Best Short Tennis Players

best short tennis players

Can short male tennis players succeed?

The modern game has evolved so much to focus on players with big, booming serves.

With the serve becoming such a dominant aspect of the men’s game, one feature is becoming more and more important in tennis: Height. Think John Isner, Reilly Opelka, Nick Kyrgios.

Even those players who wouldn’t typically be viewed as tall giants are still well over six feet–Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are all between 6’1” and 6’2”.

But what about those players who aren’t so gifted in the height department? Can they still thrive? We look at some of the best short male tennis players of all time in the game, and break down their careers to answer this question.

5 Best Short Male Tennis Players on the ATP Tour

#1: Diego Schwartzman – 5’7” / 170cm

Diego Schwartzman
2013 US Open (Tennis) – Qualifying Round – Diego Schwartzman” by Steven Pisano is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

This feisty Argentinian is likely the first man who jumps to mind when it comes to short tennis players, and for good reason. Diego Schwartzman stands at just 5’7” or 170cm, and yet has found great success on the ATP tour.

Debuting in 2010 as a professional, Schwartzman hails from Buenos Aires and plays as a right-hander with a two-handed backhand. He claimed his first title in 2016 at the TEB BNP Paribas Istanbul Open, and has since gone on to win another three titles, including last year at his home tournament in Buenos Aires.

The 30-year-old has been a constant in the world’s Top 30 players the last five years, spending almost a year in the Top 10 in 2020 and 2021. His highest ranking came in October 2020 when he peaked at No.8 in the world rankings.

Schwartzman’s height has been negated by his incredible court coverage, return of serve and ability to go toe-to-toe with the best from the baseline. This has seen the Argentinian claim career wins over Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Stefanos Tsitsipas, despite being a far shortest tennis player.

#2: Yoshihito Nishioka – 5’7” / 170cm

Yoshihito Nishioka
2015 US Open Tennis – Qualies – Yoshihito Nishioka (JPN) [23] def. Daniel Nguyen (USA)” by Steven Pisano is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Another active player standing at 5’7” or 170cm is Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka.

While Nishioka has not found quite the same degree of success to date in his career that Schwartzman has, the 27-year-old still has a few more years left to alter that.

Nishioka has been a professional tennis player the past eight years, debuting in 2014. Since then, he has not allowed his height to inhibit his performances on the tennis court, first cracking the world Top 100 in 2016, and becoming a regular thereafter. Recently, the Japanese native has found himself solidly within the world Top 50, reaching a career high ranking of 37 in October 2022.

The 27-year-old has two career titles to his name. His first crown came in 2018, winning the Shenzhen Open by defeating Denis Shapovalov, Cam Norrie, Fernando Verdasco and Pierre-Hugues Herbert enroute to the title. In 2022, he claimed his second title, again defeating Denis Shapovalov as well as world No.2 Casper Ruud at the Seoul Open.

Despite only being 5’7”, Nishioka has developed an excellent counter-punching style of tennis that has led him to several titles, Top 10 wins and becoming the No.1 Japanese player in the world already in his career.

#3: David Ferrer – 5’9” / 175cm

David Ferrer
David Ferrer” by Carine06 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Looking at players who are no longer active in the ATP circuit, but have reached great success in the past, then we need to look no further than David Ferrer.

Tennis fans will remember David Ferrer, who was the perennial world No.3 behind Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, until Novak Djokovic burst on the scene. Ferrer was another tennis player who certainly didn’t tower over the net, coming in at 5’9” or 175cm.

However, Ferrer has arguably been the most successful tennis player under six feet this century. The Spaniard first debuted as a professional in 2000, and claimed his first title just two years later, on the clay in Bucharest. Since then, the player went on to win a further 26 titles and more than $31 million in prize money.

From 2010 to 2016, David Ferrer was ranked in the world Top 10 players. For the majority of 2013 and 2014, he held the world No.3 spot, off the back of an excellent 2012 where he won seven titles including his first Masters 1000 in Paris.

David Ferrer is widely recognized as one of the best defensive tennis players, with exceptional footwork and court coverage that allows him to retrieve seemingly impossible shots and frustrate his opponents.

The 5’9” legend has to be one of the best modern players to not win a Grand Slam, and surely would have claimed several had he played in any other era. Despite this, Ferrer still led an admirable career, priding himself on his fitness and resilience to negate his lack of height.

#4: Michael Chang – 5’9” / 175cm

Rewinding the clock a few more years, American Michael Chang is another excellent short tennis player to have graced the game.

First bursting on the scene in 1988, Chang led an excellent career until 2003, which saw him inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2008. While the American only stood at 5’9” or 175cm, he managed to ascend to the peak of men’s tennis, reaching a top ranking of world No.2 in 1996.

The American won 34 career titles, including the French Open when he was only 17 years old and setting the record for the youngest man to win a Grand Slam. While he was never able to repeat his incredible feat of winning a Grand Slam, Chang did go on to lead a decorated career, picking up a total of seven Masters 1000 trophies.

As with many other short tennis players, Michael Chang negated his height disadvantage by adopting a dogged defensive style of play similar to Diego Schwartzman and David Ferrer. The American relied on his speed and court coverage to gain success over taller opponents.

Since retiring, Chang has interestingly gone on to another reasonably short tennis player, Kei Nishikori, who stands at 5’10” or 178cm.

#5: Rod Laver – 5’8” / 173cm

Last but not least, no list of vertically challenged tennis players would be complete without mentioning the venerated Rod Laver.

Standing at 5’8” or 173cm, Rod Laver led an interesting career that spanned both before and after the Open Era. Because of this overlap, data on Laver’s career is a little less clear than for modern day players.

However, it is said that Rod Laver won over 200 singles titles across his career. Prior to the Open Era, he was widely recognized as the No.1 player in the world, and after 1968, Laver won 11 Grand Slams, including the Calendar Slam—all four Grand Slams in one year—two times. Between 1964 and 1970, Laver won a minimum of 10 titles per year, and continued winning consistently until his retirement in the late 1970s.

Though Laver stepped on court shorter than the majority of his opponents, the Australian developed an excellent serve and volley game that was backed up by powerful groundstrokes. This style of play saw the tennis legend to his phenomenal success on the ATP tour. Laver goes down in history as one of the best tennis players of all time, even having a stadium named after him in Melbourne, Australia.

FAQs

1. Who is the shortest male tennis player to win a Grand Slam?

The shortest male tennis player to win a Grand Slam in the Open Era was Australian Ken Rosewall, who won the French Open in 1968, the US Open in 1970, and the Australian Open in 1971 and 1972, standing at 1.70m or 5’7” tall.

2. What is the ideal height for a tennis player?

The majority of successful men’s tennis players have been over 1.80m tall, with most in the range of 6’1” to 6’2”.

3. Who was the shortest player on the ATP Tour?

The shortest male tennis player on the ATP Tour was Olivier Rochus, who stood at 5’6” or 168cm tall. He led a successful career that saw the Belgian reach a career high ranking of No.24, and claimed two titles.

Wrap Up

Height is undeniably an advantage in the modern game of tennis.

However, Diego Schwartzman, Yoshihito Nishioka, David Ferrer, Michael Chang and Rod Laver have all proven that short male tennis players are still more than capable of succeeding on the tennis court.

Not only have these five players survived against the world’s best, but they have thrived, demonstrating that being vertically challenged is not necessarily an insurmountable challenge in the sport of tennis.

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