Double Fault! A Recent History Of Tennis's Most Humiliating Finish

Rafael Nadal won his ninth French Open Sunday, and he did it in the most unbecoming way possible. The decisive moment was a double fault from Novak Djokovic, provoking an awkward "fall to your knees in euphoria after winning a point literally anyone with a pulse could have won themselves" celebration.

This is, weirdly, actually the second time in three years Nadal has won at Roland Garros off a Djokovic double fault. This got me thinking: How many major championships have concluded in such ignominious fashion?

Time for a YouTube retrospective! (Note that timestamped embeds occasionally act up, so we've provided time markers if you want to skip over the build-up and get to the good stuff.)


1981 U.S. Open, Tracy Austin def. Martina Navratilova

The comedy here starts at the 5:00 mark. A visibly frustrated Navratilova had pushed an easy volley wide to set up championship point and was down 6-1 in the third set tiebreaker before missing her first serve. Pat Summerall then hilariously set the stage with a "What a second serve coming up" as Navratilova proceeded to blast her second serve into the net for her 13th and final double fault of the match.


The best part of the video is Navratilova's curt, icy handshake with Austin at the net. The win was Austin's second and final career major championship, as back injuries soon curtailed her career.

1987 French Open, Steffi Graf def. Martina Navratilova

Navratilova again—head to 1:53—double faults away a major championship. Unfortunately, the American broadcast of the final point has been blocked on YouTube, but the French announcer euphorically exclaiming "double faute!" more than makes up for it.

This was the only French Open meeting between Navratilova and Graf in their storied rivalry. Navratilova would have her revenge later that year, defeating Graf in straight sets in both the Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals.

1993 U.S. Open, Pete Sampras def. Cédric Pioline

This time—go to 11:43—it was Mary Carillo with the ironic setup, saying just before the fatal point that Pioline "wants to go out swinging." Then Pat Summerall again gets the opportunity every announcer dreams of, and he doesn't disappoint with an extremely awkward call. "Double. Double fault. Hit the net and went out. Sampras the champion."

The final point was Pioline's eighth double fault of the afternoon. At least the Frenchman's final serve wasn't as atrocious as one he hit early in the match, which struck a sideline fan in the head. Now that would have been a way to end it.

With the win, Sampras reclaimed the world No. 1 from Jim Courier, a ranking he wouldn't relinquish for another two years.

1998 U.S. Open, Patrick Rafter def. Mark Philippoussis

A matchup of two Aussies, who had feuded all summer due to Philippoussis's decision to not play for the Australian Davis Cup team, produced another anticlimactic finale. This time—1:36:59 or so in—CBS announcers Bill Macatee, John McEnroe, and Mary Carillo waited an interminable 25 seconds before uttering a single word following the championship-winning double fault.

Like many of the aforementioned double faulters, Philippoussis had been down a nearly impossible deficit by match point, trailing 0-5 in final set before Rafter clinched his second consecutive U.S. Open title. Eerily, both Philippoussis and Pioline made their first major finals at the U.S. Open, double faulted on match point, and each made their second and only major finals years later at Wimbledon.

2009 French Open, Svetlana Kuznetsova def. Dinara Safina

Tennis' third all-Russian grand slam final ended, at around the 5:02 mark, with a net chord second serve that sailed long, Safina's seventh double fault on the day.

Safina has probably the most dramatic reaction to her championship-losing double fault, throwing her racquet to the ground in disgust. Kuznetsova, meanwhile, had one of the most subdued, hardly even offering a fist-pump to celebrate her second career major championship. "I was, like, 'Oh, my god. Double-fault,'" Kuznetsova said after the match.

The loss put Safina, a former world No. 1, at 0-3 in major finals. She hasn't made it back since, and has been out of tennis since 2011.

2012 French Open, Rafael Nadal def. Novak Djokovic

Djokovic was coming off a 2011 season widely regarded as one of the greatest in tennis history and facing Nadal for the fourth straight time in a grand slam final, having beaten the Spaniard the previous three meetings and looking like he'd never lose to his rival again. It's a much taller task to dethrone the king of clay on his home turf, though.

Nadal won his record seventh French Open in this rain-interrupted Monday final, but more importantly, he took the post double fault championship celebration to new heights, falling to his knees and pressing his face to the clay in euphoria.

2014 French Open, Rafael Nadal def. Novak Djokovic

This double fault seemed nearly inevitable, with Djokovic catching his first toss on his second serve, drawing resounding gasps from the crowd before blasting his second attempt long in the exact same spot he had two years prior.

Nadal again fell to his knees and covered his face in tears. Come on, man. Act like you've beaten Djokovic on a double fault at the French Open to set a record before. (You have.)

While this isn't a definitive list of all the championship point double faults, a scouring of match reports and tennis message boards leads me to believe this is at least pretty close. Oddly, there are four French Opens and three U.S. Opens here; the Australian Open and Wimbledon seem to have avoided such a disgraceful final act.

Are double faults more frequent on the pressure-packed championship point than they are on average? According to the tennis blog Heavy Topspin, players double fault roughly 2.85 percent of the time. If we consider our sample from 1981 to present, that constitutes seven championship point double faults in 272 men's and women's major finals, for a rate of 2.57 percent.* Granted, this could be slightly lower if we assume no such double faults occurred in the '70s, or slightly higher if I missed any occurrences. Still, it might suggest players are marginally more cautious, trying to avoid a humiliating finish. Unfortunately for these five, it was a fate they couldn't avoid.

Jim Pagels is a writer who's contributed to The Atlantic, FiveThirtyEight, Slate, and Bloomberg and blogs about sports innovations at Lower the Mound. You can follow him on Twitter at @jimpagels.

Photo via Getty