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What have been the most one-sided matches in the latter stages of Open era Grand Slams? (PART 1)

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by Jovica Ilic

Tennis - Instead of entertaining battles, these matches failed to live up to the expectations

Throughout the tennis history, Grand Slam tournaments have been the stage of some biggest and most glorious moments in our beloved sport. That was particularly displayed in the latter stages, from the 4th round onward, as some of the best matches in history were seen in the second week of Slams. Nevertheless, this analyze serves to highlight those opposite situations, when the encounters in the closing stages of big tournaments failed to bring the necessary excitement and attraction. The reasons behind these matches can be various, as the players maybe had to go through a marathon in the previous round, not having the best day on the court, or if they are simply outplayed by the rival. The analyze is quite simple, it trace the most one-sided Grand Slam matches in the Open era starting from the 4th round, and to make the list, the winner had to lose no more than 4 games in the 4th round, 5 games in the quarter-final, 6 in the semis and 7 in the title matches. 

Also, we counted only the finished matches, not those that ended with a retirement or default. So far, between 1968-2016, we had exactly 101 matches that fit these criteria, 21 at Australian Open, 41 at Roland Garros, 14 at Wimbledon and 25 at US Open. As was expected, 47 matches were played on clay, 30 on hard courts and 24 on grass, and when we go towards the final it was harder and harder to enter the list. 28 matches were seen in the 4th round and quarter-final each, then 26 in the semis and another 19 in the battles for the crown. 

The 4th rounds started with 8 matches on clay (19 on clay in total), mostly at Roland Garros but also at US Open in that short period while it was played on Har-Tru clay (1975-77). 17 matches came in Paris (including the first and the last), and this fit was most difficult to achieve on grass, as only Jimmy Connors, Mark Edmondson, and Stefan Edberg won the 4th round encounters on the fastest surface with 4 or fewer games dropped. Edberg did that in 1987, and it is hard to expect that again, knowing how well the players are serving today. It never happened at the Australian Open since switching to hard in 1988, and we trace 6 at the US Open from 1978 when they installed the hard courts at Flushing Meadows. Also, since 1987 Rolland Garros, this kind of matches have been constantly played in Paris and New York alternately.  

In the quarter-final rounds, when there are only 8 players left in the chase for the title, we had 28 matches when the defeated player was unable to win more than 5 games. Interestingly, the list starts with 3 matches on grass, out of 8 we had so far on that surface, much more than in the 4th round. 10 of those came at the US Open, 5 in the second part of the 70's alone. Australia witnessed 7 one-sided men's quarter-final clashes, while Wimbledon stayed on 4, with a big break between 1989 and 2012. Roland Garros managed to stay away from this list until 1980, but he had 5 there since 1999 so it the most common Slam with 7 one-sided matches in total. Today, it is hard to expect a Grand Slam quarter-final where the losing player will be that bad and unable to take more than 4 games, but we will see what futures bring.

Since 1968, there were 25 Grand Slam semi-finals where the real battle stayed away, as the beaten player couldn't win more than 6 games. It was mainly the case at Roland Garros (10), but Australian Open is just behind with 9 (3 on grass). It was almost the mission impossible to achieve this at the US Open, Lleyton Hewitt and Juan Martin del Potro are the only players who did that, and we had 4 at Wimbledon, with Federer winning such a match way back in 2006 against Bjorkman. Almost half of the list belongs to the period between 1977-1986, thanks to Bjorn Borg, Ivan Lendl, and Guillermo Vilas. 

19 times in the Grand Slam finals losing player failed to take more than 7 games, which is a solid number considering how hard is to accomplish that. For example, the winner has to win by 6-3 6-2 6-2 and that leaves no room for any relaxation. Between 1970 and 1991 we had such finals at least in every 3rd season, and then 4 occurred in 3 consecutive years, from 2002-04. The last one was at Roland Garros 2008 when Nadal demolished Federer, and it will be interesting to see when the next will come. Until 1984, all those finals happened on natural surfaces, 5 in Paris and 4 in London, but from 1986-1998 we had one-sided finals only on the hard court. 

When we talk about the players, Bjorn Borg is on the throne with 10 such victories. His concentration and focus during the matches were second to none, keeping a high level no matter what is happening around him. Baseline dominators, Connors, Lendl, and Nadal are on 8 (Nadal won 5 between 2012-14), with Guillermo Vilas standing on 7 (he won one-sided final, and two more matches in each of the other rounds). On the next page, you can find the lists with uninteresting matches in the 4th round or quarter-finals of Grand Slam events since 1968, and the rest of the piece is dedicated to entertaining little stories about them.

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