Robin Haase’s Unlucky 13 Tiebreaks

Yesterday, Robin Haase lost a second-set tiebreak to Kenny De Schepper, a mere blip en route to a three-set victory and a place in the Casablanca quarterfinals.  However, it was yet another set-ending failure for the Dutchman, who has now lost thirteen consecutive tour-level tiebreaks.  And another reason to hate Casablanca.

Yes, thirteen.  No other active player has a streak of more than seven, and no tour-level regular has lost more than his last six.  In fact, Haase is now one lost tiebreak away from tying the all-time ATP record of 14, jointly held by Graham Stilwell and Colin Dibley, two players who accomplished their feats in the 1970s.

As I’ve shown before, tiebreak outcomes are rather random. Aside from a small minority of players with extensive tiebreak experience (such as Roger Federer, John Isner, and Andy Roddick), ATP pros tend to win about as many breakers as “expected.” The good players win more than average, the not-so-good players win fewer than average, but there are few players who seem to have some special tiebreak skill–or a notable lack thereof.

It would be premature, then, to read too much into Haase’s streak.  After all, the last fifteen months haven’t been particularly bad for him in general.  When he last won a tour-level tiebreak, in January of last year, he was ranked 62nd in the world.  Now he is #53, and he will pick up another few spots next Monday.  This despite winning only two of the matches in which he lost one of his consecutive tiebreaks.

If history is any guide, the Dutchman will probably turn things around.  Dibley won six of the 10 breakers that followed his streak, and Stilwell won four. Nikolay Davydenko and Thomas Johansson, two otherwise excellent players who lost 13 tiebreaks in a row, each won 5 of their next 10.  More remarkably, the already-missed Ivan Navarro followed a 10-tiebreak losing streak with a 8-2 record in his next 10.

In the ATP era, 43 players have suffered tiebreak losing streaks of 10 or more (full list after the jump).  32 of those have gone on to play at least 10 more.  Naturally, every tiebreak that follows a losing streak is a win, or else it would be considered part of the streak.  In the nine tiebreaks that follow the streak-breaking win, those 32 players won 134 of 288 tiebreaks, or 46.5%.

While the numbers don’t exactly presage Isnerian greatness for Haase, even a return to his pre-streak tiebreak winning percentage of 41% would be welcome.  Fortunately, that’s much more likely than another 13 losses in a row.

Update: In the Barcelona first round, Haase tied the record, losing a third-set tiebreak to Pablo Carreno-Busta.  On May 6, he lost a tiebreak in the second set of his Madrid first-round match against Alexander Dolgopolov to set a new all-time record of 15 straight lost tiebreaks.

Update 2: On 8 May, Haase lost to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, 7-6 7-6. (How else?) That’s 17 straight tour-level tiebreaks lost.  The all-time tiebreak winning streak is 18, held by Andy Roddick.

Update 3: On 27 May, in the second set of his first round match at Roland Garros, Haase WON A TIEBREAK. The historical event came against Kenny de Schepper, the Frenchman who appears in the first line of this post.

These are all tour-level tiebreak losing streaks of 11 or greater in the ATP era, as of 2012/04/12:

PLAYER                  STREAK  START  
Colin Dibley                14   1978  
Graham Stilwell             14   1972  
Robin Haase                 13   2012  
Nikolay Davydenko           13   2010  
Thomas Johansson            13   1997  
Dick Crealy                 13   1978  
John Marks                  13   1977  
Jean Philippe Fleurian      12   1994  
Tom Gullikson               12   1981  
Ion Tiriac                  12   1974  

PLAYER                  STREAK  START
Arnaud Clement              11   2010  
Noam Okun                   11   2006  
Andreas Vinciguerra         11   2003  
Michal Mertinak             11   2003  
Fredrik Jonsson             11   1999  
Daniel Nestor               11   1997  
Filip Dewulf                11   1996  
Ivan Lendl                  11   1993  
Amos Mansdorf               11   1987  
Eddie Edwards               11   1984  
Anand Amritraj              11   1979  
Alvaro Betancur             11   1976

PLAYER                  STREAK  START  
Tim Smyczek                 10   2010  
Ivan Navarro                10   2008  
Stanislas Wawrinka          10   2006  
Cyril Saulnier              10   2005  
Julien Benneteau            10   2004  
Rohan Bopanna               10   2003  
Victor Hanescu              10   2003  
Dick Norman                 10   2003  
Christophe Rochus           10   2003  
Alex Calatrava              10   2001  
Paradorn Srichaphan         10   2000  
Magnus Gustafsson           10   1998  
Gabriel Markus              10   1993  
Christian Bergstrom         10   1992  
Frederic Fontang            10   1992  
Patrick Baur                10   1992  
Zoltan Kuharszky            10   1982  
Peter Fleming               10   1979  
Hans Kary                   10   1978  
Mike Estep                  10   1974  
Robert Maud                 10   1972

11 thoughts on “Robin Haase’s Unlucky 13 Tiebreaks”

  1. Excellent post illustrating the value of statistical analysis vs. what we normally think of as the explanatory power of anecdotes. It reminds me of the days when I played poker & learned about how much “variance” can affect the results of even skilled players, and over far longer periods of times than we might otherwise give credence to. Analysis shows it is possible for even a highly skilled player to have a winning or losing streak that is luck- rather than skill-based for as long as several years. Back to tennis, I imagine that many commentators, in discussing a record of 13 straight tiebreak losses, would start talking about what must be wrong with the player to hold such a record. That was my first response, too, until I read deeper into your post.

  2. I’d like to write about Haase’s streak on my Hot Hand website about sports streakiness (crediting Heavy Topspin as my original source). I started tracing all the matches in which Haase had lost a tie-breaker, via, and I found the following tie-breaker win for him in the 2012 Italian Masters (Rome):

    Q1 [vs.] Sergiy Stakhovsky (UKR) W 6-4, 7-6(9)

    If this match were to count, Haase’s tie-breaker losing streak would be “only” 12. I noticed the phrase “tour-level” matches in your write-up. Does the Stakhovsky match get excluded due to being in a qualifying round, rather than the draw proper?

  3. I count only 14 consecutieve lost tiebreaks on ATP level. Is it correct that one of the 15 matches is a Davis Cup match?

    1. Yes. I don’t think there is any official definition of how to define these levels, but conventionally Davis Cup (like Grand Slams, also not officially ‘ATP’) is treated as ‘tour-level’.

  4. Finally, he wins a tiebreak. 7-6(3) in the second set of his first round match at Roland Garros against de Schepper.

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