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Ranking the Most Shocking Upsets in US Open Tennis History

Jake CurtisFeatured Columnist IIJanuary 4, 2017

Ranking the Most Shocking Upsets in US Open Tennis History

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    Victoria Duval's stunning victory over 11th-seeded Samantha Stosur provided the big story of the first round of the 2013 U.S. Open. But does it rank among the most shocking upsets in U.S. Open history?

    In determining our ranking of the most shocking upsets, we considered only matches played in the Open Era. Technically, the first U.S. Open was played in 1968, so that is the starting point.

    Standouts such as John McEnroe, Pete Sampras, Monica Seles and John Newcombe are among the stars who were victims of historic upsets at the U.S. Open.

    We had limited our rankings to the 12 greatest shockers before Duval's upset forced us to make room for a 13th entry. Therefore, here is our countdown of the 13 most shocking upsets in the U.S. Open.

13. Pete Sampras Defeats Mats Wilander, 1989

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    It may be hard to believe that Pete Sampras makes this list as an upset winner. But he was not a star when he faced Mats Wilander in the second round of the 1989 U.S. Open.

    Wilander began 1989 ranked No. 1, having won three of the four majors in 1988, including the U.S. Open.

    He was still ranked No. 5 when he faced Sampras, then a relative unknown who had just turned 18 earlier that month.  

    "At the start, I didn't really believe it myself that I could beat Mats Wilander." Sampras said, according to the Los Angeles Times.

    There was no reason to believe it. Sampras was ranked No. 91, and that year he had lost to 81st-ranked Christian Saceanu in the first round of the Australian Open and to 244th-ranked Todd Woodbridge in the first round of Wimbledon.

    Sampras showed his inexperience when he double-faulted on his first match point against Wilander. Wilander helped him out by hitting a return long on the second match point.

    "I played a terrible match," Wilander said, according to the Los Angeles Times.

    Sampras went on to beat Jaime Yzaga in that tournament, which is noteworthy because Yzaga upset Sampras five years later.

     

12. Jan Kodes Defeats John Newcombe, 1971

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    The court surface was the key factor in listing Jan Kodes' 1971, first-round victory over top-seeded John Newcombe among the biggest U.S. Open shockers.

    Kodes had already proven he could beat the game's top players on clay, having won the 1970 and 1971 French Open championships.

    However, the 1971 U.S. Open was played on grass, and Kodes' game simply did not seem suited to that surface, which was dominated by serve-and-volley players at that time.

    To that point, Kodes had won only one match in his six appearances at Wimbledon, and that included a first-round loss two months before the 1971 U.S. Open. He had lost in the second round in his only previous entry into the U.S. Open in 1969, choosing not to play the event in 1970.

    That's why Kodes was unseeded at the 1971 U.S. Open.

    Newcombe, meanwhile, had established himself as one of the world's top grass-court players. He had won Wimbledon in both 1970 and 1971 and was a semifinalist at the U.S. Open the previous two years.

    Kodes' steady groundstrokes did not figure to stand up on the fast surface against Newcombe's powerful serve-and-volley game.

    Newcombe rolled through the first set, but Kodes turned things around and won 2-6, 7-6, 7-6, 6-3. Newcombe became the first No. 1 seed since 1928 to lose in the first round of the U.S. Championships, according to the U.S. Open website.

    Kodes proved the victory was not a fluke by getting all the way to the finals before losing to Stan Smith.

     

     

11. Victoria Duval Defeats Samantha Stosur, 2013

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    Victoria Duval, a 17-year-old qualifier ranked 296th, pulled off the first major upset of the 2013 U.S. Open when she knocked off 2011 U.S. Open champion Samantha Stosur in the first round.

    Though Stosur has slipped from her highest ranking of No. 4 to her current No. 11 spot, she has had success at the U.S. Open. Not only did she win the event in 2011, but she reached the quarterfinals in 2010 and 2012, losing to No. 3 Kim Clijsters in three sets in 2010 and No. 1 Victoria Azarenka in three sets last year.

    Duval had won just one match in the main draw of a WTA event in her career before the Open, and that was back in February.

    She had received a wild-card entry into last year's U.S. Open after winning the U.S. junior title, but she lost in the first round of the 2012 Open to Clijsters. That was her only match in a Grand Slam event before facing Stosur.

    Duval had to fight her way through qualifying to get to the main draw this year. Then she had to battle back after dropping the first set to pull off the 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 victory over Stosur. Duval let three match points slip away before hitting a cross-court forehand winner on the fourth.

    "I don't even remember match point," she said, according to USA Today. "I guess I was really happy. I mean, you could tell by all the jumping I did."

     

10. Andrew Pattison Defeats Ilie Nastase, 1973

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    In 1973, Ilie Nastase was the defending champion and the co-No. 1 seed with Stan Smith at the U.S. Open, which was then played on grass.

    Nastase had won the 1973 French Open without the loss of a set, and he had demonstrated his proficiency on grass by reaching the finals of Wimbledon in 1972 and winning the U.S. Open later that year.

    He blew by Humphrey Hose in straight sets in his 1973 U.S. Open first-round match and was expected to do the same  in the second round against Andrew Pattison.

    Pattison, a Rhodesian, was ranked 79th at the time and had lost in the first round in the 1972 U.S. Open. He did not play at Wimbledon in 1973, but he'd lost in the first round there in 1972.

    Pattison had lost in the first or second round in 20 of his 23 tournaments in 1973 heading into the U.S. Open. He had not advanced past the quarterfinals in any of them.

    Nastase seemed to be in control of the match after winning the first two sets from Pattison. But the 24-year-old unseeded Pattison rallied for a 6-7, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 victory.

    The match was interrupted in the final set because of darkness, but Pattison needed less than five minutes to finish off the upset the next day, according to an Associated Press account.

     

9. Andrea Leand Defeats Andrea Jaeger, 1981

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    Andrea Jaeger's second-round loss to Andrea Leand in 1981 was certainly surprising, but it was the way she lost that earned it a spot on this list.

    Leand was an unseeded 17-year-old amateur playing in her first pro tour event. She had no computer ranking and got into the U.S. Open as a wild card. Jaeger was a year younger, but she was the No. 2 seed and had reached the semifinals of the U.S. Open the previous year.

    Leand had to go three sets to get past her first-round opponent, 47-year-old Renee Richards, while Jaeger had lost just one game in her opening match.

    Things went as expected for much of her second-round match against Leand, too. Jaeger led 6-1, 5-2, and was serving at 30-0 in the eighth game, just two points from victory, according to the United Press International report.

    Just as Jaeger was about to wrap up another uneventful victory, things changed dramatically. Leand won five straight games to take the second set and held off Jaeger in the third for a 1-6, 7-5, 6-3 victory.

    Jaeger had been forced to withdraw from her previous tournament because of a shoulder injury, but she did not blame the loss on that.

     

     

     

8. Paul Haarhuis Defeats John McEnroe, 1989

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    John McEnroe was a bit past his prime in 1989, but his second-round loss to 115th-ranked Paul Haarhuis in 1989 was still a stunner.

    "To lose to a guy I haven't even seen play before, it's pretty bad," McEnroe said, according to the Los Angeles Times. "This is a tough one to swallow."

    McEnroe had slipped to No. 4 in the world heading into the Open and had not reached the finals in any of the previous Grand Slam events in 1989.

    But Haarhuis, who had been ranked 705th a year earlier, had never played a hard-court tournament on the main tour in his career before that U.S. Open.  He had played in only clay-court events in 1989 since winning a hard-court Challenger event in Nigeria in February.

    McEnroe had tried in vain before the match to find anyone in the locker room who knew anything about Haarhuis, according to Los Angeles Times article. And reporters had to scramble to find out who Haarhuis was after he pulled off the 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 victory.

    "I come from Mars," Haarhuis said, according to the Los Angeles Times account..

    McEnroe struggled with his serve against Haarhuis, and he double-faulted on game point to give Haarhuis the pivotal service break in the 11th game of the fourth set. Haarhuis served out the 12th game to complete the victory.

    That upset came the same day that unseeded teenager Pete Sampras stunned No. 5-seeded Mats Wilander, another match on our list.

     

     

     

     

7. Jaime Yzaga Defeats Pete Sampras, 1994

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    Sampras was ranked No. 1 and had won four of the previous five Grand Slam events when he lost to No. 23 Jaime Yzaga in the fourth round of the 1994 U.S. Open.

    Sampras was the defending U.S. Open champ in 1994, but he came into the tournament on a long layoff because of an ankle injury. He had not played any tournaments since winning the 1994 Wimbledon title, and his only significant competition between Wimbledon and the U.S. Open was two Davis Cup matches six weeks before the Open.

    As the New York Times noted, Sampras was not in prime condition and was nearly exhausted against Yzaga.

    "I wasn't going to retire and let him not earn it," Sampras said, according to the Baltimore Sun. "I've never felt this bad, been in this bad a shape in my entire life. But no matter how bad it got, I wasn't going to quit."

    Plus, Sampras' feet had become badly blistered.

    Sampras rallied from a 5-3 deficit in the fifth set to tie it at 5-5. But he ultimately succumbed to Yzaga 3-6, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (7-4), 7-5.

    Even with the mitigating circumstances, Yzaga's victory ranks among the biggest U.S. Open shockers.

6. Bill Scanlon Defeats John McEnroe, 1983

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    John McEnroe came into the 1983 U.S. Open ranked No. 1, having breezed to the Wimbledon title several weeks earlier. McEnroe had been even more dominant at the U.S. Open, winning the event in 1979, 1980 and 1981 and losing to Ivan Lendl in the 1982 semifinals.

    Bill Scanlon had had virtually no success in the U.S. Open the previous six years, losing in the first round four times and the second round twice.

    His ranking had improved from No. 71 at the start of 1983 to No. 17 by the time he faced McEnroe in fourth round in New York. But McEnroe had beaten him in straight sets at Wimbledon that year, and Scanlon had lost to No. 50-ranked Thomas Hogstedt in the second round of the hard-court tournament just before the U.S. Open.

    However, McEnroe served poorly against Scanlon, and the New York Times reported he seemed to lack passion. The fact that he had accumulated $7,300 in fines over a 12-month period, leaving him just $200 in fines from a suspension, may have subdued McEnroe, who still had arguments with the umpire and the crowd that day.

    Scanlon had the crowd on his side and won 7-6, 7-6, 4-6, 6-3.

     

5. Arnaud Clement Defeats Andre Agassi, 2000

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    Andre Agassi came into the 2000 U.S. Open ranked No. 1 in the world. He was the defending U.S. Open champion and had won the last two major titles played on hard courts, having claimed the Australian Open title in January.

    Arnaud Clement had shown some promise in the hard-court events leading up to that U.S. Open, with wins over Michael Chang and No. 5-ranked Yevgeny Kafelnikov. But he had lost to Agassi in straight sets in the 1999 U.S. Open and was ranked only No. 37 when he met Agassi in the second round of the 2000 Open.

    Clement's victory over Agassi was surprising enough, but the fact that he dominated Agassi 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 made the result shocking.

    The New York Times reported Agassi seemed detached, as noted in this excerpt:

    He was not himself. Normally, Agassi's reflexes are quick, his instincts have an edge and the crafty angles of his shots appear choreographed by a pool shark. Normally, when he stands to return serve, he shuffles his feet before pouncing on the ball. Normally, he wouldn't go down like this. But this was an un-Agassi yesterday.

     

     

     

     

4. Linda Ferrando Defeats Monica Seles, 1990

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    Monica Seles was only 16 years old in 1990, but she had already beaten Martina Navratilova once and Steffi Graf twice that year, including a 6-4, 6-3 victory over Graf in the French Open finals.

    Ranked No. 3 in the world when the U.S. Open rolled around, Seles breezed into the third round, losing just four games in the first two rounds combined.

    More of the same was expected in the third round against Linda Ferrando, who was ranked No. 82 and had lost in the first or second round of her last five tournaments heading into the Open.

    Seles knew nothing about Ferrando. Seles did not even recall Ferrando being at the other end of the court during a practice session in Chicago in February 1990, the New York Times reported.

    Ferrando, 24, did not make an impression in the first set against Seles in the Open either, losing it 6-1. But Ferrando began to frustrate Seles with her attacking style that featured frequent trips to the net. Despite being bothered by leg cramps, according to the New York Times article, Ferrando rallied for a 1-6, 6-1, 7-6 (7-3) victory.

    "I've never seen her play so I didn't know what to expect from her,'' Seles said, according to the New York Times story. "'But after the first set, I knew that she would be a bigger problem to finish off." 

    Six months later, Seles was ranked No. 1, and she won the next five Grand Slam events she entered (and seven of the next eight) after the loss to Ferrando.

    Ferrando played in the U.S. Open four more times, losing in the first round three times and the second round once.

     

3. Ekaterina Bychkova Defeats Svetlana Kuznetsova, 2005

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    Svetlana Kuznetsova was a surprise U.S. Open champion in 2004 then became the first defending champion in the 125-year history of the event to lose in the first round in 2005.

    Kuznetsova was blown off the court 6-3, 6-2 by Ekaterina Bychkova, who was ranked No. 97 and had lost in qualifying rounds of the three previous Grand Slam events that year. Heading into the Open, Bychkova had lost 12 matches that year to players ranked outside the top 100, including three players ranked outside the top 200.

    Playing in the main draw of a Grand Slam event for the first time, the 20-year-old Bychkova beat the No. 5-seeded Kuznetsova in just 65 minutes. 

    Kuznetsova committed 45 unforced errors in those 17 games, according to an ESPN.com account of the match, virtually giving the match away to Bychkova, who made 15 unforced errors.

    Bychkova promptly lost in the next round to Ivana Lisjak, a qualifier ranked 189th.

    There were indications Kuznetsova might not fare well in the U.S. Open that year. She had lost three of her five matches in her three hard-court tournaments leading up to the U.S. Open, and she had complained of back problems two weeks earlier, according to the ESPN.com story.

    However, she certainly was not expected to be eliminated so easily by Bychkova. 

     

     

     

2. Alexander Volkov Defeats Stefan Edberg, 1990

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    Stefan Edberg was playing the best tennis of his life coming into the 1990 U.S. Open. He was ranked No. 1 in the world and had won 21 straight matches, including a win at Wimbledon and victories in all three hard-court tune-up events.

    There seemed to be no way he could lose his first-round match to Alexander Volkov, who was ranked No. 52 and had won just one of four matches in his three hard-court tournaments heading into the 1990 U.S. Open.

    Not only did Volkov pull off the stunning upset, he did it in convincing fashion: 6-3, 7-6, 6-2.

    "I practiced very well the past few weeks and I was ready to play," Volkov said according to the Los Angeles Times. "Then I saw the draw and I said, 'Ohhhh.' But you see, anything can happen."

    After seeing the draw and assuming he would lose to Edberg on Tuesday, Volkov had made plans to play in a club tournament in Berlin later that week.

    "I am to play there Friday," he said, according to the Los Angeles Times. "I was to leave Wednesday. Maybe I will change my plans."

     

1. Julie Coin Defeats Ana Ivanovic, 2008

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    Ana Ivanovic became the first top-seeded woman in the Open Era to lose before the third round of the U.S. Open when she lost in the second round to qualifier Julie Coin in 2008.

    Coin's  6-3, 4-6, 6-3 victory came completely out of the blue. Ivanovic had held the No. 1 ranking since winning the French Open earlier that year, while Coin was ranked 188th and had done nothing to suggest she could compete with Ivanovic.

    The 25-year-old Coin had never qualified for a Grand Slam event before. In fact, she had never qualified for the main draw of any WTA tournament before the 2008 U.S. Open. Coin had played mostly ITF events, and she had lost a first-round qualifying match to a player ranked 423rd at a hard-court ITF event in her last tournament before the Open.

    A couple of weeks earlier Coin had contemplated quitting tennis at the end of the year because her results had been so poor.

    "I was asking myself, 'Am I really made to play tennis?'" she said, according to the New York Times. "'Am I going to make the top 100?' It’s not worth playing tennis if you don’t make the top 100."

    Ivanovic had never seen Coin play and was bothered by a thumb injury, according to the New York Times account. But losing to Coin did not seem possible.

    Coin took control in the third set, but showed her nerves by double faulting on her first match point opportunity at 5-3, 40-30. She also let a second match point slip away, before winning on the third. 

    "I don’t realize yet that I beat the No. 1 player in the world," Coin, who is from France, said afterward, according to the New York Times. "I don’t realize yet that I played on the big court. I don’t know how I’m going to sleep tonight."

     

     

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