French Open: 5 Most Shocking Outcomes in French Open History
The 2012 French Open is currently underway.
Like many other historic sporting events, it possesses a rich history that has seen the worlds best tennis players inhabit its courts.
Also like many other sports, the Association of Tennis Player rankings do not tell the whole story of an individual athlete, or a match.
Tennis players have contributed upsets to higher powers, feeling that they represent a people or a culture, and to just having a good day.
Let’s take a look at the top five most shocking upsets in French Open history.
Number 5: Iva Majoli’s Upset of Martina Hingis
In 1997, Martina Hingis was as dominate as anyone in sports. She started the season 37-0, and looked absolutely unbeatable. Hingis dominated her competition, winning the first six tournaments that she had played within that season.
Looking poised to win her first French Open, Hingis was set to play a rather unknown Croatian tennis player named Iva Majoli. Many experts at the time were surprised to even see Majoli in the French Open finals.
Majoli showed them. Majoli looked in control of the entire match.
Hingis hung around by saving six break points to hold in the fifth game. But the will of Majoli got to the top-seeded Hingis. Hingis double faulted to face a ninth break point in the seventh game. Majoli then delivered a forehand into the corner for a 4-3 lead. Majoli persevered through the top-seeded Hingis to win her first and only Grand Slam title.
Number 4: Virginie Razzano’s Upset of Serena Williams
Since arriving on the tennis scene, I do not think anyone can argue that Serena Williams has been one of the most dominate female tennis players of her generation. Since 1999, Williams has won 13 Grand Slam titles and been the runner-up of a Grand Slam tournament on four different occasions.
With the exception of this season, Serena Williams had a combined record of 46-0 in the first round of a Grand Slam tournament. Entering her match with Virginie Razzano, Williams was 17-0 on clay this season.
The 2002 winner of the French Open did not look like herself from the beginning of the match. Even she admitted that her best play was not happening during this contest. “I just started making a lot of errors. Just the whole match, I didn't play at all the way I have been practicing,” she said.
Razzano, who has never won a Grand Slam or WTA Championship, entered the match ranked 111th in the WTA. One hundred and six spots behind Serena Williams.
Making the victory even more unlikely is the fact that Virginie Razzano was mourning the loss of her coach and fiance, who had recently passed away due to a brain tumor.
Number 3: Gustavo Kuerten’s Upset of Sergi Bruguera
Kuerten’s improbable victory at the French Open is even more astonishing when you factor in that he had only won one ATP level match on dirt before Roland Garros.
Kuerten's astonishing road to success was not an easy one. To even play Sergi Bruguera, Kuerten had to beat both Thomas Muster and Yevgeny Kafelnikov—both of whom already had French Open titles under their belts.
The 66th seeded Gustavo Kuerten became Brazil’s first Grand Slam champion since Maria Bueno won the U.S. National title in 1966.
The improbable victory by Kuerten was really summarized best by an answer he gave to tennis.com;
If you look at my history, I really had a very small chance [of succeeding as a pro player]… When I start to play the game, tennis was very rare in Brazil. In Florianopolis, we did not have more than five tennis courts in the 1980s. So if not for the support and push of my father, I never would have made it.
Number 2: Robin Soderling’s Upset of Rafael Nadal
Before the French Open in 2009, Rafael Nadal was the most dominant clay tennis player on the planet.
He was unbeatable by anyone’s standards, and had amassed 31 match victories on the surface. As Howard Fendrich coined, “Nadal never truly was challenged, much less defeated, at the French Open, allowing him to win four consecutive titles…”
Nadal entered the match with Soderling with six Grand Slam titles already under his belt. Every odds-maker on the planet had Nadal being the odds on favorite to win the entire tournament.
Robin Soderling’s credentials at the time of his match with Nadal—zero major tournament championships.
Soderling had never even made it out of the third-round of a major tennis championship.
The 23rd seeded Soderling beat No. 1 seeded Rafael Nadal 6–2, 6–7(2), 6–4, 7–6(2).
This victory at the French Open made Soderling the first and, as of the beginning of the 2012 French Open, the only person to beat Nadal at the French Open. Soderling also became the only person to beat Nadal in a best of five-set match on clay.
Number 1: Michael Chang’s Upset of Ivan Lendl
At 17-years-old Michael Te-Pei Chang became the youngest-ever male player to win a Grand Slam singles championship. But before that happened, Chang had to beat a much more experienced Ivan Lendl.
Standing 5’9’’ and barely 161 pounds, no one really gave Chang a chance to beat the three-time French Open champion Ivan Lendl.
Chang himself had some issues believing that he could beat such an experienced French Open veteran like Lendl. In an interview with Tennis Channel years later Chang admitted that he thought:
Who am I kidding? I’m playing against Ivan Lendl, the three-time French Open champion. I started to walk toward the chair umpire and I got to the service line and I got an unbelievable conviction in my heart. My goal is to finish this match whether I win or whether I lose. All of a sudden before I know it, I'm on my back and I've beaten the No. 1 player in the world.
This four-and-a-half hour fourth-round French Open contest was grueling, and will always be one that is tied to the history of the French Open.