The Most Shocking Upsets in Australian Open History

Jake Curtis@jakecurtis53Featured ColumnistJanuary 17, 2014

The Most Shocking Upsets in Australian Open History

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    Roberto Bautista Agut's second-round upset of No. 5 seed Juan Martin del Potro is probably the biggest surprise at this year's Australian Open so far. However, it does not rank among the most shocking upsets in Australian Open history.

    Stunning results typically involve proven stars and an outcome that seemed almost unimaginable beforehand.

    We picked out 13 of the most shocking upsets in Australian Open history. Most are based on results of a single match, but a few are based on accomplishments over the course of an entire tournament.


13. Thomas Johansson Defeats Marat Safin, 2002 Finals

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    Thomas Johansson's 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, 7-6 (7-4) victory over Marat Safin in the 2002 Australian Open finals was certainly an upset. However, it is the fact that Johansson won the tournament against such long odds that earned him a spot on this list.

    Quite simply, it was shocking that Johansson won this Grand Slam title.

    To that point, Johansson had advanced no further than the second round in 15 of 21 Grand Slam events he had entered, and had been past the quarterfinals in none of them. He never got to the finals of a major again and lost in the first or second round in 17 of the 24 Grand Slam tournaments he entered thereafter.

    Johansson had lost his opening match in the Sydney event immediately preceding the 2002 Australian Open, and he had lost to No. 120-ranked Paradorn Srichaphan in the tournament before that.

    However, things worked out perfectly for him in Melbourne, where he was seeded No. 16.

    Defending champion Andre Agassi withdrew with an injury just before the start of the event. Pete Sampras was past his prime and Roger Federer had not reached his, and both were eliminated by other players. Johansson did not face any of the top-five seeds and did not play anyone ranked in the top 10 during the 2002 Australian Open.

    Johansson had lost at the U.S. Open to Safin, who was the No. 9 seed at the Australian Open and had beaten Sampras on his way to the finals. But Johansson, boosted by the many Swedish fans in the crowd, used variety to get past Safin and claim the unlikely crown.


12. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga Defeats Rafael Nadal, 2008 Semifinals

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    The fact that unseeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga beat No. 2 seed Rafael Nadal in the 2008 Australian semifinals was surprising enough. The fact that Tsonga simply blew Nadal off the court  6-2, 6-3, 6-2 was shocking.

    Tsonga was an obscure 22-year-old ranked No. 38 at the time. He had lost in the first round of the tournament the week before, and he had lost in the first round in his only previous appearance at the Australian Open, in 2007.  He was beaten by Nadal in straight sets at the U.S. Open four months earlier in their only previous head-to-head meeting.

    Nadal, the French Open champion and a Wimbledon finalist in 2007, had held the No. 2 ranking for more than two years and seemed to be closing in on No. 1 Roger Federer.  He won his first five matches at the 2008 Australian Open in straight sets, but he was simply overwhelmed by Tsonga in the semifinals.

    Tsonga fired winners from all angles against the helpless Nadal. Everything Tsonga did turned out right.

    "It's ridiculous for sure. Everything was perfect," Tsonga said, according to the Guardian.

    "He played unbelievable," Nadal said, according to the Daily Mail. "Federer is Federer. He can play at this level, but better than tonight is really difficult."


11. Sloane Stephens Defeats Serena Williams, 2013 Quarterfinals

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    The fact that Serena Williams was bothered by ankle and back injuries during her 3-6, 7-5, 6-4 loss to Sloane Stephens in the 2013 Australian Open quarterfinals makes the result slightly less stunning.

    But only slightly.

    Despite being seeded No. 3, Williams was the prohibitive favorite to win the tournament. She had won the U.S. Open, Wimbledon and the Olympics in the summer of 2012, and she was riding an amazing hot streak. When she stepped onto the court against Stephens, Williams had won 22 consecutive matches and 39 of 40 since May. That included titles in six of the seven tournaments she had entered since the French Open.

    More impressive was the fact that Williams was 10-0 against players ranked in the top five in that stretch.

    Stephens, meanwhile, was ranked No. 25 at the time and had never beaten a top-15 player in her career. She has shown some promise by getting to the fourth round of the French Open and the third round of the U.S. Open in 2012. But she had never played in a quarterfinal match of a Grand Slam event before facing Williams.

    In four of her previous eight tournaments, Stephens had lost to players ranked outside the top 65, including two to players outside the top 100. She had lost to Williams in straight sets on hard courts earlier that month.

    So no one could have expected the 19-year-old Stephens to knock off Williams at the Australian Open, an event Williams had won five times.

    Williams seemed headed for a routine win when she won the first set and was up a service break in the second.  Stephens' comeback was aided by Williams' injuries, which limited Williams' serving velocity. But Stephens did much of the work herself. 

    During the third set, Williams smashed her racket on the court in frustration, then flung it to the side of the court. The racket abuse cost her $1,500 in fines.

    It appeared Williams would escape with a win when she broke Sloane's serve to take a 4-3 lead in the final set. But Stephens finished off the upset by winning the next three games, fighting off a break point against her at 4-4 with a forehand winner.

10. Wally Masur Defeats Boris Becker, 1987 Fourth Round

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    Boris Becker was the victim of three Australian upsets. He lost to Michiel Schapers, who was ranked No. 188, in the second round in 1985. But Becker was just a few days past his 18th birthday, and, as the No. 5-ranked player, it was still unclear whether his victory at Wimbledon four months earlier was a fluke.

    Patrick McEnroe beat Becker in the first round of the 1995 Australian Open, when Becker was ranked No. 3 and McEnroe was No. 65. But the younger McEnroe had given Becker trouble in the 1991 Australian Open as well, so the result was not a complete surprise.

    The 1987 Australian Open was different. Becker was coming off his second straight Wimbledon title, having beaten No. 1 Ivan Lendl in the finals. He was ranked No. 2 in the world and had won three of his previous four tournaments heading into the Australian Open. His only loss in that stretch was to Lendl in the finals of the lone event he did not win, and he had wins over Lendl, Jimmy Connors, Mats Wilander and Stefan Edberg (twice) in that span.

    He was playing the best tennis of his career and certainly was not expected to lose his fourth-round Australian Open match against Wally Masur.

    Masur was ranked No. 71 and had lost in the first or second round in four of his previous five tournaments. He had lost in the second round of the U.S. Open the previous year and had lost to players ranked outside the top 100 at Wimbledon and the French Open in 1986.

    However, he was pretty good on grass, which was the Australian Open surface at the time. Masur shocked Becker 4-6, 7-6, 6-4, 6-7, 6-2, and no one was more stunned than Becker. He broke three rackets in frustration and spat water toward the umpire. Becker was fined $2,000. Two days later, he fired long-time coach Gunther Bosch.


9. Ramesh Krishnan Defeats Mats Wilander, 1989 Second Round

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    Mats Wilander had won three of the four majors in 1988, and he entered the 1989 Australian Open as the defending champ and No. 1-ranked player in the world.

    He had reached the finals in the past four Australian Opens he had entered, winning three, and he seemed to benefit from the Australian Open's switch to hard courts in 1988.

    Wilander struggled in a five-set victory over Tobias Svantesson in the first round, then was drummed out of the tournament in straight sets by No. 51 Ramesh Krishnan 6-3, 6-2, 7-6. In their two previous encounters on hard courts, Wilander had dominated Krishnan by scores of 6-1, 6-3 and 6-1, 6-1. But, shockingly, Krishnan was the dominant player at the Australian Open.

    "Being No. 1 kind of got to me, because from there, you can only go down," Wilander said afterward in the Philadelphia Inquirer account based on wire service information. "I just don't enjoy playing right now. I can't seem to get motivated. Winning the U.S. Open was such a big thing for me. After that, nothing really seemed important."

    Wilander's career quickly went downhill. By September of 1989 he was out of the top 10.


8. Alberto Martin Defeats Lleyton Hewitt, 2002 First Round

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    Lleyton Hewitt was playing his first tournament match as the world's No. 1-ranked player when he faced Alberto Martin in the first round of the 2002 Australian Open.

    Hewitt had won 22 of his last 23 matches on hard courts, and was 7-0 against top-10 players in that stretch. He had won his two most recent significant hard court events, capturing the U.S. Open in September by beating Pete Sampras in the finals and beating five top-seven players in succession to take the Masters Cup in Sydney two months before the Australian Open.

    Meanwhile, Martin was ranked No. 39 and had lost in the first or second round of four of his last five tournaments before the 2002 Australian Open. However, he became the first player in 12 years to beat a No. 1 seed in the first round of a Grand Slam event when he beat Hewitt 1-6, 6-1, 6-4, 7-6(4).

    A recent bout of chickenpox may have had an effect on Hewitt that day, but the result was still a shock to the tennis world.


7. Marat Safin Defeats Roger Federer, 2005 Semifinals

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    In terms of rankings, not much separated Marat Safin, who was ranked No. 4, from Roger Federer, the world's No. 1 player. But the gap between Federer and the rest of men's tennis was vast at that time.

    Federer came into his 2005 Australian Open semifinal match against Safin having won 26 straight matches, the last 10 in straight sets. He had beaten Andre Agassi 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 in the quarterfinals, and that was his closest match in the Australian Open to that point.

    Federer had won four of the previous six Grand Slam events, including the past two: the U.S. Open and Wimbledon in 2004. He had won 22 consecutive matches against top-10 players dating all the way back to October 2003.

    Federer had beaten Safin in straight sets in the 2004 Australian finals and had beaten him again in straight sets in the warmup tournament preceding the 2005 Australian Open.

    Safin had lost in the first round of his last two Grand Slam events at the U.S. Open and Wimbledon, and he had lost his last three matches against Federer, all in straight sets.

    But few players were more unpredictable than the powerful Safin, who demonstrated that in his riveting 5-7, 6-4, 5-7, 7-6(6), 9-7 upset of Federer in the 2005 Australian Open semifinals.

    Perhaps most surprising was that the temperamental Safin stayed cool throughout the taut match, while the typically stoic Federer threw his racket in disgust.

    Safin won that classic match on his 25th birthday, then beat Lleyton Hewitt in the finals.


6. Marlene Weingartner Defeats Jennifer Capriati, 2003 First Round

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    Jennifer Capriati, 26, had won the past two Australian Open titles, and as the No. 3-ranked player in the world she certainly was not expected to lose to Marlene Weingartner in the first round of the 2003 Australian Open.

    The 22-year-old Weingartner was ranked No. 90 at the time and had lost in the first round in 16 of her previous 19 tournaments. She had lost to players ranked outside the top 100 eight times over the previous eight months.

    The match against Capriati was Weingartner's first experience on center court in a Grand Slam tournament, while Capriati was used to the spotlight.

    Making the upset more stunning was the fact that Capriati seemed to be in command of the match, leading 6-2, 4-2. But Weingartner rallied to take the match 2-6, 7-6 (6), 6-4 as Capriati faded down the stretch.

    Capriati said an operation on her eyes two months earlier had affected her preparation. That did not lessen the shock of Capriati becoming the first defending champ in the Open Era to lose in the first round of the women's Australian Open.


5. Mark Philippoussis Defeats Pete Sampras, 1996 Third Round

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    Pete Sampras was at his peak in 1996 at the age of 24. He had won seven Grand Slam titles, including the last two in a row (U.S. Open and Wimbledon). He had regained the No. 1 ranking from Andre Agassi two months earlier.

    Mark Philippoussis was just 19 years old, and was largely unknown outside Australia. He was ranked No. 40, and in his two tournaments prior to the Australian Open, Philippoussis had lost in the first round to players ranked outside the top 50 both times.

    Sampras had beaten Philippoussis in their only previous meeting several months earlier at the U.S. Open, and there was no reason to believe things would be different when they met in the third round of the 1996 Australian Open.

    But not only did the powerful Philippoussis beat Sampras, he did it in straight sets. Philippoussis fired 30 aces in a 6-4, 7-6(9), 7-6(3) victory that stunned virtually everyone.

    "I served unbelievably,'' Philippoussis said afterward

    The magnitude of the upset was reinforced when the erratic Philippoussis lost to 67th-ranked Mark Woodforde 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 in the next round.


4. Amanda Coetzer Defeats Steffi Graf, 1997 Fourth Round

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    Steffi Graff was dominating women's tennis heading into the 1997 Australian Open. She held a record 21 Grand Slam singles titles, and had won the last six Grand Slam events she had entered. Graff had lost only one completed match over the past seven months.

    Amanda Coezter, on the other hand, was in a slump. She had lost in the first round of her last six tournaments coming into the Australian Open, and that included two defeats to players ranked outside the top 80.

    Coetzer, who was ranked No. 14, got through her first three Australian Open opponents, none of whom was ranked in the top 60. But she seemed to be in over her head against Graf, whose only loss to Coetzer in their 10 previous meetings came in the 1995 Canadian Open.

    But Graf could not handle the heat, assorted injuries, personal distractions or Coetzer in the fourth round of the 1997 Australian Open. Coetzer won 6-2, 7-5, rallying from 5-2 down in the second set by winning five straight games to end Graf's 45-match winning streak in Grand Slam events.

    Graf was bothered by back and toe problems, according to a Sports Illustrated account of the match. There was also the issue of her father, Peter Graf, whose trial on tax evasion charges was going on in Germany at the time. A verdict was expected soon on whether he had illegally failed to pay nearly $13 million in taxes for his daughter, according to the Sports Illustrated report.

    On-court temperatures reached 130 degrees during the match, according to the Sports Illustrated account, and Graf wilted away.



3. Jennifer Capriati Defeats Martina Hingis, 2001 Finals

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    Jennifer Capriati's 6-4, 6-3 victory over Martina Hingis in the 2001 Australian Open finals was a major upset in itself. The fact that Capriati was able to win a major title after the downward spiral her life had taken was the shocking part, though.

    Capriati was 17 when she dropped off the tour for more than two years after experiencing an assortment of problems that made international headlines following the 1993 U.S. Open. She went five years without winning a Grand Slam match.

    She was 24 years old and seeded No. 12 in the 2001 Australian Open, and she had lost in the first or second round in each of her three tournaments prior to it.

    Meanwhile, Hingis had won five of the six tournaments she had entered before the Australian Open, and she was a heavy favorite to capture her fourth Australian Open title in five years. Hingis had taken out Venus Williams and Serena Williams to get to the finals of a major for the 11th time, and she had a 5-0 match record against Capriati heading into the title match.

    Despite playing in her first Grand Slam finals, Capriati stunned the world's No. 1 player in straight sets.

    "Who would've thought I would have ever made it here after so much has happened?" she told the crowd afterward, according to"Dreams do come true if you keep believing in yourself. Anything can happen."


2. Mark Edmondson Defeats John Newcombe, 1976 Finals

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    Mark Edmondson was mopping floors at a hospital to make some money a few weeks before he beat defending champion John Newcombe 6-7, 6-3, 7-6, 6-1 in the finals of the 1976 Australian Open.

    No Australian male has won the Australian Open since then, and it is odd indeed that Edmondson holds that distinction of being the last Aussie to do it.

    The 21-year-old Edmondson was ranked No. 212 at the time, and he was not considered a threat at the 1976 Australian Open. He had lost his opening match in his two tournaments before the Australian Open and had never advanced past the second round of a Grand Slam event.

    Although many of the top players from North America and Europe did not participate in the Australian Open in those days, the draw still included Ken Rosewall, who was ranked No. 2 in the world at the time, and Newcombe, who had beaten Jimmy Connors in the 1975 Australian Open finals and was 7-2 in Grand Slam singles finals.

    Edmondson upset Rosewall in the semifinals, and he took out Newcombe in the finals to become the first unseeded male to win the event.

    The media played up the fact that Edmondson went from being a floor-mopper to a Grand Slam champ in a matter of weeks.

    “They ended up getting out of me that I’d been a cleaner, so, therefore, I was a janitor,” Edmondson said, according to The New York Times. “After I won, one writer gave me a mop and bucket and had me throw it away for a photo op. So I’ve been a janitor all my life.”

    The fact that Edmondson never got to the finals of another Grand Slam singles event only served to make his 1976 victory more shocking.


1. Helena Sukova Defeats Martina Navratilova, 1984 Semifinals

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    When she walked onto the court to face Helena Sukova in the 1984 Australian Open semifinals, Martina Navratilova was as close to unbeatable as anyone has ever been in the Open Era.

    Navratilova had won 74 consecutive matches, still an Open Era record by a wide margin, and had won the last six Grand Slam titles. She was No. 1 in the computer rankings, well ahead of No. 2 Chris Evert, and the gap between Evert and the No. 3 player was even greater.

    The 1984 Australian Open was the last Grand Slam event of the year at that time, and Navratilova needed that title to complete a single-year Grand Slam. And it was played on grass, Navratilova's best surface.

    It was also the best surface for Sukova, but she was just 19 years old and was only seeded No. 9. She had lost to Yvonne Vermaak in her opening match of her prior tournament in Sydney on grass, and she had lost all three of her previous matches against Navratilova by scores of 6-2, 6-1 and 6-2, 6-1 and 6-3, 6-3.

    It looked like it would be more of the same when Navratilova won the first set of the Australian Open semifinals 6-1. Sukova then began playing brilliantly, winning the second set and racing to a 3-0 lead in the third.

    At that point it seemed the magnitude of the moment would doom Sukova. Navratilova fought back to tie the set at 4-4 and fought off five match points against her in the 12th game. However, Sukova persevered and finished off the 1-6, 6-3, 7-5, upset on her sixth match-point opportunity.

    That loss, on Dec. 6, 1984, was Navratilova's first defeat since her loss to Hana Mandlikova on Jan. 15, 1984. In between, Navratilova beat Evert six times. Navratilova went 128-1 from the 1983 French Open to the 1984 Australian Open. 

    That is why losing to a 19-year-old who was seeded No. 9 was so stunning.