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- Age: 40 (28.12.1972)
- Birthplace: Mount Isa, QSLD, Australia
- Residence: Pembroke, Bermuda
- Height: 6'1" (185 cm)
- Weight: 190 lbs (86 kg)
- Plays: Right-handed
- Turned Pro: 1991
- Coach: None
As of 20.05.2013
*Singles & Doubles combined
*Singles & Doubles combined
It seemed like old times when Patrick Michael Rafter won the 1997 U.S. Open. Aussies all over New York and the rest of the world were raising their glasses of lager to him, the latest nova of their tennis playing tribe. But it had taken a long, long time to restore those old times, an era when Australians treated the U.S. men’s championship as their private preserve.
Frank Sedgman in 1951 had started the pirating of the U.S. title. Between him and John Newcombe in 1973 Aussies had won 15 of 23 U.S. singles titles (Americans had won five). But then Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi arrived to cheer up the home side and the Aussies descended into a dry spell that was worse than the lament of one of their troubadors, Slim Dusty, crooning “The Pub With No Beer.” Twenty-four years passed before a modest country boy, Pat Rafter, seeded No. 13, brought back good old days by serve-and-volleying his way past left-handed Greg Rusedski of Great Britain, 6-3, 6-2, 4-6, 7-5.
Moreover, Pat returned 12 months later to win again, 6-3, 3-6, 6-2, 6-0, over countryman Mark Philippoussis. No Aussie had won two straight in New York since Neale Fraser, 1959-60. Included in that package was a five-set squirmer over the favorite, four-time champ Pete Sampras in the semis, 6-7 (8-10), 6-4, 2-6, 6-4, 6-3. But after two sets of opening his defence, it appeared that Rafter would set a dreadful record: the only U.S. champ to lose in the first round the following year. Somehow, though he got away from the clever little Moroccan, No. 44 Hicham Arazi, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-1, and it was pretty much serve-and-volley smooth sailing until the struggle with Sampras.
However, poor Pat, seeded No. 4, would get that abysmal record anyway, losing to No. 26 Cedric Pioline for openers in 1999, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5, 1-0, ret. as his troublesome right shoulder gave way, causing him to surrender in the fifth set. If that wasn’t bad enough, he lost again in the first round of 2000, ranking No. 20, to No. 114, a man sounding like a wine, Galo Blanco of Spain. Bitter wine of a two-point defeat at a few minutes after midnight, 7-6 (7-3), 2-6, 6-3, 1-6, 7-6 (7-5).
Shoulder problems requiring surgery shortened Pat’s career, ending at age 29 in 2001. A right-hander born Dec. 28, 1972, at Mt. Isa, Australia, 6-foot-1, 190 lbs. (Mt. Isa, a Queensland outback mining town, also produced champion golfer Greg Norman.) Pat is the seventh of Jocelyn and Jim Rafter’s nine offspring, a dinkum (good old boy) Aussie, noted for his cheerful, sporting manner, named Australian of the Year, 2002. A humble man known for a gracious manner on the court, great generosity and a gentlemanly demeanor at all times, Rafter carried the hopes of his tennis-mad land for a decade. Nine times he contested the Australian Open and nine times he came away empty-handed, only once reaching the semi-finals, in 2001, not quite able to close down the champ, Andre Agassi, 7-5, 2-6, 6-7 (5-7), 6-2, 6-3, in his last, best effort. He did, however, win the homeland doubles in 1999 with Swede Jonas Bjorkman over Indians Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi 6-3, 4-6, 6-5, 6-7 (10), 6-4.
He also failed to win a Davis Cup for his homeland—but that should be qualified. Renewing the game’s greatest rivalry, Aussies ventured to a Yanks’ lair, Boston (Longwood Cricket Club, host of the original Davis Cup contest in 1900) for the 1999 quarter-final. In Hadean July heat, Rafter was magnificently just as hot, knocking off Hall of Famer Jim Courier, 7-6 (7-5), 6-4, 6-4, opening day, then rebounding from being down a fifth-set break in the clincher over inspired Todd Martin, 4-6, 5-7, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4. Without those performances, there would have been no Cup for Australia in 1999, when he was absent, hurt, for the final defeat of France.
What would be the last singles match of his career came during the opening day of the Cup final in Melbourne in 2001, when he defeated Sebastien Grosjean of France, 6-3, 7-6 (8-6), 7-5. He was put in the doubles with Lleyton Hewitt to try to get the Aussies to a 2-1 lead, but the Aussie duo fell to Pioline and Fabrice Santoro 2-6, 6-3 7-6 (5), 6-1. His shoulder had nothing left and he could only watch from the sidelines as France took the decisive singles to make off with the Davis Cup, 3-2. Rafter’s career record in Davis Cup play was 21-11 (18-10 singles, 3-1 doubles).
His two dramatic Wimbledon title-bout losses were painful, too, but Pat isn’t one to brood. In 2000, it seemed that he had Sampras trapped—up a set, leading 4-1 in the second-set breaker with two serves to come. But, he couldn’t hang on, and Pete won his seventh Big W at nightfall, 6-7 (10-12), 7-6 (7-5), 6-4, 6-2.
A year later on “Peasants Monday” (brought about by Sunday rain) tickets were first-come-first-served, snapped up by younger fans, mostly Croats and Aussies, who provided a loud, uproarious (but sporting) atmosphere on Centre for the tense five-set duel of Goran Ivanisevic and Rafter. Who could serve and volley better? Wild card wild man Goran not by much—by a hair on his beard, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 2-6, 9-7. To climb into those two Wimbledon finals, Pat had to out-scrap Agassi in both tremendous semi-finals: 7-5, 4-6, 7-5, 4-6, 6-3, in 2000, and 2-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-2, 8-6, in 2001.
As the first Aussie to wear the No. 1 ranking since Newcombe in 1971, Pat had it briefly in 1999 (for only one week!), but his three years in the Top 10 were: No. 4 in 1998; No. 2 in 1999; No. 7 in 2001. Despite his preference for quick courts, he volleyed his way to the Italian Open final in 1999, losing to a clay maven, Gustavo Kuerten, 6-4, 7-5, 7-6 (8-6). No Aussie had gone so far in Rome since Rod Laver won it in 1971.
In a sport with its share of outrageous egos, Rafter was liked for his charm and respected for his politeness. It was his habit to say, “Sorry, mate,” when he had to catch his service toss. He was a dream client for sports marketers and is expected to have a public profile long after the end of his professional career. His Davis Cup captain, John Newcombe, felt Pat’s breakthrough was a Cup match against France’s Pioline, early in 1997. Sternly trying to rouse his man who had lost the first two sets, Newk got in his face with, “Patrick, this a war of attrition!” “What’s that?” answered Rafter, who nevertheless rebounded to win, 3-6, 6-7 (5-7), 6-4, 7-5, 6-4, and was on his way toward the Hall, arriving 2006.
He won 11 singles (358-191 matches), 10 doubles (214-110) pro titles and earned $11,127,058 in prize money.
MAJOR TITLES (3) — U.S. singles, 1997-98; Australian doubles, 1999.
DAVIS CUP — 1994-95-96-97-98-99-00-01, 18-10 singles, 3-1 doubles.
SINGLES RECORD IN THE MAJORS — Australian (15-9), French (12-8), Wimbledon (29-9), U.S. (20-7).
- Bio Courtesy Bud Collins
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