How first-time Grand Slam semifinalists have fared in recent years

  • Stefanos Tsitsipas and Lucas Pouille will play their first Grand Slam semifinals at the 2019 Australian Open
  • It's a huge milestone for players aspiring to major glory
  • We look back at how recent first-time Grand Slam semifinalists have fared on the big stage
Stefanos Tsitsipas celebrates reaching his first Grand Slam semifinal at the 2019 Australian Open (DAVID GRAY/AFP/Getty Images)

How have recent first-time Grand Slam semifinalists fared on the big stage?

For the second time in two years the Australian Open men's semifinals will feature two men playing their first semifinal at a Grand Slam: 20-year-old Greek sensation Stefanos Tsitsipas taking on Rafael Nadal, and talented Frenchman Lucas Pouille facing Novak Djokovic.

With the incredible dominance and longevity at the top of the sport enjoyed by Nadal, Djokovic and Roger Federer, not to mention three-time Grand Slam champions Stan Wawrinka and Andy Murray, it's been quite rare to see new faces at the climactic stages of tennis's biggest tournaments. After all, since Federer won his first Grand Slam at Wimbledon in 2003, he, Nadal and Djokovic have won 50 of the 61 subsequent Grand Slams, and when you add Murray and Wawrinka into the mix, those five players have accounted for 56 of those 61, with only two new champions - Juan Martin del Potro at the 2009 US Open, and Marin Cilic at the same tournament in 2014 - being crowned in the past decade.

Subsequently there have only been a trickle of new players who have made their way into the final four at a Grand Slam - but the floodgates have opened a little in recent years, as we saw at least year's Australian Open when Hyeon Chung and Kyle Edmund made the semifinals.

This year, the fresh faces have been Lucas Pouille, the 24-year-old Frenchman who made the quarterfinals of Wimbledon and the US Open in 2016 but struggled to back up those gains until now, and 20-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas, who announced himself as a possible rising star in 2018 and then set fire to the 2019 Australian Open when he beat defending champion Federer it he round of 16.

Pouille had never won a match at the Australian Open before this year, but survived a fightback from Australian wildcard Alexei Popyrin in five sets as well as ousting 11th seed Borna Coric and then scoring a four-set victory over Milos Raonic, who had eliminated Stan Wawrinka and Nick Kyrgios from the tournament. Pouille's reward? A clash with world no. 1 Djokovic, who has never lost an Australian Open semifinal.

Tsitsipas backed up his defeat of Federer by battling past veteran Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut in the quarterfinals to book a place in the final four, where he must attempt to get his first win in three attempts over 2009 Australian Open champion Rafael Nadal. And Nadal hasn't lost a semifinal in Melbourne since he was surprised by another unheralded challenger, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, in 2008. 

Based on recent history, how confident should Tsitsipas and Pouille be feeling ahead of these Australian Open encounters with champions? 

We looked back at the last eleven Grand Slam semifinals that featured a male first-time semifinalist to see how they fared.

Dimitrov plays against Djokovic in the semifinals of Wimbledon in 2014 (GLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Images)

1. Milos Raonic

First Grand Slam semifinal: Wimbledon, 2014

Result: Lost to Roger Federer, 4-6, 4-6, 4-6

Starting with the earliest, we have big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic, who made his first Grand Slam semifinal by virtue of defeating Nick Kyrgios at Wimbledon 2014, but went down meekly to Federer in straight sets.

Raonic would get some revenge on Federer at Wimbledon in 2016 when he defeated the Swiss on his way to the final, where he would lose to Andy Murray. He was also an Australian Open semifinalist in 2016 and played excellent tennis there this year after recent struggles with injury, only to be eliminated by Pouille in the quarterfinals.

2. Grigor Dimitrov

First Grand Slam semifinal: Wimbledon, 2014

Result: Lost to Novak Djokovic, 4-6, 6-3, 6-7(2), 6-7(7)

Wimbledon 2014 is an object lesson for those who have been quick to proclaim a 'changing of the guard' based on the runs of Pouille and in particular Tsitsipas this Australian Open. That tournament featured Kyrgios beating Nadal to reach the quarterfinals and two first-time semifinalists, Raonic and Dimitrov, who booked his place there by beating defending champion Murray. None of those three can be said to have displaced or even joined the titans at the top of the game.

Dimitrov suffered a tight four-set loss to Djokovic and has only made one Grand Slam semifinal since, at the Australian Open in 2016. He lost to Frances Tiafoe in the round of 16 this year.

Nishikori celebrates victory over Djokovic in the semifinals of the 2014 US Open (TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

3. Kei Nishikori

First Grand Slam semifinal: US Open, 2014

Result: Beat Novak Djokovic, 6-4, 1-6, 7-6(4), 6-3

Starting with the earliest, we have Kei Nishikori's first appearance in the final four of a Grand Slam at the upset-filled US Open of 2014. 

Defying all expectations that he would be too physically battered to produce any real contest after having ousted David Ferrer in five gruelling rounds, Nishikori delivered one of the finest performances of his career to defeat Djokovic in four sets and reach his first - and so far only - Grand Slam final.

The whole of Japan was willing him on, but it was one match too many for the injury-prone Nishikori, who suffered a straight-sets defeat to an inspired Marin Cilic.

Nishikori has continued to pop up fairly regularly in the second weeks of Grand Slams, however: He's made six Grand Slam quarterfinals since the 2014 US Open, and two semifinals, both in New York. He reached the quarterfinals in Melbourne this week but was forced to retire against Djokovic. 

4. Dominic Thiem

First Grand Slam semifinal: Roland Garros, 2016

Result: Lost to Novak Djokovic, 2-6, 1-6, 4-6

It was almost two years before another first-time Grand Slam semifinalist would emerge, and this time it was muscular young Austrian Dominic Thiem.

With a single-handed backhand the highlight of a bruising game that recalled that of Stan Wawrinka, French Open champion the previous year, Thiem had established his proficiency on clay and it was no major surprise (no pun intended) when he reached the semifinals in Paris, although he was unable to muster much resistance to Djokovic once he got there. 

Thiem would make the semifinals again in 2017 and the final in 2018, losing to Nadal. He hasn't shone on other surfaces to the same extent, however, and retired in the second round of this year's Australian Open against Alexei Popyrin.

Querrey during his defeat to Cilic in the semifinals of Wimbledon 2017 (GLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Images)

5. Sam Querrey

First Grand Slam semifinal: Wimbledon 2017

Result: Lost to Marin Cilic, 7-6(6), 4-6, 6-7(3), 5-7

Another player whose giant serve has seen him make inroads at Wimbledon, Sam Querrey progressed past Andy Murray in what might have been the British player's last match at Wimbledon, winning back-to-back five-set matches against Murray and Kevin Anderson to make his first Grand Slam semifinal.

He lost to Cilic, however, and although he made the US Open quarterfinal in 2017, he hasn't reached the second week of a Grand Slam since, losing in the first round of the Australian Open to Pierre-Hugues Herbert.

6. Pablo Carreno Busta

First Grand Slam semifinal: US Open 2017

Result: Lost to Kevin Anderson, 6-4, 5-7, 3-6, 4-6

Ranked world no. 19 at the time and a player who had been long talked about but hadn't necessarily delivered, Pablo Carreno Busta made the first and so far only Grand Slam semifinal of his career at the US Open in 2017 only to lose to another first-time semifinalist, Kevin Anderson.

Carreno Busta had benefited from a good draw and hadn't had to face a seeded player to reach the final four, although he did have to beat Denis Shapovalov and Diego Schwartzman. He was very very close to making the quarterfinals of the Australian Open this year, only to lose to a dogged and brave Nishikori in a decisive fifth-set tie-break.

Anderson celebrates beating Carreno Busta in the semifinals of the 2017 US Open  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images for USTA)

7. Kevin Anderson

First Grand Slam semifinal: US Open 2017

Result: Beat Pablo Carreno Busta, 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4

Only the second man on this list to have won his first Grand Slam semifinal, South Africa's Anderson was already a veteran when he reached the final four of the US Open, which perhaps helped - as did his tremendous booming serve, backed up by an improved ground game he also showcased at Wimbledon in 2018 when he beat Federer on his way to the final.

Anderson was defeated early by Frances Tiafoe at the Australian Open this year.

8. Kyle Edmund

First Grand Slam semifinal: Australian Open 2018

Result: Lost to Marin Cilic, 2-6, 6-7(4), 2-6

As Andy Murray was forced to pull out of the Australian Open 12 months ago to have hip surgery, Kyle Edmund stepped up to put a smile on British faces. Following in the footsteps of compatriot Johanna Konta in 2016, Edmund opened his campaign with a win over Kevin Anderson and beat Grigor Dimitrov in the quarterfinals to make the final four for the first time. 

He was unable to give his best in that semifinal due to injury and hasn't made it past the third round of a Grand Slam since, although he did win his maiden ATP title in Antwerp last year.

Edmund's preparation for this year's Australian Open was again hampered by injury and he lost to Tomas Berdych in straight sets.

Hyeon Chung lit up the Australian Open in 2018 until he was forced to retire in the semifinals (SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)

9. Hyeon Chung

First Grand Slam semifinal: Australian Open 2018

Result: Lost to Roger Federer, 1-6, 2-5 (ret.)

South Korea's Hyeon Chung was the sensation of last year's Australian Open, beating Novak Djokovic in the third round in a manner that again had people throwing around the words' changing of the guard'.

Terrible blisters saw him retire against Federer in the semifinals, however, and he went 24-17 in the remainder of 2018, battling various injuries. He lost in the second round of this year's Australian Open to Pierre-Hugues Herbert and is in danger of falling out of the top 50. 

10. Marco Cecchinato

First Grand Slam semifinal: Roland Garros 2018

Result: Lost to Dominic Thiem, 5-7, 6-7(10), 1-6

With apologies if the rest of his career turns out to contain many more deep runs at Grand Slams, Marco Cecchinato seems like the very definition of a fluke semifinalist.

The Italian, best known up until the 2018 French Open for being accused of match-fixing, put together a stellar run in Paris, beating David Goffin and Novak Djokovic before he ran up against Thiem in the semifinals. Cecchinato had never won a main-draw Grand Slam match before that fortnight, and hasn't since, losing in the first round of all three subsequent majors.

11. John Isner

First Grand Slam semifinal: Wimbledon 2018

Result: Lost to Kevin Anderson, 6-7(6), 7-6(5), 7-6(9), 4-6, 24-26

Another big server who surfed a wave of aces and unreturnables into a Wimbledon final, John Isner had won his first Masters 1000 Series title in Miami earlier in 2018 and played perhaps the best match of his life against Anderson in the semifinals, only to suffer an agonizing defeat in what turned out to be the second longest Wimbledon match in history - second only to Isner's 2010 match against Nicolas Mahut.

Isner went on to make the quarterfinals of the US Open in 2018 but lost in the first round of the Australian Open to Reilly Opelka (or Isner 2.0).


As you can see, first-time Grand Slam semifinalists have not fared well in recent years.

Of the eleven we have listed, only two men won their first Grand Slam semifinal, Kevin Anderson and Kei Nishikori - and Anderson faced another first-time semifinalist, Pablo Carreno Busta.

Only Nishikori managed to defeat one of tennis's top trio in his first major semifinal, stunning Novak Djokovic at the US Open in 2014. 

That's the magnitude of the task that awaits Tsitsipas and Pouille at the 2019 Australian Open.

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How first-time Grand Slam semifinalists have fared in recent years

Stefanos Tsitsipas and Lucas Pouille are both playing their first Grand Slam semifinals at the 2019 Australian Open - Tsitsipas facing Rafael Nadal and Pouille taking on Novak Djokovic: We look back at how the last ten men to play their first Grand Slam semifinal have fared

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