The pressure of defending the maiden Grand Slam – A look into the history

 We are just over a day away from the release of the 2015 Australian Open draw! As the excitement builds, Malik Muhammad Omair (@Omair789 on Twitter) has penned an article, packed with stats, looking at how successful ATP players have been at defending their maiden Grand Slam titles.  Thanks, Omair for your hard work…

Wawrinka

Australian Open 2015 will be starting in less than a week.  Stan Wawrinka is the defending champion who won his maiden Slam last year by beating Rafael Nadal in the final.  Winning a Grand Slam is tough, very tough in fact and defending it the next year, is perhaps one of the toughest tasks you could ask a tennis player to perform.  Ask Stan Wawrinka, who will begin the defence of his title in less than a week.  History tells us that even the great players of all times were unable to defend their maiden slams. Pete Sampras, winner of 14 singles Grand Slam titles, won his maiden slam at the U.S Open 1990 when as a 12th seed he beat Andre Agassi in straight sets in the final.  Seeded 6th at the U.S Open the very next year (1991), Sampras lost to Jim Courier in tight straight sets in the quarter-final, and hence failed to defend his maiden slam.

Andre Agassi, Jimmy Connors, Mats Wilander, Ivan Lendl are a few of the other marquee names that failed to defend their maiden Grand Slam singles title the very next year.  54 different players have won Grand Slam singles title since the dawn of Open era. Stan Wawrinka was the 53rd and Marin Cilic was the 54th player to do so. Of the 52 players, only 11 were able to defend their maiden title during the next year.  The first player in the Open era to successfully defend his maiden Grand Slam singles title was Jan Kodeš. Kodeš won the Roland Garros title in 1970 by beating Željko Franulović 6-2, 6-4, 6-0 and then backed it up by defending the title in 1971. He beat Ilie Năstase in the 1971 final 8-6, 6-2, 2-6, 7-5. He ended his career with a total of 3 Grand Slam singles titles (the third being 1973 Wimbledon where he beat Alex Metreveli 6-1, 9-8, 6-3).  The table below shows the eleven players who backed up their maiden Slam by defending it the very next year.

Note – The table shows the Grand Slam and the year in which the player won his maiden slam. It also shows the opponent of the player and the final score in the championship match.  The players in bold are the active players.

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While digging the history books, an interesting thing came to my attention. Nine players who have won three or more Grand Slam singles titles during their career failed to defend their maiden Slam the very next year. The table below enlists such players and their result at the same Slam the very next year.

Note – The player in bold is an active player

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Stan Wawrinka became the 11th player in the Open era to win his maiden slam at the Australian Open. Looking at just the Australian Open, only two of the ten players who won their maiden Slams at the Australian Open before Wawrinka were able to successfully defend their title the next year.  The real worry for him might be another fun stat. The two players (Kriek and Edberg) who did defend their titles had an average age of 21.8 years when they first won their Slam. Wawrinka on the other hand was 29 years and 10 months when he won his maiden Slam and coming into this year’s Australian Open, he will be 30 years 10 months.

It is said that history repeats itself, but it is also said not to read too much into the history. Everyday is a new day and the results of the player depend on both his level and the level at which his opponent is playing that very day. Wawrinka successfully defended his Chennai crown and should be in good form going into the Australian Open. Confidence, handling pressure moments and the draw are three very important factors that will play an important role in determining how far Wawrinka goes. Two other very important aspects will be Wawrinka’s first serve percentage and how well his backhand is firing. If the latter two hold up throughout the fortnight of Australian Open, we will definitely be in for a treat.

Will he become the 12th player in the Open era to successfully defend his maiden Grand Slam title (and the 3rd player to successfully do so at Australian Open), only time will tell us. Let the show begin!!!!

3 thoughts on “The pressure of defending the maiden Grand Slam – A look into the history

  1. I think losing at Doha will push Djokovic to play his best tennis. And his best tennis at this event makes him pretty much unplayable. I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t take his fifth Aus Open

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  2. I agree completely Andrew. Nishikori perhaps has the best chance of anyone to de-rail him.. We saw at the U.S and for a set at the o2 that he has the ability to trouble Novak when he’s really on his game. Roger can’t be discounted entirely, but I’d be really surprised (and delighted!) if he was able to go all the way down under. After Nishikori, perhaps Andy Murray is the man with the best chance. Again, I would be surprised if he could perform at a high enough level for an entire fortnight in Melbourne, but you never know. The question then becomes, who is more likely to win: Novak Djokovic,,,,, or Nishikori, Federer and Murray between them?

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    • I think it all depends on the draws. I think that the Australian courts right now don’t suit Federer’s game and I do still think that the best of five format will be too much for a man his age this year.
      Nishikori and Murray could both go very deep, it just depends how they look after themselves. Wawrinka could actually win it again, but I think if he gets to the business end of the tournament that he’ll struggle to get himself over the finishing line. And if playing Djokovic/Murray/Nishikori/Nadal/Federer, they will POUNCE on any slight falter.

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