How the current Top 10 players fare against players shorter than 5’10”

Sep 28 8 min read

10:17 am

Roland Garros 2012 - David Ferrer on Flickr by Fred Romero under CC2.0 

In a game often decided by a matter of centimetres, height is a key component in becoming a successful tennis player. Being a tall players means that you can dominate the serve, cover the net more effectively and change the geometry of the court in your favor. However, success is not limited to those standing above six-foot. David Ferrer, David Goffin and Diego Schwartzman are a few examples of successful tennis players who have broken into the Top 20 in spite of their diminutive stature.

Facing players who are tagged "short" as per the norms of tennis has its own challenges to overcome. Short players are generally faster than the ones over six feet. At 5'9" David Ferrer's movement is one of the best on tour and his athleticism has challenged even the top-ranked players over the past decade. To counter such a tennis player with good court coverage and better returning abilities, players need to be wary of the damage that these speedy tennis players can inflict on the scoreboard. Here is how the current Top 10 have fared against players shorter than 5'10".

#10 John Isner (Win/Loss Record: 40-13, Win Percentage: 75.5%)

At 6'10", John Isner is one of the tallest guys on tour and has a lethal serve that is extremely difficult to return. The American has won 40 of 53 matches in which he has faced players shorter than 5'10". Of the 13 loses he faced, 7 of them came against David Ferrer. Isner has won only twice against the Spaniard, both of which came at the ATP World Tour Finals in 2011 & 2016. At Grand Slams, Isner has played against three players that are shorter than 5'10" of which he has lost two matches to David Ferrer (2016 Australian Open) and Dudi Sela (2017 Wimbledon). The match he won came in 2010 at the Australian Open against Irish qualifier Louk Sorensen. 

#9 Kevin Anderson (33-19, 63.4%)

Kevin Anderson is one of the tallest men on tour measuring 6'8" in length. Among the Top 10 players, the South African has faced the most defeats against players shorter than 5'10". Of his 19 losses, four have come against Michael Russell, three against David Ferrer and twice each against David Goffin and Ricardas Berankis. The South African trails Russell 2-4, trails Berankis 1-2, trails Goffin 0-1 and is tied with Ferrer at 3-3 in head to head record. All three losses against Ferrer have come at Grand Slams (2012 US Open, 2013 Roland Garros, 2014 Roland Garros). Earlier this year at the Round of 16 in Roland Garros, Anderson was leading Schwartzman 6-1 6-2 but the Argentine staged a comeback and won the match 1-6 2-6 7-5 7-6(0) 6-2 in nearly four hours. 

#8 Grigor Dimitrov (27-12, 69.2%)

Grigor Dimitrov has won 27 of 39 matches he has played against players shorter than 5'10". Five of those 12 losses have come against David Ferrer. Four of these defeats against Ferrer came at ATP Masters 1000 events in which the Bulgarian could manage a total of only two sets. Dimitrov's lone victory against Ferrer came in 2013 in the final of the Stockholm Open. Dimitrov, who himself is 6'3" tall, has won all five grand slam matches that he has played against players shorter than 5'10".

#7 Dominic Thiem (13-15, 46.4%)

Dominic Thiem has a less than 50% win rate against players shorter than 5'10". The Austrian, who is an inch taller than 6 feet has suffered eight of his 15 defeats against David Goffin, which includes a loss against the Belgian in the qualifying draw at Acapulco in 2014. Of those eight losses, two have came at the Australian Open in 2016 and 2017. Both of these matches clocked nearly three hours but eventually it was the Belgian who won both the features. Thiem has never won a match against a player shorter than 5'10" at Grand slams, losing all four attempts. The last time Thiem defeated a player shorter than 5'10" was at Barcelona in 2017. 

#6 Marin Cilic (29-17, 63.0%)

Standing at 6’6” Marin Cilic has a huge advantage on serve. Yet even the Croatian has had difficulty against smaller opponents, losing 17 matches against 11 different opponents below 5’10”. Cilic has lost three matches to David Goffin, which includes a Davis Cup World Group tie in 2016. On the ATP World Tour, they are tied at 3-3 in the head to head record. Against Ferrer, Cilic has lost four matches, three of which came in Masters Events and one at Roland Garros in 2015. Cilic trails Ferrer 2-4 in head to head record but won their last meeting at Geneva in 2016. On three other occasions, Cilic has been ousted from a Grand Slam before the quarter-final stage by a player shorter than 5'10" - Arnaud Clement (2008 Wimbledon), Daniel Evans (2017 Australian Open) and Diego Schwartzman (2017 US Open). 

#5 Alexander Zverev (7-9, 43.75%)

Of the active Top 10 players, Sascha Zverev has the worst winning percentage against opponents shorter than 5'10". The eight players who have defeated Alexander Zverev are David Ferrer (twice), Damir Dzumhur, Daniel Evans, Michael Russell, Dudi Sela, David Goffin, Albert Montanes and Maximo Gonzalez. Three of Zverev's losses have come at Challenger events and one came at the qualifying round at Indian Wells in 2015. However, the young German finds a silver lining in this dubious record. In 2018, he has a 100% win rate (6-0) against players shorter than 5'10". Of these seven wins, three have come against David Ferrer and one each against David Goffin, Ricardas Berankis and Damir Dzumhur. The last two of those wins came earlier this year at Roland Garros. 

#4 Juan Martin Del Potro (40-15, 72.7%)

Juan Martin Del Potro is as tall as Marin Cilic but has a better success rate against players shorter than 5'10". The Tower of Tandil has lost only 15 of 55 matches (includes a defeat in the Futures tournament at Chile in 2005 and a Challenger event at Poznan in 2006) he has played against those opponents. Of these 15 losses, six have come against David Ferrer (one of which came at the Davis Cup Finals in 2011) and three against David Goffin. Del Potro leads Ferrer 6-4 but trails Goffin 1-3 in head to head record. The Argentine's lone victory against Goffin came in 2016 at Basel. At Grand Slams, Del Potro has lost only two of 11 matches against players shorter than 5'10" and has a 7-4 record at the Masters 1000 events against those players. 

#3 Novak Djokovic (48-15, 76.2%)

2018's most successful player at Grand Slams who is enjoying his comeback on tour is unsurprisingly one of the three best players against players shorter than 5'10" among the active Top 10 players. Novak Djokovic, has lost only 15 of 63 matches (which includes two Davis Cup matches played in 2005 & 2009 and two Challenger events held at Helsinki in 2004 and Monza in 2005) against players shorter than 5'10". David Ferrer who trails Djokovic 5-16 in head to head record is the most successful man under 5'10" against Djokovic. Olivier Rochus, who was at one stage the shortest player on tour at 5'5" also had success against Djokovic, holding a 3-3 record with of those wins coming at a Davis Cup tie in 2005. At Grand Slams, Djokovic has won 14 of 16 matches that he played against players shorter than 5'10". The two losses came against Guillermo Coria at the 2005 French Open and Sebastien Grosjean at the 2005 Wimbledon. 

#2 Roger Federer (91-12, 88.3%)

The most successful player against players shorter than 5'10" is a 20-time Grand Slam Champion who is himself 6'1" in height. Roger Federer has won a whopping 91 of 103 matches against opponents below 5'10". From the 1999 Marseille Open until the 2002 French Open, Federer lost 10 matches against players below 5'10". Of those defeats, three came against Arnaud Clement and two against Sebastien Grosjean. Clement defeated Federer in back-to-back years at the Australian Open (2000 & 2001) and also handed Federer his first ever defeat against a player below 5'10" in 1999 at Marseille. Until the 2001 Australian Open, the current Davis Cup captain of France was leading Federer 3-1 in head to head record but the Swiss won their final seven battles. Sebastien Grosjean trailed Federer 3-2 in the head to head record. The two matches won by the Frenchman came in 2001 at Sydney and the Monte Carlo Masters. Hicham Arazi defeated Federer in 2002 at Roland Garros and that was the third and the last time that Federer lost to an opponent under 5'10" at the majors. Later, it took eight years for a player under 5'10" to defeat Federer. Albert Montanes defeated top seeded Federer in the semi-finals of the Estoril Open in 2010. Seven years later, at the ATP World Tour Finals in 2017, David Goffin defeated Federer in the semis and registered his first win over the Swiss in eight meetings. 

#1 Rafael Nadal (81-15, 87.1%)

Rafael Nadal is the second most successful player among the current Top 10 players against players shorter than 5'10". The 11-time Roland Garros champion is as tall as Federer and has won 81 of 93 players against players below 5'10" in height. Interestingly, eight of Nadal's 15 losses (including a mid-match retirement against Dzumhur at the Miami Masters in 2016) have came on clay. Six have came against David Ferrer and three of them have come against Gaston Gaudio. Nadal is 20-2 in Grand Slams against players shorter than 5'10" with both losses coming against David Ferrer at the 2007 US Open and 2011 Australian Open. At the Masters, Nadal has a 33-5 record against players shorter than 5'10". Against Ferrer, Nadal has a dominating lead of 25-6 the in head to head record. Against Gaudio, Nadal was trailing 0-3 but won their last three matches to level the rivalry at 3-3, the last of which was won by Nadal at Monte Carlo in 2006.