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FedEx Reliability Zone Fifth Set Career Records

Fifth Set Career Records

Nadal© AFP/Getty ImagesRafael Nadal, with a 14-3 record in fifth sets, has the best record of any current player.

The 2011 ATP World Tour season has begun and the first Grand Slam championship is on the horizon. The Australian Open of course features best-of-five-set matches. So this month, we take an in-depth look at fifth set career records using the FedEx Reliability Index, with exclusive analysis from past and present ATP World Tour stars.

A player may have worked hard in training but with four sets completed and one set left to play, there is no turning back. It’s a case of step-up or go home. In tennis, there can only be one winner.

Three-time Wimbledon champion Boris Becker, who compiled a 32-14 mark in fifth sets, once said, “The fifth set is not about tennis, it’s about nerves.” Jonas Bjorkman, who always trained hard to be physically strong, adds, “You don’t win with great shots; you win by making less mistakes.”

It’s no wonder the fifth set is often considered the thinking man’s endurance test. It also proves to a player whether they are fit enough or not. If you are healthy and physically fit, then mentally you have an advantage over your opponent.

Brad Gilbert, the former World No. 4, who coached Andre Agassi to six major championships, says, “Andre made sure he was in great shape, so that in fifth sets he gave himself the best possible chance to win.”

Ivan Lendl, who reached eight straight US Open finals from 1982-1989, believes, “It is tough to train for them mentally — it's best to have the experience of playing many before. But it's much easier to be mentally tough if you are fitter than your opponent.”

Players such as Mats Wilander [26-12] and Aaron Krickstein [28-9] did not fear fifth sets. Yet others, such as Gilbert, did not look forward to them. “At times, I felt as if I was like a boxer who had taken too many punches,” explains Gilbert. “I eked out matches that I didn’t deserve to win, but I also had opponents baked but I still lost.” 

SamprasOne of the most memorable comebacks in recent tennis history was Pete Sampras’ great escape against Alex Corretja at the US Open in 1996. Sampras (pictured right) battled sickness and saved one match point in the fifth set tie-break for a 7-6(5), 5-7, 5-7, 6-4, 7-6(7) quarter-final win. Gilbert remembers, “It was Sampras who tired but he found a way to win. At the end of the match, Corretja was physically the stronger.”

Today’s fifth-set ironmen include Rafael Nadal [14-3], Novak Djokovic [12-5], Dmitry Tursunov [11-5], Tomas Berdych [13-6] and Janko Tipsarevic [13-6].

Tursunov confesses, “Nadal's fitness is not commonplace even in pentathlons.” Gilbert, who compiled a 16-15 record in fifth sets, reckons, “Nadal can easily manage himself. He is the sort of player that can go five sets, rest for 10 minutes then go back and play another 10 sets. He is so physically and mentally strong.”

Every player agrees that at the start of a fifth set it all depends on how you are feeling physically as to whether you maintain your focus or not when the finish line is in sight. How a player performs also depends on different situations such as weather, court speed and your opponent.

“The start of the set is most important,” says Lendl. “It is always good to get ahead as you are somewhat tired.”

DjokovicGilbert adds, “If you are strong and you see the other player flagging then your tactics change. If you are physically spent then you need to find another way to win. Sometimes you push on service games and not on the return games. You must pick your spots and keep it simple. You can either strike or coast in five sets. But when you’re spent, you must stay close."

Tursunov admits to one dominant feeling. “You just respond based more on instincts and feel at this point, as fear and reasoning is an emotion that disappears when you are physically tired.

“It proves your hard work is validated and not just as an excuse to eat a double portion of ice-cream, but as the foundation for long matches. You learn of where your boundaries really are as a competitor or just as an individual.”

Overall in ATP history (since 1973), Nadal (.824) leads the FedEx ATP Reliability Index with the best percentage figure ahead of Johan Kriek (.818), Ross Case (.813), Bjorn Borg (.800) and Harold Solomon (.762).

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Performance 5th set record

Current* Index Career Index
1. Ross Case .000 .824
2. Jean Borotra .000 .818
3. Johan Kriek .000 .818
4. Bjorn Borg .000 .800
5. Henri Cochet .000 .800

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