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Why losing can be lucky in tennis

May 07, 2015
written by: Rob Cianfarani
written by: Rob Cianfarani
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Sometimes, losing is lucky.

In tennis, a lucky loser is a player who loses in the last qualifying round of a tournament, but is then able to enter the main draw because of a withdrawal. Frank Dancevic, a two-time lucky loser, described the feeling as “getting a second breath” and American Ryan Harrison described it as “playing with house chips.”

It’s pretty rare for a lucky loser to win a tournament, but it won’t stop a player from trying of course. Here are a few famous lucky losers.

Clavet goes for it

Francisco Clavet turned pro in 1988 and two years later was ranked world No. 90. He became a lucky loser at the 1990 Dutch Open in Hilversum, and went on to win five consecutive matches to capture the title (a lucky winner, I suppose). He is one of only eight men and women to accomplish this seemingly insurmountable task since 1978.

Aside: Clavet is not a one-trick pony – he is one of the few players to hold a winning record against Roger Federer and holds the record for fastest ever ATP Tour victory (25 minutes!)

Odds were Stak’ed against him

A more recent “lucky winner” was Sergiy Stakhovsky, who won the 2008 PBZ Zagreb Indoors by defeating Ivo Karlovic, Viktor Troicki, Janko Tipsarevic, Simone Bolelli, and Ivan Ljubicic (the No. 1 seed). He was ranked world No. 209 at the time and was the first lucky winner in the ATP since 1991.

Ana will beat you twice

Melinda Czink was the runner-up at the 2005 Canberra International tournament. She made her first WTA final in Canberra as a lucky loser, defeating the No. 2 seed en route to the championship match. Her incredible run came to an end against an 18 year-old qualifier by the name of Ana Ivanovic. Czink’s run was notable for the fact that Ivanovic defeated her TWICE in the same tournament, once in qualifying and once in the final for her first career title.

Photo: Verano

Photo: Verano

Giant killer

One of the most improbable runs at any tournament occurred at 1995 Wimbledon involving a Belgian man named Dick Norman. He made it to the fourth round – the furthest that any player had ever advanced in a Grand Slam tournament coming out of the lucky loser draw.

This, albeit impressive, was nothing compared to who he beat. He defeated former Wimbledon champions Pat Cash and Stefan Edberg in the first and second rounds respectively. He then beat one of the best doubles players of all time, Todd Woodbridge, in the third round, before losing to eventual runner-up Boris Becker in the fourth round. He made $38,000 more than he would have if he didn’t make it out of the qualifiers. NOT TOO SHABBY.

David vs. Goliath

Norman’s compatriot, David Goffin, equalled his record by reaching the fourth round of the French Open in 2012. He managed to best Radek Stepanek, Arnaud Clement and Lukas Kubot in the first three rounds before losing to his idol, Federer, in the fourth.

The Belgian actually said that his childhood room was “plastered with photos” of Roger, which led to… awkwardness in the post-match interview. This picture sums it up pretty well.

Federer Goffin

Photo: Reuters

Recent lucky losers

  • Stephane Robert became the first lucky loser to reach the fourth round at the 2014 Australian Open.
  • Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Michal Przysiezny won the 2014 Tokyo doubles title by defeating the Bryan brothers in the first round and Ivan Dodig and Marcelo Melo in the final.
  • Borna Coric reached the semis of Dubai 2015 with a stunning defeat of Andy Murray.
Photo: Sky Sports

Photo: Sky Sports

Nothing to lose… not just a cliché

Lucky losers really can be dangerous. They swing freely because they know they’re playing on borrowed time, they’re used to court conditions and are pretty motivated – losing twice at the same tournament is not a goal most professional athletes set out to achieve.

Fun fact: Andre Agassi won 76% of his main draw ATP matches, one of the highest winning percentages of all-time. He had the EXACT same winning percentage against all the lucky losers he played throughout his entire career.

In short: you just can’t count out a lucky loser.