Last week, Milos Raonic won the SAP Open in San Jose without dropping a set. Juts like he did last year … and the year before. In fact, Raonic has won every set he has ever played at this event.
That’s not just impressive, it’s only the second time in ATP history that anyone has pulled off such a feat.
Simply winning an event three times in a row is not easy task, of course, even dropping plenty of sets along the way. Raonic was only the 27th player in ATP history to do that, though of course many of his precursors strung together streaks of more than three years, and many three-peated at more than one event. Just last month, David Ferrer made news by going back-to-back-to-back on hard courts in Auckland, having previously three-peated on clay in Acapulco. (Raonic won’t be joining that club anytime soon.)
What’s particularly impressive about the group of three-peating champions is how tightly it overlaps with the very best in the game’s history. 18 of the 27 three-peaters reached the #1 ranking during their careers. Two more peaked at #2. (Honorable mention goes to Balazs Taroczy, who never cracked the top 10, but did win Hilversum five years running.)
For all the accolades earned by those #1s, though, only one of those players did what Raonic just completed. That was John McEnroe, who went back-to-back-to-back-to-back from 1980 to 1983 at the Sydney Indoor. Had he not returned to the event in 1992, he would have retired with a perfect record at the tournament.
Johnny Mac had a tougher time of it than did Raonic. Milos has only beaten one top-20 player in San Jose, and when he edged by #9 Fernando Verdasco to win his first title, he did so while winning far fewer than half of points, resulting in a pitiful dominance ratio of 0.66. (1.0 represents an even match; Raonic’s average in San Jose is 1.71.) The Canadian was only broken twice in these three years, but he rarely did much breaking of his own, going to nine tiebreaks.
McEnroe, by contrast, beat at least three top-20 players (including #4 Vitas Gerulaitis) and played only a single tiebreak in his 20-match winning streak. He also had to play best-of-five-set matches in three of the four finals.
To match McEnroe’s mark, either in number of consecutive titles or difficulty of winning them, Raonic will need to start a new streak. The smaller number of ATP-level events now on the circuit, however, make it more difficult to find the perfect blend of conditions and weak opposition to put together such a streak.
That doesn’t mean McEnroe’s mark is safe, however. Rafael Nadal is just five matches and one title way from matching at least the straight-set three-peat, sitting on a 10-match win streak in Barcelona. In fact, Nadal has only lost one set in Barcelona since 2006. Had he played in 2010, we might have been talking about a very different record right now.