As the 2012 U.S. Open prepares to get under way in a matter of hours, the most exciting events cataloged during the next two weeks will involve upsets.
This means that a player, not expected to win a match, plays well beyond his or her usual level to win in two or three sets—defeating an opponent ranked higher.
The higher the seed upset, the more astounding the result.
Fans around the world love cheering for the underdog—seeing the mighty fall. It is just human nature to long to see the unexpected.
Upsets are part of the history of the U.S. Open. Following are the 25 biggest surprise wins in the Open Era of tennis.
In 1994 Boris Becker, seeded No. 7, lost in the first round to USA’s Richey Reneberg 6-1, 6-4, 4-6, 1-6, 7-6.
It was an exciting beginning for fans sitting in the stands, but represented an ultimate end to Becker’s 1994 U.S. Open campaign.
It appeared as if the big German suddenly woke up to find himself on the verge of going under for the last time—down two sets to love.
Becker fought back strong, leveling the match at two sets all. That brought the two opponents to the inevitable fifth set—followed by the last gasp tiebreaker, unique to the U.S. Open.
After saving five match points, Becker could not save a sixth, finally falling to Reneberg in five exhausting sets.
Afterwards Becker complained about the Open’s sluggish playing surfaces in addition to Reneberg’s never-say-die tenacity.
Ultimately, however, it all came down to Reneberg who never gave into Becker’s constant assault, which consumed the better part of three hours.
But, in the end, the effort cost the American. After advancing to the fourth round, Reneberg retired while playing No. 9 Todd Martin, having captured the first set but down 0-3 in the second.
For Becker, it was his first opening round loss at the U.S. Open.
As strange as it may seem for those who observed his tenacious play later in his career—in 1991, Andre Agassi simply ran out of gas in his opening round match against Aaron Krickstein.
Agassi was a finalist at the U.S. Open in 1990. Yet, during the opening salvos on the first day in 1991, Agassi would fade away in this three-set contest as the heat soared on court.
Seeded No. 8, Agassi lost in the first round to the American, Aaron Krickstein 7-5, 7-6, 6-2. He had 55 unforced errors and six double faults as the match spiraled out of his control.
Agassi remained incapable of establishing any rhythm or constructing an effective game plan.
Even the New York crowds turned against him as they smelled an upset in the making.
Krickstein capitalized winning the big points and coming up with the right plays on the fly. Agassi remained powerless to stop him.
Krickstein would finally lose to wild-card entry Jimmy Connors in the fourth round 3-6, 7-6, 1-6, 6-3, 7-6 in a another remarkable match.
In 1987, the No. 7 seed Pat Cash lost in the opening round to unseeded Peter Lundgren of Sweden 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4.
Their contest was a night match played during the opening rounds on Stadium Court.
Cash had just been crowned the 1987 Wimbledon champion.
But two and a half weeks prior to the U.S. Open, Lundgren had defeated Cash in Montreal. That loss had to affect the outcome of this match in some way—mainly by giving the Swede an extra dose of self-confidence.
By losing on Stadium Court, the Aussie became the first reigning Wimbledon champion to lose in the opening round of the U.S. Open since 1971.
The tension-filled match see-sawed back and forth with Lundgren finally prevailing. The New York City crowds seemed divided, with some loudly cheering Cash on while others, sensing an upset, backed the Swede.
After their match concluded, Cash complained of fatigue. But he got little sympathy from his fellow pros—naturally.
Despite his stellar play in his opening match, Lundgren would lose in the next round to Andrei Chesnokov 6-2, 7-5, 2-6, 6-0.
Tracy Austin was fourteen years old in 1977. She entered the U.S. Open unseeded and was scheduled to meet the No. 4 seed Sue Barker of Great Britain in the third round.
The tennis world was shocked when the “little girl” Austin upset Barker, 6-1, 6-4.
Weighing in at 93 pounds Austin looked as if she would have a hard time picking up her racket—let alone swinging it to produce lethal flat forehands that painted the lines and drove her opponents crazy.
Austin became the talk of the Open in 1977, as fans and pros wondered publicly if she might not be too young, and too unsophisticated for the professional tennis world.
But Austin remained, making an immediate impact, regardless of her age.
The win over Barker postponed Austin’s return to California to begin ninth grade.
The teenager would fall in the quarterfinals to Betty Stove of the Netherlands, 6-2, 6-2, ending Austin's run at the U.S. Open in 1977.
In the second round, Paul Haarhuis defeated the former U.S. Open champ John McEnroe, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5.
Just as teenager Pete Sampras excused Mats Wilander prematurely in 1989, Haarhuis did the same to the No. 4 seed, 30-year-old McEnroe.
The unheralded Dutchman Haarhuis, ranked 115, upended McEnroe whose mantle displayed four previous U.S. Open trophies.
But, again like Wilander, McEnroe’s best days were behind him—even though McEnroe of late seemed to be experiencing a resurgence. A case in point—at Wimbledon in 1989, McEnroe advanced to the semifinals.
Haarhuis, however, ended McEnroe’s thoughts of climbing back up the rankings ladder.
The Dutchman outhit and out-hustled the former champ throughout the match. Haarhuis’ power game completely frustrated McEnroe who had no answers for the 23-year-old who seemingly came from nowhere to take him out.
Just as with Sampras, Haarhuis won the match with his serve, with one break of serve in each of his three winning sets. Afterwards, McEnroe called his own play “dead.” He felt he had just given in to the Dutchman without putting any effort into winning.
Another baseline power hitter out-muscled a former champion, as 1989 became the year of the upsets at the U.S. Open
American John Isner won his third-round match upsetting the No. 5 seed Andy Roddick, 7-6, 6-3, 3-6, 5-7, 7-6.
In the 2009 Wimbledon final, Andy Roddick played an almost perfect match against his arch-rival Roger Federer. During that encounter, Roddick lost his serve only once—in the last game of the match. That one slip, allowed Federer to escape with his sixth Wimbledon crown.
Coming into the 2009 U.S. Open, however, Roddick believed he could win this time. The support of the New York crowds was amazing.
Roddick’s opponent in the third round was fellow American John Isner, who stood towering overhead at 6'9.” Isner, ranked No. 55, owned a blistering, punishing serve and faced Roddick with his own reserve of confidence.
Their match lasted almost four hours, keeping fans on the edge of their seats. In a final set tiebreak, Isner finally served it out to win the match.
In all, Isner served up 38 aces to stall No. 5 seed Roddick. It was Isner’s most important victory at that point in his career.
For Roddick, the loss began a downward spiral which continues today.
In 1976, the U.S. Open was being played on clay at the West Side Tennis Club. It would be played on clay until 1978 when the DecoTurf was installed at the new USTA Center.
The No. 3 seed Martina Navratilova, who was 19-years-old at the time, did not play her best on clay.
The previous year Navratilova had defected from her home country of Czechoslovakia. Life in the United States was strange and success on the tennis stage was paramount.
Navratilova displayed her emotions without reservation after her loss, 1-6, 6-4, 6-3, to the unseeded Janet Newberry in the first round of the 1976 U.S. Open.
In fact, Martina sobbed uncontrollably sitting in her chair after the two shook hands at the net. She remained inconsolable. The situation became even worse as the Czech tried to leave the court.
The New York Post described it as a complete emotional breakdown.
Newberry would advance to the fourth round where she would go down to defeat to Dianne Fromholtz, seeded No. 10.
Luckily, Navratilova would win in New York City later in her career—once the clay surface was history.
In 1973 the No. 3 seed Arthur Ashe was upset in the third round by unseeded Swede Bjorn Borg 6-7, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.
The Open was held at Forest Hills on grass courts. Eventually Borg would learn to play exceptionally on grass surfaces. But in 1973, Borg was an inexperienced teenager—17-years-old at the time.
The blond Swede had made a name for himself at Wimbledon earlier that summer where he was constantly inundated by teenage girls who followed him where ever he went in London.
Borg did not have a similar problem at Forest Hills, which allowed the Swede to concentrate on his tennis. The focus paid off because the Swede came away with a victory, sending the 30-year-old Ashe packing.
At the conclusion of the match, Ashe faulted his own play while praising Borg’s. The teenager was definitely a star in the making.
The unseeded Borg, however, would lose in the next round to Nikola Pilic 6-4, 5-7, 6-3, 6-4.
Unfortunately, Borg would never triumph in New York City—regardless of the surface.
Svetlana Kuznetsova won the U.S. Open in 2004. But in 2005 the Russian was living through a slump.
Since winning the Open in 2004, Kuznetsova had not advanced beyond the quarterfinals of any subsequent major. The Russian had also not won a title since winning her first slam in 2004.
Seeded No. 5, the defending champion was drawn to meet 20-year-old fellow Russian Ekaterina Bychkova in her opening round match at the 2005 U.S. Open.
Continuing to struggle during matches, Kuznetsova lost her opener to Bychkova, 6-3, 6-2.
She became the first defending champion to lose her opening round match since 1968. It was a real disappointment for Kuznetsova.
Bychkova would lose in the next round to Croat Ivana Lisjak, 7-5, 6-1.
Mats Wilander’s premiere year on tour was 1988 when he became the No. 1 player in the world.
The Swede rose up to sweep the No. 1 ranking away from Ivan Lendl after defeating him in the finals of the 1988 U.S. Open.
As defending champion a year later, Wilander, seeded No. 5, came into the Open on a definite downward spiral.
In the second round he met an 18-year-old American ranked No. 91—Pete Sampras.
Sampras played an imperfect serve and volley game that was very predictable. For Sampras, it meant coming to the net on every stroke of the ball.
According to Mary Carillo, Sampras came to the net 160 times to Wilander’s 14.
Wilander, for his part, played a subpar match. The 25-year-old Swede remained mystified about his slump throughout 1989.
Sampras admitted timing was everything as he took advantage of the usually superlative Swede’s poor play. Sampras’ constant forays to the net kept Wilander off balance.
In the end, however, his serve remained Sampras’ major weapon and he used it to great effect to defeat the defending champion 5-7, 6-3, 1-6, 6-1, 6-4.
Wilander would never again scale the heights that took him to the No. 1 ranking in 1988.
It was a symbolic conclusion with Sampras defeating Wilander––one rising to new heights and one falling to new lows.
In 1999 Patrick Rafter, seeded No. 4, was the defending champion.
He entered the Open that year hoping to become the first man to win three consecutive titles since Ivan Lendl won the U.S. Open from 1985-1987. Rafter, of course, had won consecutive titles in 1997-1998.
But winning three was not in the cards. Instead, the Aussie lost in the first round to unseeded Frenchman Cedric Pioline, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-0.
Suffering from shoulder tendinitis, Rafter did not have the physical reserve to win a protracted five-set match.
Falling on his sore shoulder early in the match did not help matters. The trainer became his constant companion on the sidelines. He retired in the fifth set—unable to continue.
As midnight came and went, Rafter folded, becoming the first U.S. Open male champion in 119 years to lose his opening round match the following year.
As his stamina waned and his power dissipated, the New York crowds also turned against him, not understanding his pain.
Formerly a finalist in 1993, Pioline would advance to the semifinals of the Open losing to No. 7 seed Todd Martin, 6-4, 6-1, 6-2.
In 1994 the No. 2 seed Goran Ivanisevic lost in the first round of the U.S. Open to an unseeded German, Markus Zoecke, 6-2, 7-5, 3-6, 7-5.
Ivanisevic was well known for his big serve, but the German’s serve was even more powerful, clocked earlier that year at 136 miles per hour.
While the Croat served 21 aces on the afternoon, he also threw in 10 double faults and contributed 60 unforced errors in his first-round loss. His ground strokes were completely passive on the day.
Ivanisevic felt that his inability to play well was a mental problem brought on when the No. 2 seed applied too much pressure on himself to do well.
That pressure rendered him incapable of moving forward into attack mode.
Standing back and waiting was a sure recipe for defeat. And, Ivanisevic served up a big portion of standing flat-footed on the baseline—and losing in the process.
For his part, Zoecke lasted until the third round, losing to qualifier Gianluca Pozzi of Italy in four sets.
29-year-old Wayne Arthurs went through qualifying rounds to make the main draw of the 2000 U.S. Open. In the first round, he met the No. 2 seed Gustavo Kuerten of Brazil, “Guga” to his fans.
Kuerten who made his mark as a clay court specialist struggled on other surfaces, trying to make his mark on hard courts and grass. The Brazilian had just won the 2000 French Open title two months before.
But Arthurs was on his game, serving 26 aces, plus firing 69 winners past Kuerten. The Aussie, ranked 102, generally made life miserable for the No. 2 seed. Kuerten lost 4-6, 6-3, 7-6, 7-6.
Kuerten’s defeat marked the second time since 1956 that the No. 2 seed lost in the first round. The other time occurred in 1994 when No. 2 Goran Ivanisevic was upset by Markus Zoecke of Germany.
Arthurs would hang on until the fourth round when he lost in four sets to Swede Thomas Johansson.
2009 became the year of upsets for the women at the U.S. Open. One of most dramatic occurred when wild-card Kim Clijsters upset the No. 2 seed Serena Williams, 6-4, 7-5 in the semifinals.
Clijsters would go on to win the 2009 U. S. Open championship.
Clijsters who had retired from the women’s tour in 2007, mounted an extremely successful comeback in 2009. Her campaign took her to the semifinals where she faced Serena Williams for a chance to advance to the finals.
Williams, for her part, came into the Open having won both the Australian Open and Wimbledon in 2009—plus she was the defending 2008 U.S. Open Champion.
Clijsters who had defeated sister Venus Williams in the fourth round 6-0, 0-6, 6-4, stood ready to face her younger sister Serena in the semifinals.
Playing consistent and aggressive tennis, Clijsters took the first set 6-4. As the set became history, Williams smashed her racket, earning a warning for racket abuse from the umpire.
In the second set, there was no let up. The two players remained on serve. With Clijsters up 6-5, Williams served to level the match and send it to a tiebreak.
At 15-30, Serena received a foot-fault call on her second serve—which she disputed in angry and volatile fashion. Her behavior prompted another penalty but since Serena, down 15-40, had no more points to give, the penalty point cost her the set and the match.
Kim Clijsters won the title over Caroline Wozniacki, but the match with Williams became the most memorable of the tournament in 2009.
In 1975 (1) Jimmy Connors overcame arch-rival Bjorn Borg in the semifinals of the U.S. Open while Spain’s (3) Manuel Orantes defeated the No. 2 seed Guillermo Vilas in a very difficult match to reach the final.
There, the Spaniard would have another uphill battle, facing Jimmy Connors.
In 1975, the Open at Forest Hills was being played on clay.
After a record-breaking 1974 season, Connors was having a bad year. He lost his Australian Open crown to John Newcombe and his Wimbledon trophy to Arthur Ashe.
His back was against the wall as the American faced the Spaniard in the U.S. Open finals, trying to retain his hold on the No. 1 ranking—even though the clay surface seemed to give the advantage to Orantes.
Connors felt confident going into the match that he would win again because he had defeated the Spaniard in six of their last seven meetings.
Orantes, however, never let Connors into the match. The Spaniard played slow, denying Connors pace, never allowing him to establish a rhythm. Orantes lobbed and passed Connors at the net with amazing accuracy.
Connors found that he did not have game enough to defeat the Spaniard that day.
Connors lost his third slam championship—this time to the underdog Orantes in 1975.
Roger Federer seemed a lock to win the U.S. Open in 2009. The No. 1 seed had not lost a match at the Open since 2003. Now he prepared to play for his sixth consecutive title at Flushing Meadows.
In 2009, Del Potro, age 20, managed to accomplish what his peers, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic were unable to accomplish at Arthur Ashe stadium—outlast and overcome Federer in a major final.
Juan Marin del Potro had to fight for his life in this match, but he never relinquished his belief that he could defeat the man across the net, the world No. 1 Federer.
Besides Rafael Nadal, del Potro became only the second man in history to defeat Federer in a slam final. The score that day was 3-6, 7-6, 4-6, 7-6, 6-2. Del Potro joined Guillermo Vilas as the second Argentine to win the U.S. Open title. Fittingly, Vilas was on hand to watch his compatriot win the title.
Going into the match, Federer owned the young Argentine having defeated him in their first six contests.
Several times it appeared Federer had opportunities to change the course of the match, but unlike the Federer of old, he could not close it out. This time del Potro fought his way back, finally casting Federer in the role of the vanquished.
The last and greatest ascendancy came in the fifth set when del Potro closed the door quickly denying Federer another opportunity to find a way to win.
Seeded in the top spot, Pete Sampras entered the U.S. Open in 1997 expecting to find himself in the final with another shot at a title.
Sampras seemed to be a fixture, playing in every U.S. Open final since 1994. This, moreover, was the first year the championship would be played in the new Arthur Ashe Stadium.
In the fourth round, Sampras met the fifteenth seed Petr Korda from the Czech Republic. Korda had played Sampras tough during a five-setter at Wimbledon earlier that summer. Sampras held on to win that match.
But this time the victory went to Korda, 6-7, 7-5, 7-6, 3-6, 7-6. Sampras gave Korda full credit for his victory because the Czech came up with the right shots when he had to.
Sampras fought hard throughout the contest, firing 58 winners including 24 aces. At one point, the American held a 3-0 advantage in the final set. Sampras appeared well on his way to winning his 17th consecutive match win at the U.S. Open.
But the Czech had other ideas. After dealing with rain delays and the Sampras serve, Korda fought his way into a final set tiebreak––where he leaped out to a 4-0 lead over Sampras.
Korda was able to serve it out and win the match.
John McEnroe, lost to fellow American Bill Scanlon, 7-6, 7-6, 4-6, 6-4, in the fourth round of the U.S. Open in 1983.
The one tournament where McEnroe felt at home and the one crowd McEnroe could depend on was at Flushing Meadows in New York City. He lived only fifteen minutes from the stadium. The U.S. Open was home territory.
The upset became the talk of the tournament, marking the first time since 1977 that McEnroe had not made it at least as far as the semifinals of the Open.
Making matters worse for McEnroe, the fickle New Yorkers began to back Scanlon. As much as McEnroe fought to blame the fans, the chair officials, the lines-people, the excess noise, the planes circling, the heat and the stifling conditions––in the end, McEnroe simply did not deliver the better play.
Scanlon defeated him going away. McEnroe playing from behind, won only 51 percent of his first serves, committed 14 unforced errors, plus double-faulted 10 times.
Those numbers were not good enough to win. Scanlon was the better player that day.
It was 1994 and the U.S. Open loomed in late summer.
Pete Sampras was the top seed and the defending champion. Most agreed that Sampras would repeat as champion in 1994.
Unfortunately, Sampras suffered most of the summer, battling tendinitis in his left ankle. This led the top-ranked American to miss all the tune-up events leading up to the Open.
Therefore, Sampras was hardly match-strong coming into New York, but he did manage to advance to the fourth round where he would meet Jaime Yzaga.
The Peruvian was a consummate counter-puncher plus a scrambler who never quit on a point. This day it won him the match and his first quarterfinal berth in a major.
Yzaga had earned the victory.
Safina went down to defeat, 6-4, 2-6, 7-6, at the hands of Petra Kvitova, an unseeded teenager from the Czech Republic.
The Russian was the next in a line of No. 1 players who had not managed to win a Grand Slam singles title.
After waiting over three hours to take the court at the 2009 Open, as other matches extended into the night session. Safina was nervous starting the match. She lost the first set.
But Safina regrouped and came back to win the second set.
The two opponents played to a third set tiebreak with Kvitova winning the decider.
The Russian’s serving woes haunted her in this match as Kvitova took advantage of Safina’s weak second serve.
Kvitova would advance finally losing in the fourth round to Yanina Wickmayer, 4-6, 6-4, 7-5.
Of course, Kvitova would come back to win the Wimbledon title in 2011.
In 1991, No. 1 seed Boris Becker went out in the third round to Paul Haarhuis of the Netherlands in straight sets, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2. It was a major upset at the U.S. Open that year.
Becker seemed slow and uncertain, always a step behind as Haarhuis dictated play during the afternoon.
Those assembled watching the match kept waiting for the real Becker to appear.
Ultimately, the big German never quite sputtered to life. During the match, the No. 1 seed accumulated 35 unforced errors in three sets.
While Becker’s play was subpar, Haarhuis played some exhilarating tennis, serving well and anticipating even better.
Becker blamed a tightness in the back of his right leg which he said impeded his movement.
Regardless, Haarhuis would move on, surviving until the quarterfinals. There he lost to Jimmy Connors, 4-6, 7-6, 6-4, 6-2.
Frenchwoman Julie Coin, ranked 188, had never gained entry into a Grand Slam tournament before competing in the U.S. Open in 2008.
After winning the French Open title in 2008, Serb Ana Ivanovic was the top seed at Flushing Meadows.
Ivanovic was one of the huge beneficiaries of Justine Henin’s early retirement from tennis.
But life at the top did not appear to suit Ivanovic. Earlier that summer, the Serb had lost in the third round of Wimbledon––subsequently withdrawing from the Olympics.
Ivanovic’s defeat by Coin 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 marked the first time in 40 years at the Open that the No. 1 seed on the women’s side of the draw lost in the second round. Previously in 1966 Billie Jean King (1) lost to Kerry Melville, 6-4, 6-4 in the second round.
Losing to Coin represented the final nail in the coffin of Ivanovic's reign at the top of the game.
Hounded by the press, Ivanovic’s confidence, as well as her ranking, plummeted.
Ivanovic has never managed to climb back into the women’s top ten since then.
It was a difficult summer for the American Agassi who was seeded No. 1 coming into the U.S. Open in 2000 as he dealt with personal issues.
Agassi, however, gave no excuses for his straight set loss at the hands of No. 37 Frenchman Arnaud Clement 6-3, 6-2, 6-4.
Agassi’s play appeared sluggish, as if he did not expect to win—worse that he really did not care. He showed no enthusiasm and lacked his usually superb ability to concentrate on the ball.
Clement produced 36 winners on the day while Agassi had 19. Each had 27 unforced errors.
The difference, however, was that Clement extended himself going for winners while Agassi failed routinely on shots that the American normally made with his eyes closed.
While Clement won the match, Agassi, like other top seeds Gustavo Kuerten and Patrick Rafter, faded away in the heat of the day.
Favored No. 1 John Newcombe lost to Czech Jan Kodes 2-6, 7-6, 7-6, 6-3 in the first round of the 1971 U.S. Open.
Kode,s who had won the French Open that year, was unseeded at the U.S. Open.
Newcombe, who had won the Wimbledon title earlier in July, received the No. 1 seed by the U.S. Tennis officials.
To prove a point, Kodes won on grass played that day at the West Side Tennis Club at the Forest Hills site—claiming both tiebreaks in convincing fashion.
Newcombe seemed in complete control after winning the opening set and fans seemed to assume he would win the match as well; but, Kodes held on through the second set and when he won the second set tiebreak, felt he could win the match.
Kodes did exactly that to the chagrin of the No. 1 seed.
Newcombe had not lost a first round match since he was 18-years-of-age.
For Newcombe in 1971, the loss represented the first time in 90 years that the top seed lost in the first round.
After his upset win, Kodes would advance to the finals, losing 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 7-6 to American Stan Smith who was seeded No. 2.
Stefan Edberg had never been especially fond of New York City and its tennis tournaments.
The U.S. Open apparently was to continue to be a jinx for the Swede much as it had been for his countryman Bjorn Borg.
In 1990, however, Edberg found himself as the No. 1 seed at the U.S. Open.
The Swede allowed himself a slight bit of hope coming into the tournament.
Russian Alexander Volkov, ranked No. 52 in the world, certainly expected little at the U.S. Open that year––especially once he was drawn to face the No. 1 seed.
Edberg had, after all, just captured the 1990 Wimbledon championship.
Expecting the worst, Volkov, proceeded to schedule a tournament in West Germany later in the week with a flight heading out on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, however, the Russian upset the No. 1 seed Stefan Edberg, 6-3, 7-6, 6-2.
Volkov altered his travel plans after becoming the first man in 19 years to defeat the No. 1 seed in the opening round.
For his part, Edberg would return and would win consecutive championships in 1991-1992.
But this upset at the U.S. Open in 1990 will live on in his memory and in ours.