So Long, Mate
This may be the end. The end of Patrick Rafter's career.
It's been a good career -- eleven singles titles, including four on grass, making Rafter #2 among active players in that department -- but it's just about over. Come Saturday, Patrick Rafter will very likely have played his last ATP match.
Oh, Rafter says he might come back after six months. But the guy will be 29 in December, and he has a bad shoulder. He's set financially. If he needs a six month break, chances are he's done. (Though his timing is good: If he does come back, he'll come back before Wimbledon and the summer hardcourt season; what he'll lose is the clay season -- hardly his favorite time of the year.)
Early in his career, Rafter seemed an unlikely candidate for elite status. He turned pro in 1990, but while he was already quick and mechanically sound, he didn't have anything special. It took him three years to win an ATP match; as late as 1992 he was ranked #301 and had an 0-3 record.
But serve-and-volleyers are generally slow to develop; a baseliner has to learn only one game, but a netrusher has to be competent both at the back of the court and in close. In 1993, Rafter finally won that first ATP match, and the results began to pile up. In that year, he qualified for Indianapolis, and made the semifinal, beating Pete Sampras along the way. He finished with an 11-11 record and the #57 ranking.
Since then, he's had a winning record in every year. He won his first title in 1994 (Manchester, on grass), compiled a record of 45-28, and ended the year at #21.
What might have happened from there had injuries not felled him we cannot tell. But 1995 and 1996 were lost years; he didn't win a title, compiled a record of only 60-45 in the two years, had surgery, and was off the ATP for much of the time; he ended 1995 at #68 and 1996 at #62.
1997 saw a slow but steady resurgence. The year didn't start well -- First round loss at the Australian Open. First round loss at Indian Wells and the Lipton. Second round loss at Rome. Then -- Roland Garros semifinal. It was the best Slam result of his career, and on his worst surface. He was racking up finals, too; he would end the year with seven of them. By the time of the U. S. Open, he was ranked high enough to earn the #14 seed.
He more than earned it. His second career title was his first Grand Slam: He beat Greg Rusedski to win the 1997 U. S. Open. He ended that year #2 in the world.
Rafter ended 1998 ranked only #4 in the world, but a strong case could be made that he was the best player on the ATP that year. He won a total of six titles (trailing only Marcelo Rios in that department), including his second Slam and his first two Super Nine titles: He took home trophies from Chennai, 's-Hertogenbosch, the Canadian Open, Cincinnati, Long Island, and the U. S. Open. His won/lost record was 60-21.(74%); he trailed only Pete Sampras and Rios in wins and percentage, and might have passed Sampras in wins had he not been injured at the end of the year, being forced to miss the ATP championship as a result.
But injured he was, again, and that started a cycle of ongoing problems. In 1999, he managed to play only four of the nine Super Nines; in 2000, he missed the Australian Open and two of the renamed Masters Series. He also missed parts of the spring and fall of 2001. His doctors have told him that his shoulder will only allow him so many more serves -- and, indeed, problems with his serve have cost him at Sydney. Hurt by the injuries, and by limited practice, he won only one title in 1999 ('s-Hertogenbosch) and ended the year at #16. In 2000, he again won 's-Hertogenbosch, and reached the Wimbledon final, but still ended the year a mere #15.
This year, he managed to play all four Slams and made another Wimbledon final and won Indianapolis and will end the year no worse than #7. But the injuries remain with him; it's not hard to understand why he's getting tired of struggling with his own body.
Rafter is one of the last pure serve-and-volleyers left -- players who, in the model of John McEnroe or Stefan Edberg, depend more on the volley than on the overwhelming power of their serves to win points. It's been a surprisingly effective method for him: By reaching the Australian Open semifinal this year, Rafter became one of only three active players to reach the semifinals of all four Slams. The other two just happen to be Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras.
Rafter is also one of the few top players to have devoted significant effort to doubles; along with his eleven singles titles (four on grass and seven on hardcourt), he has ten doubles titles, including the 1999 Australian Open, Indian Wells 1998, and the Canadian Open 1999 (all with Jonas Bjorkman)
On top of all this, everyone likes him; he has won the Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship Award and the Arthur Ashe Humanitarian Award. He's another player we'll miss.
<img src="graemlins/wavey.gif" border="0" alt="[Wavey]" /> <img src="graemlins/sad.gif" border="0" alt="[Sad]" /> <img src="graemlins/sad.gif" border="0" alt="[Sad]" /> <img src="graemlins/sad.gif" border="0" alt="[Sad]" /> <img src="graemlins/wavey.gif" border="0" alt="[Wavey]" />
(source: bob larsons' newsletter)