When it comes to tennis and Grand Slam tournaments, you can expect to see familiar names reach the final few rounds tournament after tournament.
But every few years or so, you can also expect to see an under-the-radar player break out stronger than a greasy teenager who neglects to wash his face at night.
Sometimes you can feel the breakout performance coming. Sometimes it happens when you least expect it.
As September approaches and a new Grand Slam gets under way, let's take a look at some of the all-time great breakout performances in US Open history.
10. David Ferrer, 2007
Ferrer had been around for a few years before the 2007 US Open but was never really a relevant Grand Slam contender, especially on the hard courts of Arthur Ashe Stadium. He entered the tournament without making any real noise in a previous big slam; however, he ended it with a splash that usually results from a fat guy doing a bellyflop.
After defeating David Nalbandian in the third round, he would face friend and fellow Spaniard Rafa Nadal. Ferrer played a career match, defeating the second seed in four sets, while simultaneously deflating his friend's heavily inflated confidence bubble. He followed up the biggest win of his career with another strong performance, beating a tough opponent in Juan Ignatio Chela in the quarters.
He was ousted in the semis by Novak Djokovic but still earned himself a ranking of No. 8 in the world after his breakout performance, and he currently sits at No. 12 entering the 2010 US Open.
9. Melanie Oudin, 2009
The 17-year-old girl among women made a magical run at Flushing in 2009, becoming the story of the tournament despite losing in the quarterfinals to another up-and-coming star in Caroline Wozniacki. At just 5'6" small, Oudin defeated three-time Grand Slam winner Maria Sharapova after taking down a tough opponent in Elena Dementieva to reach the first major quarterfinal match of her young career.
She's as competitive as she is likable, showing the ability to cover more court than the green and blue paint that resides on it. Throughout the tournament, her baseline skills and discipline were as frustrating to opponents as the vuvuzelas were to World Cup television viewers.
Oudin's determination and effort, along with her underdog-like qualities, make her an easy competitor to root for, as she will look to make another run in this year's US Open as a somewhat bigger name heading in.
8. Lleyton Hewitt, 2001
Lleyton Hewitt was a competitive young kid with more fire and attitude than an adolescent rebelling against his controlling parents. His strong passion and high energy, his loud celebrations and irritating frustration moans, along with his quick feet and tree-trunk legs, made him an absolute pest on the court.
At 20 years old, he won his first Grand Slam at the 2001 US Open, taking down bigger names such as James Blake, Andy Roddick, Tommy Haas, Yevgeny Kafelnikov, and Pete Sampras. He was as irritating as a mosquito bite on a hard to reach spot, showing relentlessness and speed from behind the baseline.
Hewitt followed up his breakthrough US Open performance with a Wimbledon title in July 2002, beating David Nalbandian in straight sets, giving him the world's top ranking for the second consecutive year.
7. Caroline Wozniacki, 2009
If Melanie Oudin hadn't stolen the spotlight in the 2009 US Open, Caroline Wozniacki would have been the main attraction up until the finals. In the third round she battled sixth-seeded Svetlana Kuznetsova in a three-set tiebreaker, taking out her first big roadblock on the way to the final round.
Wozniacki had to play the bad guy role by defeating Oudin in the quarters of the Open but remained on everyone's good side after unnecessarily apologizing for defeating the crowd favorite. Caroline showed toughness and grit in front of over 23,000 fans who were rooting for the "child" on the other side of the court, as her groundstrokes proved to be both too overpowering and accurate.
Wozniacki remained sharp in the semis before running into the experienced Kim Clijsters in the finals, where she lost in her first finals appearance in a Grand Slam.
She was just rewarded with the No. 1 seed in this year's US Open, as she looks to improve upon her past results and bring home her first career Grand Slam championship.
6. Patrick Rafter, 1997
Patrick Rafter wasn't thought of as a Grand Slam contender entering the 1997 US Open. However, he proved everybody wrong with wins over Andre Agassi, second-seeded Michael Chang, and a four-set win over a hot Greg Rusedski to win the first Grand Slam event of his career.
His long reach was a perfect complement to his serve and volley approach, making his service game almost unbreakable. His good looks and David Beckham-esque ponytail captured the attention of many, including my mother, making him another face in what was at the time a Pete Sampras-dominated era.
Rafter took heat from Sampras and John McEnroe, who both made statements implying that he was a one-hit wonder. Rafter responded by defeating Sampras in the semifinals of the following US Open on the way to his second consecutive US Open championship in 1998.
5. Chris Evert, 1971
Making her Grand Slam debut at the 1971 US Open, Chris Evert looked as if her racket was made from a tree in her backyard. She had been widely known for her success at the junior level; however, she lacked experience at the next level before stepping onto the court to face fourth-seeded American Mary Ann Eisel in the second round of the US Open.
Saving six match points, Evert rallied back to earn a three-set victory, and her momentum carried her all the way to the US Open finals. She ended up losing to Billie Jean King, but her performance in her debut at this US Open would open the door to a legendary career. Eighteen Grand Slam titles later, Chris Evert stands with some of the greatest of all time.
4. Kim Clijsters, 2009
You wouldn't expect the 2009 version of Kim Clijsters to make the list of breakthrough performances after being a US Open winner in 2005, a two-time runner-up at the French Open, a one-time runner-up at the Australian Open, and a two-time semifinalist at Wimbledon.
In 2007, Clijsters announced her retirement from the sport, ending for the time being what was an impressive career filled with exceptional accomplishments. Two years later Kim Clijsters announced her Michael Jordan-like return to the sport she was once on top of, entering the US Open as a wild card and given a smaller chance at success than another M. Night Shyamalan movie.
In the second round, she defeated 14th-seeded Marion Bartoli in three sets, followed by another three-set victory in the fourth round over third-seeded Venus Williams. She beat second-seeded Serena Williams in the semis and cruised through Caroline Wozniacki in the finals to win her second US Open title, becoming the first wild card champion in US Open history.
Currently ranked third in the world, Clijsters looks to defend her title...and for the record, who doesn't love a silent J?
3. Venus Williams, 1997
Seems like Venus has been around forever. If you're under 14 years old, well then, she has been.
In her first ever US Open, unseeded Williams beat eighth-seeded Anke Huber in the third round, followed two matches later by a third set tiebreaking victory over 11th-seeded Irina Spirlea. Although she was no match for Martina Hingis in the finals, she let the tennis world know that her name would become a familiar one for years to come.
Since her debut at the US Open, opponents would rather see them make another Rocky movie than see Venus on their side of the draw. She currently has won seven Grand Slam titles and will be feared by others for as long as she stays healthy.
2. Serena Williams, 1999
When Serena Williams first entered the scene, she stood in the shadow of her sister Venus, who had already made a name for herself in the tennis world. Serena had been competitive but never made that push to becoming one of the world's elite.
After a few disappointing early finishes throughout her brief Grand Slam career, September of 1999 rolled around. In only her second year as a pro, Serena defeated Martina Hingis at age 17 to become the lowest seed since 1968 to win the US Open.
Prior to defeating the top-seeded Hingis in the finals, she beat the fourth-seeded Monica Seles and the second-seeded Lindsay Davenport, both in three sets. She finished the tournament with 62 aces, a mind-blowing 40 more than anyone else. Her overpowering serve was equivalent to having a sword in a knife fight, as nobody had the tools to break her.
Ten Grand Slams titles later, Serena currently maintains the No. 1 ranking in the world.
1. Pete Sampras, 1990
Before Pete Sampras was Pete Sampras, he was just another kid trying to make a living with a tennis racket. In 1989, he finished the year by losing in the first round of four straight tournaments. Not exactly strong credentials for a breakout candidate entering his first US Open.
In September of 1990, the Pete Sampras we know today was born. Defeating the likes of Thomas Muster, Ivan Lendl, John McEnroe, and Andre Agassi, Sampras went on to win his first Grand Slam event, becoming the youngest to win the US Open at just 19 years and 28 days old. His straight-set defeat over Agassi in the finals initiated a rivalry that would last for years and kept American tennis going strong.
This breakthrough was the beginning to one of the greatest, if not the greatest career in the history of men's tennis, as Sampras captured 14 Grand Slam titles under a great head of black hair that seemed to get thinner with each trophy. He ended his US Open career the same way he started it, defeating Andre Agassi in the finals, to win his fifth US Open singles championship.
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