Curse of Rafa – When statistics corroborate a superstition


The curse of Rafa or simply the ‘Rafa curse’ has been a popular terminology in tennis fraternity, especially among the fans, experts and authors. A simple definition of the term is that whenever a player defeats (or eliminates) the 14 times Grand Slam champion, Rafael Nadal, in a knock-out tournament (all ATP events other than the Tour Finale), the conqueror of Nadal certainly faces a defeat in the very next round in the tournament.

So in all likelihood, for such situation to arise we will only look at those specific ATP events where the Spaniard did compete but could not reach the last stage – in other words, eliminated before reaching the final. The so-called ‘curse’ – which has been doing the rounds in various tennis discussion groups and publications – became a phenomenon last year in 2015. The reason was mostly due to the fact that the 9-time French Open champion had an off-season where he failed to reach the final of a likely unprecedented 16 of the tournaments that he participated.

Without mincing further words, let’s go through the comprehensive list of the victims of curse of Rafa since 2011.

Player Ranked Event Round
Nikolay Davydenko 22 2011 Doha SF
David Ferrer 7 2011 Australian Open QF
Ivan Dodig 41 2011 Canada Masters 2R
Mardy Fish 7 2011 Cincinnati Masters QF
Florian Mayer 23 2011 Shanghai Masters QF
Gael Monfils 16 2012 Doha SF
Andy Murray 4 2012 Miami Masters SF
Fernando Verdasco 19 2012 Madrid 3R
Philipp Kohlschreiber 34 2012 Halle QF
Lukas Rosol 100 2012 Wimbledon 2R
Steve Darcis 135 2013 Wimbledon 1R
Juan Martin del Potro 5 2013 Shanghai Masters SF
David Ferrer 3 2013 Paris Masters SF
David Ferrer 6 2014 Monte-Carlo QF
Nicolas Almagro 20 2014 Barcelona QF
Dustin Brown 85 2014 Halle 2R
Nick Kyrgios 144 2014 Wimbledon R4
Martin Klizan 56 2014 Beijing QF
Borna Coric 124 2014 Basel QF
Michael Berrer 127 2015 Doha 2R
Tomas Berdych 7 2015 Australian Open QF
Fabio Fognini 28 2015 Rio de Janeiro SF
Milos Raonic 6 2015 Indian Wells Masters QF
Fernando Verdasco 34 2015 Miami Masters 3R
Fabio Fognini 30 2015 Barcelona 3R
Stan Wawrinka 9 2015 Rome Masters QF
Alexandr Dolgopolov 79 2015 Queen’s Club 1R
Dustin Brown 102 2015 Wimbledon 2R
Kei Nishikori 4 2015 Canada Masters QF
Feliciano Lopez 23 2015 Cincinnati Masters 3R
Fabio Fognini 32 2015 US Open 3R
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 15 2015 Shangai Masters SF
Stan Wawrinka 4 2015 Paris Masters QF
Fernando Verdasco 45 2016 Australian Open 1R

Rafa’s Davis Cup team-mate David Ferrer and Italian Fabio Fognini had been on the receiving side of the curse for a maximum three times since Ferrer’s 2014 Monte Carlo semi-final exit and Fognini’s 2015 US Open ouster respectively, where as another compatriot, Fernando Verdasco’s latest ouster from the Australian Open made him join them to be recognized as the heavily ‘cursed ones’. Dustin Brown and Stan Wawrinka come next in the list – having bitten twice each.

Now let us have a look on the following table where the column ‘Chances’ indicates the occurrence of a likelihood for ‘Rafa curse’ or in simple words, no. of tournaments in which Rafa could not make to the final and ‘Successful’ denotes the ‘curse’ had worked.

Year Chances Successful %
2011 6 5 83.33
2012 6 5 83.33
2013 3 3 100
2014 8 6 75
2015 16 14 87.5
2016* 1 1 100
Total 40 34 85

It shows that since 2011, the curse has worked an astonishing 85% of the times till date, with a mind-boggling 14 out of 16 times in the season just concluded – the worst of the Mallorcan since winning his first of the 14 majors way back in 2005. Most importantly, the curse had worked finely in all situations – be it a first round exit at a Major or several semi-final exits at the Masters or anywhere in between the extremes. Further, the curse had occurred on 6 times to players ranked outside top 100 (four of those coming at Wimbledon), 15 times to players outside top 30 (covering most of his Slam disasters) and 11 times to players within top 10 (at late stages of a tournament).

The phenomenon is a bizarre and hence it is really difficult to explain the reason behind it. One definite reason for those early round defeats (especially on grasscourts) is due to a low-ranked player not having enough in his casket to effect another upset in the very next game. Another explicit reason that can be attributed to those top-seeds losing in the final stages may be due to their clash with more superior ones – like Djokovic, Federer and Murray. Though Andy Murray narrowly got his share of the curse way back in 2012 at a summit clash, Novak Djokovic had successfully dodged the Rafa curse twice last year at the Monte Carlo Masters and the French Open. Roger Federer is also a player who till now avoided the dart successfully – having won the Indian Wells Masters in 2012 defeating Nadal in the semi-final.

Curses are widely superstitious entities with little logical explanation to them at large. So it is better being just empirical at times with the statistics than trying to find some creepy psychological issues associated with the cursed ‘bites’ for defeating the ‘man who certainly bites his winning trophy’.


What do you think of this superstition – curse of Rafa? Let us know in the comments below!

Photo by y.caradec


  1. A possible explanation for the statistics is the nature of Nadal’s game and his fierce competitiveness, that will demand his competitor to chase every shot and engage in long rallies, getting completely depleted at the end of the game despite the victory, and not able to recover phisicaly and mentally before his next game. Other thougher opponents in the top 10 are also likely to demand a lot of energy in defeat but with a style of play with shorter points, potentially allowing better chances of recovery. The Rafa curse is also bringing consequenses upon himself with several injuries in the last few years.
    It would be helpful to see the “curse” statistics from other top players like Djokovic, Murray and Federer.

    • Can’t agree lesser. Well put and yes a comparative analysis on the lines of your request is in the pipeline. Keep following sports-nova.