA hardcourts of the 90s. In many ways his S&V game shared similarities in elegance to Edberg’s, with their use of placement and spin variety on serve.
 

Cashman

Hall of Fame
Rafter's groundstrokes looked a lot worse than they actually were.

His backhand in particular is much maligned, but it was pretty much the perfect stroke for the style of game he played. Part of the reason he was even more of a difficult prospect on hardcourt than grass was that the higher bounce worked in his favour. It allowed his kick serve to climb even more viciously on the returner, whilst his sliced groundstrokes kept his rally ball very hard to attack.

This also made him a dangerous prospect on clay at times. At the Italian Open in 1999 he beat Agassi, Gaudio and Mantilla before eventually losing the final to Kuerten.
 
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Devtennis01

Semi-Pro
Rafter was truly a lovely guy. Impossible to not like and not cheer for. I have never ever heard anyone say anyone negative apart him. How rare is that?
I remember being in Australia when he made that RG '97 run and being really happy to see him do well on Clay. Never thought he'd actually win a slam, but he did it twice and made No.1. I cheered for him in those Wimbledon finals. A very gracious loser, too.
 

Poisoned Slice

Bionic Poster
I've always hated you, Rafter. You know why? Because you're nice. And nice guys finish last.


You're wrong once more, Brad. Yes, Pat Rafter was a most enjoyable player to watch.
 
Rafter was all class. The term "sportsmanship" should have his picture next to it in the dictionary.
If young kids pick a role model in tennis. It should be him.
He did have a bit of a strange career, though. He was quite a late bloomer and his career ended pretty early and sudden.
Too bad he wasn`t at his best for more years.
 

manirban

New User
Probably worth a different thread, and maybe already debated here, but the above discussion poses an interesting question - if courts were "sped up" again (that being a scientific term), and irrespective of poly, would we see a return of S&V (barring this entire current generation who haven't been taught this growing up).
 

NicoMK

Professional
Probably worth a different thread, and maybe already debated here, but the above discussion poses an interesting question - if courts were "sped up" again (that being a scientific term), and irrespective of poly, would we see a return of S&V (barring this entire current generation who haven't been taught this growing up).
Hard to say but why not?
 

mental midget

Hall of Fame
guy always seemed like a great athlete somebody handed a tennis racket to and was like “hey try this.” he just made it work out there.
 

Cashman

Hall of Fame
Probably worth a different thread, and maybe already debated here, but the above discussion poses an interesting question - if courts were "sped up" again (that being a scientific term), and irrespective of poly, would we see a return of S&V (barring this entire current generation who haven't been taught this growing up).
Perhaps slightly. But the prevalence of serve and volley was about more than court speed - also things such as the height and variability of bounce.

Poly strings are a big difference though. Not only do they make spin easier, but they have also allowed players to harness the power and forgiveness of big graphite frames. This has all contributed to easier, more lethal returns.
 

Cashman

Hall of Fame
The 1990s sports scene was pretty crazy. No one was testing for HGH, epo etc. There was a lot of speculation about who was on what program and how guys were getting huge pretty quickly. Some players spoke about it in the press but no one was naming names. Lots of people in other sports got caught and lost everything, especially those who didn't have a "nice guy" image or went too far and got sloppy. Some people also struggled with what they were doing from an emotional perspective and would retire from competition because they didn't want to do it anymore.
Pull your head in.
 

caesar66

Professional
When I first started really paying attention to tennis Rafter had a couple of good years left. He quickly became my favorite non-Agassi/Sampras player to watch. Just a fun, scrambling style. The Wimby final against Ivanisevic was the first “epic” match I ever watched.
 
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