Guaranteed Five-Setters, Exhausting Routes to R4, and Master Bakers

With so many of the world’s top players in action yesterday, it’s only fitting to lead with Denis Istomin and Andreas Seppi.

Istomin and Seppi have now met four times in the last 15 months, all at Grand Slams.  And thanks to yesterday’s effort, they’ve now gone five sets in all four of those matches.

Cue the chorus: “That’s got to be some kind of record, right?”

Yep, it is.  While their US Open third-rounder was Seppi and Istomin’s seventh meeting overall, it was only their fourth at a major, meaning that each time they’ve met in the best-of-five format, they’ve gone the distance.  Two pairs of players (Thomas Muster and Albert Costa, and Guillermo Canas and Gaston Gaudio) have met three times in a best-of-five and reached a decider each time, but no two players had ever gone four-for-four.

In fact, Seppi and Istomin are only the eighth pairing in the Open era to record four or more five-setters.  Petr Korda and Pete Sampras played four five-setters in five matchups, but their first such meeting, a 1992 Davis Cup match, only went four sets.  Radek Stepanek and David Ferrer are also close, having played four five-setters in five best-of-five meetings.

Most of the pairs that have played so many five-setters required many more meetings to do so.  You might be familiar with some of the guys who make up the three head-to-heads that have played five five-setters: Jimmy ConnorsJohn McEnroe, Stefan EdbergIvan Lendl, and Roger FedererRafael Nadal.  But all of those pairs met more than 10 times in best-of-five situations.  In this context, all those three- and four-setters seem rather weak.

When the Australian Open draw comes out, while everyone else figures out whose quarter Federer landed in, I’ll be checking Seppi’s proximity to Istomin.

When Marcel Granollers edged by Tim Smyczek in five sets yesterday, the big story was the futility of American men’s tennis.  (Thankfully, for the depressed patriots among us, Sloane Stephens was putting up a spirited challenge against Serena Williams on another court.)

However, the Spaniard was making a bit of history of his own.  In beating Jurgen Zopp, Rajeev Ram, and Smyczek, he’s won three five-setters in his first three rounds, becoming only the 15th man to do so in the Open era, the first since Janko Tipsarevic did so at Wimbledon in 2007.  It’s only the third time someone has done it at the US Open.  The last man to do so in New York was Wayne Ferreira, in 1993.

Amazingly, three players have gone five sets in each of their first four matches in a slam.  The last such occurrence was when Dominik Hrbaty reached the fourth round at the Australian, in 2006.  He fell to Nikolay Davydenko in the fourth round.

This is one bit of history that Granollers surely won’t be making.  As remarkable as it is to reach the fourth round of the back of all those five-setters, it isn’t a good sign when you lose two sets apiece to three players ranked outside the top 100.

It certainly doesn’t bode well when your next opponent is Novak Djokovic.

As Federer, Nadal and Djokovic plow their way through the early rounds this year, none is wasting any time.  All three players have posted a 6-0 set in their second- or third-round matches, exclamation points amidst broader displays of dominance.

A quick check of the database reveals yet another category in which Federer is charging toward the top.  The Open era record for bagel sets won at Grand Slams is held by Andre Agassi, who retired with 49.  Fed’s bagel of Adrian Mannarino on Saturday was the 43rd of his career.

Here is the all-time list:

Player           Slam bagels  
Andre Agassi              49  
Roger Federer             43  
Ivan Lendl                42  
Jimmy Connors             41  
Bjorn Borg                35  
Guillermo Vilas           29  
John Mcenroe              29  
Stefan Edberg             25  
Boris Becker              23  
Rafael Nadal              22  
Novak Djokovic            21

Andy Murray is tied for 19th, with 16.

This is one category which highlights the extreme dominance of some of the greatest female players in history.  Chris Evert puts Agassi, Federer, and everyone else to shame, with a record 104 Grand Slam bagels.  Serena Williams’s first-round defeat of Francesca Schiavone moved her past Arantxa Sanchez Vicario into fifth place on the all-time list:

Player                   Slam bagels  
Chris Evert                      104  
Steffi Graf                       74  
Martina Navratilova               70  
Monica Seles                      51 
Serena Williams                   49 
Arantxa Sanchez Vicario           47  
Margaret Court                    44  
Gabriela Sabatini                 44  
Lindsay Davenport                 43  
Maria Sharapova                   41

With a quarterfinal matchup against Carla Suarez Navarro, it’s possible Serena isn’t done for the year.  Each of the two previous times the two women have played, Williams has won a 6-0 set.