Class of 2006
World No. 1 (1999)
Grand Slam Results
3-time major champion, 2-time finalist
Overall Record: 572-302
Singles Record: 358-191
Doubles Record: 214-111
Member of the Australian Davis Cup Team 1994-2001
Captain of the Australian Davis Cup Team 2010-2015
Overall Record: 21-11
Singles Record: 18-10
Doubles Record: 3-1
Attack. Attack. Attack. That’s how Patrick Rafter became the first Australian man in the Open Era to win back-to-back US Open titles in 1997 and 1998, and become the first non-American to win at Flushing Meadows since Stefan Edberg in 1992. In 1999, Rafter rose to No. 1 in the world, becoming the first Aussie to reach those heights since John Newcombe in 1971. Had persistent shoulder injuries requiring surgery not ended his career at age 29, it’s likely that both additional major and ATP tour titles would have followed. Rafter won 11 singles and 10 doubles titles on the professional tour and advanced to the Wimbledon Gentlemen Singles final in 2000 and 2001.
At 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, Rafter had the physique to pound away on the tennis court. Whether on hard courts, grass, or clay, his first impulse was hit a deep and powerful shot and rush the net with surprising quickness. Once at the net, his volleys were one-timers, hit at sharp angles with precision and pace. They were rarely retrieved back, and on the rare occasion they were, a wide open court was there for him for the taking. For a big man, Rafter was athletic, agile, and mobile, his footwork exemplary. From the service box inward, he was known for his flamboyance and spectacular shot making and blanketed the net with quick reaction and reflexes. Whether it was Andre Agassi attempting a baseline passing shot during the US Open or Michael Chang trying to lift a lob over his head at the French Open, Rafter anticipated the action and was quick to pounce.
For many tennis fans accustomed to watching Agassi, Chang, Edberg, and Pete Sampras, Rafter was a novel newcomer, albeit an Aussie groomed in a long line of great players from Down Under. He grew up in a large family (the seventh of nine children) in Mount Isa, a mining town in the Queensland outback, from where golf champion Greg Norman also hails. He began playing tennis at age 5, turning pro in 1991 at age 19. Most point to 1997 as the year Rafter found his niche on the ATP tour. Unseeded, he advanced to the semifinals of the French Open, falling to No. 16 seed Sergi Bruguera of Spain, 7-6, 1-6, 5-7, 6-7. That performance brought Rafter a measure of notoriety, especially since none of the top 15 seeds – including No. 1 Sampras – made it past the quarterfinals. He arrived at Wimbledon next, as the No. 12 seed, and had an arduous task in advancing three rounds, playing 118 total games before losing to unseeded Todd Woodbridge in the fourth round, 7-6, 4-6, 6-7, 3-6. A US Open championship to close out the major championship season didn’t appear likely, but as the No. 13 seed he wasn’t in No. 1 Sampras’s half of the draw, so anything was possible.
Rafter played three consecutive three-set matches to reach the fourth round, a far cry from Wimbledon months earlier, and defeated the unseeded Agassi who was in the midst of his comeback in the fourth round, 6-3, 7-6, 4-6, 6-3. Sampras was upset by Petr Korda in the fourth round, leaving Chang as the favorite, but Rafter blitzed him in the semifinals, 6-3, 6-3, 6-4, to reach an improbable final against unseeded Brit Greg Rusedski. Four sets later, Rafter had earned his first major title, 6-3, 6-2, 4-6, 7-5. A year later, Rafter won his second straight US Open as the No. 3 seed, winning in a comeback slugfest over No. 1 Sampras in the semifinals, 6-7, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4, 6-3. Fellow Aussie Mark Philippoussis became the second straight unseeded player Rafter faced in a major final, and the result didn’t change, a 6-3, 3-6, 6-2, 6-0 victory, one in which Rafter committed only five unforced errors in the match. Those consecutive wins made him the first Aussie to win consecutive U.S. titles since Neale Fraser in 1959 and 1960. In a remarkable display of generosity, Rafter donated $600,000 of his 1997 and 1998 US Open earnings to the Brisbane Mater Hospital’s Foundation for Terminally Ill Children. That unselfish deed earned him the 1998 ATP Arthur Ashe Humanitarian Award.
Rafter closed out a terrific 1998 campaign with Master Series victories in Toronto over Dutch player Richard Krajicek (7-6, 6-4) and in Cincinnati over Sampras (1-6, 7-6, 6-4). His hard-charging game earned him finalist appearances at both the 2000 and 2001 Wimbledon Gentlemen Singles final, each loss coming after a monumental effort and classic five-set semifinal victories over Agassi. In 2000, Rafter attempted to defeat Agassi and Sampras in the same tournament, and nearly succeeded. It took five sets to upset No. 2 seed Agassi, but Rafter hung tough, securing a 7-5, 4-6, 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 victory. Perhaps gassed in the final against Sampras, Rafter took the opening set 7-6, but then gradually wore down, falling 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 6-2. In 2001, Rafter was seeded No. 3, and met Agassi in a second straight marathon semifinal. He stunned the No. 2 seed, 2-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-2, 8-6. Croatian Goran Ivanisevic was an unlikely finalist who served his way into the final with his left handed cannon, becoming the only male player to win the singles title at Wimbledon as a wildcard, needing three hours to defeat Rafter, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 2-6, 9-7.
Rafter played his native Australian Open nine times, his best showing was a semifinal appearance in 2001. He lost to eventual champion Agassi, who came back from 2-1 sets down, 7-5, 2-6, 6-7, 6-2, 6-3. Rafter did earn an Australian Open title, winning the 1999 doubles championship with Swede Jonas Bjorkman in five sets. At the Australian Open in 2014, Rafter made a brief comeback, teaming with Lleyton Hewitt to play men’s doubles, falling to Eric Butorac and Raven Klassen, 6-4, 7-5. Afterwards Rafter, then 41 years old, said, “I didn’t want to make an idiot of myself.”
It was those types of enduring and humbling comments that endeared Rafter on tour. He was recognized and respected by his peers for his politeness, perhaps best expressed by his habit of saying “Sorry, mate,” when he had to catch his service toss.
Rafter played on the Australian Davis Cup team eight consecutive years (1994 through 2001), and helped lead the team to the World Group Semifinals in 1999 (Australia won the Cup that year, though Rafter wasn’t on the team that played for the title). and Finals in 2000 and 2001. Beginning in 2010, he served as the Australian Davis Cup captain and in his honor, the 5,500 seat Centre Court at the Queensland Tennis Centre in Brisbane, Australia, was named the Pat Rafter Arena. He was named Australian of the Year in 2002 and inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 2001.
Australian Open: SF 2001
French Open: SF 1997
Wimbledon: F 2000, 2001
US Open: W 1997, 1998
Australian Open: W 1999
French Open: SF 1998
Wimbledon: SF 1996, 1998
US Open: SF 1996