For the first time in ATP history, a Lucky Loser has won a tour-level tournament two weeks in a row. Andrey Rublev was victorious last week in Umag as a Lucky Loser, and this week Leonardo Mayer won in Hamburg. For those unfamiliar, a Lucky Loser is a player who loses in qualifying, but gets lucky when a player in the main draw of a tournament must withdraw due to injury or other reasons before the injured player’s first match begins. The Lucky Loser is awarded to the top-ranked player who lost in the final round of qualifying and is still present at the tournament site when another player withdraws (the selection process is a little different at Grand Slams, but the concept is the same).
Rublev lost to World #174 Attila Balazs in straight sets in qualifying. After Borna Coric withdrew due to neck pain, he gained a spot in the tournament. He also beat World #27 Fabio Fognini, whose best surface is clay, and clay court specialist World #34 Paolo Lorenzi in the final. Mayer beat the tournament’s #1 seed, World #24 Albert Ramos-Vinolas, who made the final in Monte Carlo, in the first round. Mayer lost to 16-year-old World #685 Rudolf Molleker in qualifying, then pulled off that impressive victory and won four more matches for the title.
This feat is exceeding rare. Lucky Losers are common in tennis, happening about every couple tournaments. Since the establishment of the ATP in 1972, only eight times has a Lucky Loser been victorious in a tournament, making it even more incredible that two of those winners came in back to back weeks. Only two others even reached a final after sliding into the draw as a Lucky Loser. The system is much more effective than simply giving a bye when a player withdraws, allows lower ranked players a second chance to prove themselves, and allows the fans to see another match.
Not to take away anything from Rublev’s and Mayer’s titles, but this also shows the unpredictability of tennis and how difficult it is to win one, and certainly multiple, matches at a high level. After losing matches to low level players in qualifying, they won tournaments at the same venue, on the same surface. Tennis is one of the most erratic sports, with these two tournaments as prime examples. The success of the “Big 4” has clouded this fact over the last decade-plus, but in events like 250s and even 500s such as Hamburg, truly every player in the draw has a chance to hoist the trophy at the end of the week.
Rublev is projected to jump about 14 spots to a career-high ranking of #35, and Mayer, who earned only 403 points over the past 52 weeks and earned 500 with his win, and will jump over 70 places into the top 50. After planning on heading home after a loss in qualifying, both these players drastically changed the course of their seasons. These types of players may not be the biggest names in the sport, but they add an exciting element to every tournament, playing with nothing to lose. A player getting injured allowed them to make the absolute most of a lucky break, and their seasons and potentially careers have taken a turn for the better from it.