9 Biggest U.S. Open Upsets
The 2011 U.S. Open is under way this week in New York. As always, the crowds that fill the stands at the USTA National Tennis Center over the next couple weeks will be looking for an underdog they can get behind. Of course, they won’t know who their underdog is until he or she is on the verge of an upset, since you never can predict these sorts of things. But there’s always at least one good upset, and some years there are several. Here, as proof, is a list of the 9 greatest upsets in the modern history of the U.S. Open. It won’t do you any good in making predictions about this year, but it will encourage you to expect the unexpected.
9. John Isner defeats #5 Andy Roddick (Round 3, 2009)
Poor Andy is lucky I’m doing the top 9 biggest U.S. Open upsets instead of the top 10, or else he would probably take up two of the infamous spots on this list. As it is, we’re letting his upset as the #8 seed in 2010 fall by the wayside and focusing only on the more painful 2009 upset. You see, in 2009, it looked like Roddick was finally getting his act together again. He took Roger Federer to five sets in the Wimbledon final, losing the heartbreaking fifth set 14-16. Unfortunately, Roddick couldn’t maintain this momentum, and he lost in the third round to the unknown John Isner 3-6, 7-6, 4-6, 7-6, 6-2.
8. #6 Juan Martin Del Potro defeats #1 Roger Federer (Finals, 2009)
Normally a #6 defeating a #1 in the finals of a grand slam wouldn’t be considered a huge upset. But when the #1 in question is Roger Federer? Yeah, it’s a big deal. Coming into the 2009 tournament, Federer had won the previous five U.S. Opens and six of the last seven Wimbledons, including the 2009 final against Andy Roddick. So the Swiss tennis superstud was considered a mortal lock to walk away with his 6th straight U.S. Open title. Then, somehow, he didn’t, losing in the finals to the sixth seeded Argentinian Juan Martin Del Potro 3-6, 7-6, 4-6, 7-6, 6-2.
7. Melanie Oudin defeats “The Russians” (Rounds 1-4, 2009)
Before the 2009 U.S. Open, Georgia native Melanie Oudin hardly made a splash on the world tennis scene. Heck, she hasn’t made a splash since the 2009 Open. But during that 2009 tournament, every tennis fan on earth knew all about her. That’s because she upset four good Russian tennis players in a row in the first four rounds of the tournament before losing in the quarterfinals to non-Russian Caroline Wozniacki. It was one of the most memorable cinderella runs in recent memory. Oudin defeated (current world #16) Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in round 1, #4 Elena Dementieva in round 2, #23 Maria Sharapova in round 3, and #13 Nadia Petrova in round 4. That’s a pretty strong track record against Russians for a girl who was born after the Berlin wall came down (1991).
6. #15 Petr Korda defeats #1 Pete Sampras (Round 4, 1997)
Hey, remember Petr Korda? No? Well, he did win one grand slam title (the 1998 Australian Open) and was ranked #2 in the world back on February 2, 1998. But Korda’s magical run actually began at the U.S. Open in September of 1997, when he defeated the #1 player in the world in the fourth round 6-7, 7-5, 7-6, 3-6, 7-6. (Should I mention that later in 2008 Korda tested positive for steroids? Oops, I just did.)
5. Julie Coin defeats #1 Ana Ivanovic (Round 2, 2008)
Ana Ivanovic was ranked #1 the world for about 15 minutes back in 2008. Okay, it was about 4 months, but my point was, it wasn’t long. She won the French Open that year, which got her to #1, but she then lost at Wimbledon to a player ranked #133. Then Ivanovic lost a few more hard court matches later in the summer, dropping her out of the #1 ranking for a few weeks before she climbed back up just in time for the U.S. Open…where she lost to an unknown French player named Julie Coin in the second round 6-3, 4-6, 6-3. Today Ivanovic ranks a respectable #17 and holds the distinction of being perhaps the hottest player to ever be at the losing end of a major upset.
4. Tracy Austin defeats #4 Sue Barker (Round 1, 1977)
To say Tracy Austin was an unknown coming into the 1977 U.S. Open would be a boldfaced lie. As you can see from this photo, she made the cover of Sports Illustrated back in 1976 as a 13-year-old phenom. Still, Austin was unranked entering the ’77 tournament, and she was only 14, so it was still rather shocking that she defeated #4 Sue Barker in the first round by the score of 6-1, 6-4.
3. Jan Kodeš defeats #1 John Newcombe (Round 1, 1971)
Australian tennis great John Newcombe won seven grand slam titles in his career, including the 1967 U.S. Open, as well as both the Aussie Open and Wimbledon in 1971. So coming into the 1971 U.S. Open, Newcombe was ranked #1 in the world and a favorite to come away with the title. Obviously, he didn’t. He lost in the first round to the 1971 French Open champion Jan Kodeš, who was widely considered to be a clay courts specialist. I’m guessing, after his 2-6, 7-6, 7-6, 6-3 defeat, Newcombe didn’t share this assessment of Mr. Kodeš’s game. For his part, Kodeš only had one major upset in him, as he went on to lose in the finals to #2 Stan Smith.
2. #16 Bill Scanlon defeats #1 John McEnroe (Round 4, 1983)
Everyone thought John McEnroe was unstoppable in 1983. He had won Wimbledon in 1981 and 1983, plus the U.S. Open in 1979, 1980, and 1981. He was on fire, as they say. But sixteenth seed Bill Scanlon apparently had a fire extinguisher on hand for the 1983 U.S. Open, because he beat McEnroe in the fourth round 7-6, 7-6, 4-6, 6-3. This would turn out to be Scanlon’s greatest claim to fame—an upset of McEnroe in the U.S. Open. McEnroe rebounded the next year, winning the 1984 U.S. Open Final against Ivan Lendl in straight sets.
1. Alexander Volkov defeats #1 Stefan Edberg (Round 1, 1990)
The greatest upset in the modern history of the U.S. Open is unseeded Alexander Volkov’s 6-3, 7-6, 6-2 defeat of world #1 Stefan Edberg in the first round of the 1990 tournament. Edberg has already won 4 grand slam titles by that point in his career: the Australian Open in 1985 and 1987, plus Wimbledon in 1988 and 1990. He was an obvious favorite to win his first U.S. Open that year. But Volkov pulled off the unlikeliest of upsets, defeating the best tennis player in the world (at the time) handily in straight sets. Edberg wasn’t scarred by the event, however, as he rebounded by winning the U.S. Open in 1991 and 1992.