Australian Open 2012: Top 10 Surprise Tournament Finalists in the Open Era

Van Sias@@Van_SiasContributor IIIJanuary 25, 2012

Australian Open 2012: Top 10 Surprise Tournament Finalists in the Open Era

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    The singles semifinals are set at the Australian Open, and of the eight players left in the men's and women's draws, the only player to have never made a Grand Slam final is No. 3 seed Victoria Azarenka.

    Six of the remaining seven have made finals in Melbourne, so it may have a familiar feeling if they were to get that far. However, the Australian Open has a deep history of unheralded players breaking through for their first—and in many cases only—Grand Slam final. Here is a look at some of the shock finalists over the years.

Chris O'Neil

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    There once was a time when the Australian Open women's draw was dominated by homegrown champions, with Margaret Court and Evonne Goolagong Cawley leading the way. The last one to win was Chris O'Neil back in 1978—the first unseeded woman in the Open Era to win the Australian.

    O'Neil's victory comes as a bit of a shock as it's her only career singles title. Despite a Grand Slam title, her career-high ranking was 80.

Rainer Schuettler

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    By the time the 2003 Australian Open rolled around, Rainer Schuettler of Germany had established himself as a solid top-40 singles player. After the tournament was over, Schuettler walked away with a runner-up trophy and wins over Andy Roddick, James Blake and David Nalbandian.

    In the finals he lost to Andre Agassi, who acknowledged the hard work the German had put in off the court to get that far at a major.

Fernando Gonzalez

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    "Gonzo" seemed to be a fitting nickname when you took the big-hitting Chilean's game into account. However, when he brought on Larry Stefanki as coach—who had him temper his shot-making—the results were almost immediate.

    Gonzalez lost to Roger Federer in the finals, but not before showing what he could do when dialing back his game a notch.

Thomas Johansson

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    Looking back, it seems as if the '02 tournament was essentially up for grabs and Thomas Johansson of Sweden took advantage of that fact. A solid player, Johansson crept through the draw without playing anyone in the top 20 en route to the finals. Once there, he beat the mercurial Marat Safin in four sets.

    Johansson remains the last male player from Sweden to win a Grand Slam singles title.

Barbara Jordan

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    Barbara Jordan's run to the title in 1979 was memorable and a monumental one as well: The former Stanford standout was the only American woman to win the title in the '70s.

    In 1983, her younger sister Kathy made the finals of the tournament, losing to Martina Navratilova.

Marcos Baghdatis

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    In 2006, unseeded Marcos Baghdatis' run to the finals was the story of the tournament. The fan favorite, bolstered by support from fans from his native Cyprus, defeated three top-10 players in a row—Andy Roddick, Ivan Ljubicic and David Nalbandian.

    His dream tournament ended at the hands of Roger Federer.

Brian Teacher

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    The American, with his booming serve-and-volley game, added his name to the list of Grand Slam champions when he won the tournament in 1980 over Australian Kim Warwick.

    Though Teacher would go on to reach the top 10 in the world shortly after his major victory, the furthest he ever advanced in a Slam afterward was the quarterfinals at Wimbledon in 1982.

Anke Huber

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    Throughout the majority of her career, there was always pressure on Anke Huber to be "the next Steffi Graf." While she had spent time in the top 10 before the 1996 Australian, it was still a surprise that she advanced to the finals—partly due to the burden of expectations.

    Despite losing to Monica Seles, Huber went on to reach her career-high ranking of No. 4 that year.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

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    Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga really exploded onto the scene at the 2008 Australian Open. He wreaked havoc on the draw from the first match on, taking out world No. 9 Andy Murray at the start then defeating No. 2 Rafael Nadal in the semifinals on the way to the first singles final of his career.

    Novak Djokovic stopped his run in a four-set battle.

Arnaud Clement

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    A few years before Tsonga's surprising run, countryman Arnaud Clement had a career-defining experience of his own in Melbourne in 2001.

    The speedy Frenchman knocked off a young top-30 player named Roger Federer in the third round, and also beat Yevgeny Kafelnikov and countryman Sebastien Grosjean before falling to Andre Agassi.