Top 15 Tennis Upsets of All Time
Let’s be honest, we all love a good upset. That sense of rooting for the underdog never leaves us, no matter how much we may love the more highly ranked player that is the favourite to win. But, some upsets in tennis have come on the biggest stages of the sport, some even shocking the entire tennis world!
Why Upsets are Great for the Game
I think it’s a natural tendency for people to root for the underdog. There’s something about a rank outsider stepping up and beating the hometown favourite that we all love to see!
One of the things that makes the greats of the game like Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Rafa Nadal and Serena Williams so amazing is their ability to tough it out and win matches even when they are not playing their best.
This is why it is so rare to see any of these tennis legends lose to much lower ranked players. They almost always find a way to win even if their opponent is playing the match of their life.
However, on those rare occasions that a young upstart, a whiley veteran or a player that has had a recent surge in their ranking beats one of tennis’s greats, it always makes for an entertaining match up!
These matches can be a great opportunity to see different playing styles, uncover new personalities and give lower ranked players the chance to shine on tennis’s biggest stages.
The Top 15 Tennis Upsets of All Time
Lucas Rosol vs Rafael Nadal Wimbledon 2012
Rafael Nadal had won Wimbledon in 2008 and 2010 and was runner up to Novak Djokovic in 2011, so was in fine grass court form going into the 2012 edition of the championships.
Playing little known Lucas Rosol from Poland in the 2nd round seemed like a formality on the road to the Spaniard claiming another Wimbledon crown.
Rosol was ranked outside the world’s top 100 at the time and had not really been seen much on tennis’s world stage. He was sharing centre court with one of the greats of the game and boy did he make the most of it!
The Pole came from a set down to claim the match in 5 thrilling sets, displaying unbelievable shot making, pinpoint accurate and relentlessly powerful serving and an audacious attitude.
He was more than happy to take on the centre court crowd and even bumped Nadal at a change of ends to make him aware he wasn’t afraid of the big occasion!
Roger Federer vs Sergiy Stakhovsky Wimbledon 2013
Another unbelievable Wimbledon shock came at the 2013 tournament, with Roger Federer being taken out by Ukranian Sergiy Stakhovsky in the 2nd round. Stakhovsky was ranked 116 in the world at the time and Federer was the defending champion at SW19.
Sergiy put on a stunning display of serve and volley tennis, bringing back the old school grass court style to centre court.
The crowd were stunned as Federer sprayed balls and was uncharacteristically inconsistent. Nonetheless he had no answer to Stakhovsky’s brilliance, leading him to a 4 set victory over the Swiss Maestro.
Serena Williams vs Roberta Vinci U.S. Open 2015
Serena Williams is one of the most decorated tennis players of all time, and in 2015 was hunting down a calendar grand slam.
She would have been the first player to complete this unbelievable milestone since 1988 and it would have all but cemented her place as the greatest female tennis player of all time.
However, despite saying she wasn’t feeling the pressure throughout the tournament, it was clear that the nerves got to Serena in her quarterfinal matchup against classy shotmaker Roberta Vinci.
She would go on to play Flavia Pennetta in the final in the first all Italian match up in a grand slam final ever!
George Bastl vs Pete Sampras Wimbledon 2002
Throwing it back to the early noughties, 14 time grand slam champion and 7 time Wimbledon champion Pete Sampras was facing lucky loser George Bastl in the 2002 edition of the tournament.
Bastl was ranked 112 in the world at the time and was the rank outsider against the in-form Sampras, yet he managed to pull off the most unlikely of victories.
Nick Kyrgios vs Rafael Nadal Wimbledon 2014
In a match that saw controversial Australian Nick Kyrgios burst onto the scene, the 2014 Wimbledon 4th round with Rafael Nadal sparked a heated rivalry that is still ongoing to this day!
Kyrgios took out the Spanish great in 4 sets, putting on a show with his outstanding shot making, confidence, trick shots and booming serving.
He even played a tweener that was arguably the shot of the tournament and not expected by an 18 year old playing a veteran of the game on Wimbledon’s centre court!
Denis Istomin vs Novak Djokovic Australian Open 2017
After winning the Australian Open for the two previous years and 5 of the past 6 times he’d entered it, Novak Djokovic was most definitely the man to beat at the 2017 tournament. He faced Denis Istomin, a solid journeyman on the ATP tour in the 2nd round.
In one of the most thrilling and unexpected matches of the season, Istomin out on a dazzling display of hard hitting groundstrokes and accurate serving to take out the great Serb in 5 gruelling sets.
Jelena Ostapenko vs Simona Halep French Open 2017
Tipped before the tournament to be the heavy favourite to win her first grand slam title, Simona Halep would have gone into her match at the 2017 French Open finals with Jelena Ostapenko full of confidence.
What she didn’t expect however is the blistering display of heavy groundstrokes that Ostapenko would produce to shock the tennis world.
Halep was up a set and 3-0 and cruising to victory when Ostapenko turned up the heat and really started to hit out at the ball.
Ostapenko would go on to win the match and the tournament overall, which is even more unbelievable when you consider she was ranked 43 and aged just 20 years old.
Ivo Karlovic vs Lleyton Hewitt Wimbledon 2003
Ivo Karlovic (sometimes known as Dr. Ivo) is one of the most prolific servers of all time. His 6”11 frame has given him a unique advantage on the tennis court and has helped him fire down bombs for more than 15 years on the tour.
But, he really broke out on to the tennis scene at the 2003 Wimbledon championships against defending champion Lleyton Hewitt, when he pulled off a shock victory in just the 1st round of the tournament.
The Australian was the number 1 ranked player at the time and was the heavy favourite in the match, but Karlovic managed to claim the match in 4 sets despite losing the first set 6-1!
Michael Chang vs Ivan Lendl French Open 1989
In one of the most memorable upsets the tennis world has ever seen, young upstart Michael Chang took out the top seed and 3 time champion Ivan Lendl at the French Open.
Chang was quite highly ranked at 15 in the world for a 17 year old, but Lendl was a massive favourite going into this match and there was no way anyone could see Chang coming back from a 2 sets to love deficit.
However, the young American did just that! He took out Lendl in 5 gruelling sets and the Czech was left stunned and couldn’t keep up with Chang’s brilliance.
In a match that definitely saw Lendl feel the pressure, Chang produced one of the most iconic tennis moments. At 4-3 in the 5th set, Chang hit an underarm serve that shocked Lendl and the tennis world!
This was very rare to see in any grand slam match, let alone at the French Open against the world number 1!
Marcus Willis vs Ricardas Berankis Wimbledon 2016
In one of the most iconic fairytale stories the tennis world has ever seen, unknown Brit Marcus Willis managed to defeat Ricardas Berankis at the 2016 Wimbledon Championships in the first round.
Berankis was a great junior player and was ranked 54 in the world at the time, whilst Willis was ranked way down at 772.
What’s more, Willis had only got a wild card into the pre-qualifying event to WImbledon, so had to win 3 matches to even reach the main qualifying event.
He beat Andrey Rublev in qualifying to make the main draw and managed to beat a player in the world’s top 60 on his Wimbledon debut! He even did it in straight sets!
To top off this unbelievable win, he then got the chance to play none other than Roger Federer in the 2nd round on centre court. Federer would go on to win the match, but what an unbelievable effort from Marcus Willis!
Dominika Cibulkova vs Angelique Kerber WTA Finals 2016
In one of the most shocking upsets in the tournament’s history, Dominika Cibulkova managed to defeat top ranked Angelique Kerber at the year end WTA finals in 2016. Having won just one group stage match, Cibulkova was by no means the in-form player at the tournament.
She even lost to Kerber in the group stages of the year end championships! However, she was able to put on a stunning display of shot making in the final and blow the world number 1 off the court in straight sets to claim the trophy!
Flavia Pennetta vs Li Na Indian Wells 2016
Having come back from a 6 month layoff due to surgery just the year before, Flavia Pennetta was not expected to have a deep run at the 2016 Indian Wells tournament.
She ended up defeating top seed Li Na in the semi-finals of the tournament in straight sets no less! The Italian would then go on to claim her first WTA premier title at the tournament, securing her 1000 ranking points and a magical run in the desert!
Robin Soderling vs Rafael Nadal French Open 2009
Arguably one of the most unexpected results on our list is when Rafael Nadal lost his stranglehold at the French Open in 2009, shockingly losing to hard hitting Swede, Robin Soderling.
At the time, Nadal was a 4 time defending champion and had never even lost a match at Roland Garros!
So, it is easy to see why this is one of the biggest upsets in the sport’s history, especially when you consider that Nadal now holds 13 French Open titles and has only ever lost 3 matches at the tournament!
Soderling put on an unbelievable display of big hitting and took out the king of clay in 4 sets. Soderling was climbing the ranks quickly, but was still only 23 in the world when he shocked the world and took out the great Nadal.
Andy Murray vs Mischa Zverev Australian Open 2017
Top ranked player in the world at the time and coming off an unbelievable season in 2016, Andy Murray was most definitely the favourite to claim the 2017 edition of the Australian Open.
However, Mischa Zverev had other ideas. Ranked just 50 in the world at the time, the German brought an old school serve and volley style to the Rod Laver Arena, shocking the Brit in 4 sets to claim one of the biggest upsets in the history of the tournament!
Angelique Kerber vs Monica Puig Olympics 2016
Being ranked 98 in the world, Monica Puig was not really even expected to qualify for the 2016 Olympic games, let alone win the tournament! She faced in form German Angelique Kerber, who many tennis fans picked to take home the gold before the games.
She was the first Puartorican to ever win an olympic medal and went on to defeat 3 top 10 ranked players on her way to sealing the gold! She took the match in 3 sets, storming to victory winning the 3rd set 6-1!
Of course, we love to see our favourite champions win the biggest tournaments in the world. But, it is also great to witness some of the best upsets and unexpected results on the biggest stages in the tennis world!
Upsets are great for up and coming players as they serve as inspiration and motivation for lower ranked players to push on and not be afraid to play their game against the best players in the world!
Nov 22, 2021 • Pro Tennis
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