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9 Biggest Upsets in the History of Men’s Tennis

by: Esteban On  Tuesday, June 25, 2013
Tags:  Rafael Nadal   Tennis   Upsets  

biggest upsets in men's tennis

Yesterday at Wimbledon, two-time champion and No. 5 seed Rafael Nadal was knocked out in the first round by a guy named…hold on, let me check…Steve Darcis. If you’ve never heard of that guy before, it’s probably because he’s 29 years old and is ranked No. 135 in the world.

Now, Rafa was obviously not feeling one hundred percent. It looks as though the grueling clay court season that yielded his record eighth French Open title took a toll on the bum knee that knocked him out for seven months last year. But this was still an upset of historic proportions. Nadal may only have been seeded 5th, but everyone knows that, when he’s on, he’s as good as anybody.

So was Nadal’s first round loss yesterday one of the greatest upsets in the history of men’s tennis? Maybe, but it was not quite big enough to crack the top nine. Have a look, and as always, let us know if we missed any.


Honorable Mention: Karlovic over Hewitt (Wimbledon 2003)

ivo karlovic vs leyton hewitt (wimbledon 2003) - biggest upsets all-time men's tennis

Leyton Hewitt was the No. 1 seed and the defending champion when he lost to Ivo Karlovic in round one at Wimbledon in 2003. However, despite the fact that he is still the only defending men’s champion to get knocked out in the first round the following year, and despite the fact that Hewitt really was a terrific player, he just didn’t quite fit in with the other legendary players on the list. So I decided to exclude this one from the official roster of biggest upsets in men’s tennis—but give it an honorable mention.


9. Bastl over Sampras (Wimbledon 2002)

bastl sampras (2002 wimbledon) - biggest upsets all-time men's tennis

The great Pete Sampras was definitely a little past his prime in 2002. The guy was 31 years and 11 months old, and he had sunken all the way down to a No. 6 seed. Still, nobody figured the seven-time Wimbledon champion would bow out in the second round to a guy who was ranked No. 145 in the world—but that’s exactly what happened. Switzerland’s George Bastl only made the main draw because one of the players who had actually qualified for Wimbledon in 2002 had to pull out; however, in the second round he had the match of his life and defeated Pistol Pete in five sets.


8. Rosol over Nadal (Wimbledon 2012)

rosol vs nadal (2012 wimbledon) - biggest upsets all-time men's tennis

Did Rafa’s first round ouster at Wimbledon 2013 give you deja vu? Well, that’s probably because he suffered an epic upset at the tournament last year, too. The No. 2 seed lost in the second round to the No. 100 player in the world, Lukas Rosol. Some might look back at the fact that this turned out to be the last match Rafa would play in 2012, conclude that his knee tendinitis must have been acting up, and say this wasn’t as big an upset as it seemed. But that is not the case. The match was a five-set thriller, and Rosol simply played better than he ever had in his life. Sometimes that just happens to a guy, and when it does he ends up on a list like this.


7. Clement over Agassi (U.S. Open 2000)

arnaud clement vs andre agassi (u.s. open 2000) - biggest upsets all-time men's tennis

Andre Agassi was 30 years old at the 2000 U.S. Open, but don’t let his “old” age (in tennis years) fool you. The guy was in the midst of a career revival and at the top of his game. He won the French and U.S. Opens in 1999, the Australian Open in 2000, and was the No. 1 seed in Flushing Meadows come August. So it was actually a pretty big deal when he lost to unseeded Frenchman Arnaud Clement in round two.


6. Scanlon over McEnroe (U.S. Open 1983)

scanlon over mcenroe (u.s. open 1983) - biggest upsets all-time men's tennis

As the No. 1 seed, the pugnacious Johnny Mac was widely expected to dominate the 1983 U.S. Open. He’d won the tournament in ’79, ’80, and ’81, and had won Wimbledon in ’81, and ’83. Everyone was looking forward to an epic showdown between McEnroe and Jimmy Connors in the semis, and then another one between McEnroe and Ivan Lendl in the finals. And then Johnny Mac lost in round four to the No. 16 seed Bill Scanlon—a guy who would never be ranked higher than No. 9 in the world, and who would never even make the final of a Grand Slam event.


5. Volkov over Edberg (U.S. Open 1990)

alexander volkov vs stefan edberg (1990 u.s. open) - biggest upsets all-time men's tennis

Coming in to the 1990 U.S. Open, Stefan Edberg was a world No. 1 with four Grand Slam titles under his belt—including the 1990 Wimbledon title. The guy was at the peak of his career and the obvious favorite. Unfortunately for Stefan, he would have to wait until 1991 to win his first U.S. Open title, because in 1990 the No. 1 seed lost in straight sets in the opening round to Alexander Volkov of Russia.


4. Krajicek over Sampras (Wimbledon 1996)

krajicek def sampras (1996 wimbledon) - biggest upsets all-time men's tennis

Richard Krajicek was the No. 17 seed at Wimbledon in 1996, and considering there are 128 players in the draw, that’s pretty good. However, Pete Sampras was, hands down, the best tennis player in the world. He’d already won seven Grand Slam titles by that point, including the previous three Wimbledon championships. Nevertheleess, Richard Krajicek was in the zone in 1996, and he became the only person to beat Sampras at the All England Club from 1993-2000 when they met in the quarterfinals—and in straight sets, no less.


3. Panatta over Borg (French Open 1976)

panetta vs bjorn borg (1976 french open) - biggest upsets all-time men's tennis

How dominant was Bjorn Borg at the French Open? Oh, he only won the tournament in ’74, ’75, ’78, ’79, ’80, and ’81—which I guess was pretty good. However, Borg did not win the French Open and make it a three-peat in 1976, despite being the No. 1 seed. Instead, shockingly, the most dominant tennis player of his era lost in the quarterfinals to the No. 8 seeded Adriano Panatta of Italy, who would go on to win the whole thing that year for his only Grand Slam title.


2. Soderling over Nadal (French Open 2009)

soderling vs nadal (2009 french open) - biggest upsets all-time men's tennis

No man has ever dominated a single surface or tournament the way Rafael Nadal has dominated clay and the French Open for the last decade. So if you somehow beat him there, that’s going to be the highlight of your career—just ask Robin Soderling. Nadal was the No. 1 seed at the 2009 French Open, having won the event the previous four years. Soderling, meanwhile, was a talented player and the No. 23 seed, but the guy still stood no chance. However, the Swede played the match of his life against the greatest clay court player of all-time in the fourth round, defeating Nadal in four sets.


1. Edmondson over Newcombe (Australian Open 1976)

mark edmondson def newcombe (1976 australian open) - biggest upsets all-time men's tennis

Until 1983 or so, the draws were pretty weak at the Australian Open. The remoteness of the continent relative to Europe and North America and costs of travel back then kept many of the best players in the world—like Roy Emerson and Rod Laver—away. However, in 1976, the Aussie Open still had all of Australia’s biggest tennis stars, including two-time French Open champ and two-time U.S. Open champ Ken Rosewall, as well as three-time Wimbledon champ and two-time U.S. Open champ John Newcombe. So when the No. 212 player in the world, Mark Edmondson, defeated John Newcombe en route to winning the whole tournament in 1976, that was still a pretty huge deal. And it takes the top spot on our list of the biggest upsets in the history of men’s tennis.