On Wednesday, Roger Federer played 20-year-old American Noah Rubin, a former Wimbledon juniors champ and an NCAA runner-up in his freshman year at Wake Forest. Rubin never really had a shot (though he showed moxie and firepower in pushing Federer to a tighter-than-expected three-set win, 7-5, 6-3, 7-6 (3)) — and not just because he has two Grand Slam match wins in his life and Federer has 17 Grand Slam titles. The Long Island native was up against a bigger foe: history. Roger Federer hasn't lost to an American at a Grand Slam since September of 2001, a streak that reached 30 straight matches on Wednesday.
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The last American to beat Federer was Andre Agassi, who did it when Rubin was five years old. In the quarters of the '01 U.S. Open, eight days before 9/11, Agassi worked over a 20-year-old Federer 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 in a fourth-round match in New York. The first set took 20 minutes. It was one of Agassi's great late-career performances, but one that was short-lived (he fell to lifelong rival Pete Sampras in the quarters in four sets, all of which went to tiebreaks). That was the last time the ol' red, white and blue would ever get the best of Roger.
It was also the only time. Federer started his Slam career with four-straight wins over Americans, including his welcome-to-the-world upset of four-time reigning champion and seven-time winner Pete Sampras at Wimbledon. Overall, that makes him 33-1 over Americans (34-1, including a walkover on Mardy Fish).
Federer's streak started 15 years ago when he beat a middling, older Michael Chang in the 2002 Australian Open. Since then, from first-round matches against players with four-digit rankings to Grand Slam finals, The Fed is unbeaten.
The most frequent Federer victim was Andy Roddick, who lost all eight Grand Slam matches he played against The Fed, including four finals. Federer also played Agassi in a major final, defeating him at the 2005 U.S. Open. He'd defeated Agassi in the quarters the year before, avenging that 2001 loss.
Federer was ranked in the top 10 for 27 straight matches (from the third win in the streak to the second-to-last). The win over Noah Rubin was Federer's first as a non-top-10 player since those first two wins — both of which came over Chang when Federer was ranked No. 13 and No. 12, respectively. Over the entire streak, Federer played 12 matches against top-10 Americans, all of which were either Roddick, Agassi or James Blake.
Roddick is one of two Americans to ever push Federer to five sets before he lost 16-14 in the decider at the classic 2009 Wimbledon final. Federer also went the distance to beat Agassi in that '05 final. In all, 21 of the 29 victories were in straight sets. There were six four-setters, meaning Federer has an 87-10 set record against U.S. players during the streak.
Here's how the victories break down by round.
1R - 6 wins
2R - 4 wins
3R - 4 wins
4R - 3 wins
QF - 5 wins
SF - 3 wins
F - 5 wins
It's no surprise that the first round has brought the most victims. But the fact that the quarterfinals and finals are tied for second shows Federer's streak hasn't been courtesy American tomato cans.
Federer's American victory tally is a good reflection of the (increasingly sad) state of American tennis over this century. Federer played 29 matches against U.S. players from 2000-2009. (This includes the matches before he started the win streak.) Since 2010, Federer has played just five matches against Americans, none later than the fourth round.
He played at least one American in every year of the aughts. In the teens he went through 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2014 without seeing a single one at a major. In fact, Federer has been so dominant that the last time he dropped a set to an American was in that marathon win over Roddick in '09.
The breakdown by Slam (which also is a concise summation of American tennis):
U.S. Open - 13
Wimbledon - 7
Australian Open - 7
French Open - 3
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Federer has only lost one tiebreak to an American over the span: Blake took the third set from him 7-6 (9) in the quarters of the '06 U.S. Open.
The highest-ranked player Federer has faced in the American win streak was Roddick, who was No. 2 for that one Wimbledon final (it was the lone No. 1 vs. No. 2 match on the tally). The lowest-ranked player was U.S. Open wild card Devin Britton, who was ranked No, 1,370 when he fell in straight sets to Federer in 2009.
Britton actually won nine games in the match — more than Roddick did in his 2007 semis loss at the Australian. It was the worst American defeat to Federer, tied with one suffered by No. 84 Vincet Spadea (6-3, 6-3, 6-0) at the '06 U.S. Open.
Federer has been off the court in three hours or less in all of those 29 wins, with the exception of the aforementioned marathon.
What makes Federer's Slam record against Americans all the more impressive is that U.S. players have been pretty good against him at every other tournament. He's 59-11 (.843) in non-Slam matches — though more than half of the losses came before 2004. Americans have won just three matches over the Swiss maestro since the 2008 Olympics.
The oldest player Federer beat during the streak was Agassi, who was 35 at the time of their last match and is now 46 years old. Rubin, the youngest, was born three years after Agassi won his first Wimbledon and two years before Federer won the Wimbledon juniors.
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It's highly unlikely Federer will get to add to his American win streak in Melbourne. He could face No. 31 Sam Querrey in the quarters, but that would involve Federer beating two top-10 players in Tomas Berdych and Kei Nishikori and then Querrey beating No. 1 Andy Murray (though he defeated No. 1 Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon, so anything's possible), and then backing it up with a fourth-round win.