Heading into this years French Open quarterfinals, there are a few men and women who, let's be honest, have totally caught us by surprise. And for good reason. There's usually no reason to think an unranked player will make it this far.
But here we are, after more than a week of daily matches that have pit the best in the world against each other, and what we do know? A ranking ain't nothing but a number.
So here's my cream of the crop in this years class of underdogs at the French Open:
Yaroslava Shvedova, number one tennis player in Kazakhstan
I'll try to refrain from making the obvious Borat reference here.
Yaroslava Shvedova of Kazakhstan. She did it, all the way to the quarters of the French Open and perhaps farther either in Paris or at another Grand Slam. Greatest Kazakh tennis player ever? It sounds like a best-seller.
To put it into perspective, Shveds ended 2011 ranked No. 206 in the world. Most people couldn't name the top 10.
But you don't get to No. 206 in the world without taking down a few peers. The 24-year-old won the Sony Ericsson Open in 2007, entering the top 100 for her first time. That same year, she defeated future world No. 1 Ana Ivanovic. She also took down No. 5 Jelena Jankovic at Wimbledon in 2009 and No. 8 in the world Agnieszka Radwanska at Roland Garros in 2010.
And then she slipped into relative obscurity. Until now.
For perhaps her greatest trick, she just defeated last years French Open winner Li Na. Her match tomorrow in the quarterfinals of this years French Open against Czech Petra Kvitova is perhaps her best opportunity to let the world know she's no fluke. Kvitova has a nice left-handed serve and plays from the baseline with power.
But we could be on the verge of Shvedova-sanity. Very nice.
Nicolas Almagro, the lowest seed left in the French Open
The Spaniards are dominating the tournament this year, but perhaps no one is more surprising than No. 12 ranked Nicolas Almagro, the lowest seeded player in the tournament heading into the quarterfinals
And now he's got a date Wednesday morning against some guy named Rafael. The fellow countrymen will do battle for the right to advance to the semi's. He'll probably come up with nada against Nadal.
But he's earned some respect for having five opportunities to beat Nadal on match point at the 2009 Masters in Paris. Will Wednesday be the last we see of him? Maybe for a little while, but next time you see the name, don't call it a comeback.
The unknown Italian, Sara Errani is the underdog heading into the quarters.
Errani is playing the best tennis of her career.
The 25-year-old is standing tall in the quarterfinals of this years French Open and could pose a legitimate challenge for her opponent, 10th seeded German Angelique Kerber, whose biggest stage was perhaps the semifinals of last years U.S. Open. The German remains otherwise untested in Grand Slam play, and the match between them on Tuesday could easily open up an opportunity for Errani to pull out an upset.
Errani has won enough on clay to be considered a real threat to anyone outside the top 5. Look for her to come out on the offensive against the left-handed Kerber and separate herself from the onset. She has excellent ball control and plays great all-court tennis.
She's the most likely underdog to advance to the semifinals. Beyond Roland Garros, Errani will figure deep into other Grand Slams for years to come.