With the 2013 French Open just three days away and potentially presenting some major opportunities for improbable protagonists, it’s time take a look at 10 players in the last 15 years who seized one particular moment to define their careers.
We’re one day from a huge, huge, did I mention huge development at Roland Garros.
Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal have a chance (some would call it 50 percent, others would not) of landing on the same side of the French Open draw. If they don’t, then the tournament is already decided. Djokovic and Nadal will play each other in the final.
But if they do….wow. If they do fall on the same side, the other half of the bracket will be more wide open than a four-man grass-court tournament between Filippo Volandri, Pablo Andujar, Albert Montanes, and Paolo Lorenzi. I’m talking about potential finalists like Richard Gasquet, Grigor Dimitrov, all the way down to Ernests Gulbis at No. 39 in the world and just about everyone in between. Yes, the second Grand Slam of 2013 could evoke memories of the Australian Open circa 1998-2008.
If the draw ceremony cooperates, this event has one-hit wonderdom written all over it. And even if Nadal and Djokovic headline opposite halves, upset opportunities will be very real. The Big 4 have never looked more vulnerable since the origination of that term and one of them (Andy Murray) is missing altogether from Paris.
Fasten your seatbelts, folks. This list of 10 one-match or one-tournament wonders may expand over the course of the upcoming fortnight.
Biggest win: d. Rafael Nadal 6-7(9), 6-4, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 (2012 Wimbledon second round)
Ranking at time of win: 100
Final ranking of same year: 73
Final ranking of following year: TBD (currently 36)
Biggest win prior: d. Jurgen Melzer 6-7(4), 6-4, 4-6, 7-6(3), 6-4 (2011 French Open second round)
Biggest win since: d. Guillermo Garcia-Lopez 6-3, 6-2 (2013 Bucharest final)
What in the name of George Bastl is going on out here? Ten years later, that had to be the question people were asking at the All-England Club in 2012. Like Pete Sampras in 2002, Nadal was multiple times a champion of Wimbledon. Like Bastl, Rosol was a nobody. I mean a complete nobody. Unless you were a hardcore tennis fan, there was no way you had ever heard of someone named Lukas Rosol. But somehow, someway the 6’5’’ Czech bludgeoned his way past Nadal straight into the history books.
Like John Isner before him, Rosol has done well in his effort to accomplish the impossible: become known for something else. After stumbling and bumbling the rest of the way to the end of 2012, Rosol has been a man on a mission this season. He won the longest doubles match in the history of tennis with Tomas Berdych in the Czechs' first-round Davis Cup victory over Switzerland. He went on to win two singles rubbers for the defending champs against Kazakhstan, sending them through to the semifinals. Two weeks later he captured his first-ever ATP title by triumphing in Bucharest. Currently three spots off his career-high ranking of No. 33 in the world, Rosol is re-defining his image and he is on course to be seeded for both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. It may not be fair to compare Rosol with Berdych, but it may not be fair to compare Rosol with a fluke, either.
Biggest win: d. Nicolas Mahut 6-4, 3-6, 6-7(7), 7-6(3), 70-68 (2010 Wimbledon first round)
Ranking at time of win: 19
Final ranking of same year: 19
Final ranking of following year: 18
Biggest win prior: d. Andy Roddick 7-6(3), 6-3, 3-6, 5-7, 7-6(5) (2009 U.S. Open third round)
Biggest win since: d. Novak Djokovic 7-6(7), 3-6, 7-6(5) (2012 Indian Wells semifinals)
Prior to his 2010 arrival at the All-England Club, Isner was known as a dangerous but one-dimensional big hitter who had served Andy Roddick right out of the 2009 U.S. Open en route to a surprising fourth-round appearance of his own. The longest match in history (11 hours and five minutes) made Isner an instant star and a household name, but it did not exactly help his tennis. He struggled in the immediate aftermath of the marathon, perhaps both mentally and physically (a knee injury in Cincinnati contributed to a lackluster U.S. hard-court summer). The former University of Georgia standout maintained a Top 20 ranking in 2010 and 2011 before his breakout in 2012 briefly pushed him into the Top 10.
Isner is not exactly a one-match wonder, but the one match was so legendary that he will still have to do a lot more in the second half of his pro career if he wants to ultimately be known for anything else. His upset of Djokovic en route to the Indian Wells final and a Davis Cup stunner of Roger Federer one month later are nice, to put it mildly, but they aren’t enough to change Isner’s legacy.
Memorable match: l. to John Isner 6-4, 3-6, 6-7(7), 7-6(3), 70-68 (2010 Wimbledon first round)
Ranking at time of match: 148
Final ranking of same year: 132
Final ranking of following year: 80
Biggest win prior: d. Rafael Nadal 7-5, 7-6(0) (2007 Queen’s Club quarterfinals)
Biggest win since: d. Andy Murray 6-3, 6-7(4), 7-6(1) (2012 Queen’s Club second round)
Fun fact: the longest match ever almost never happened. Mahut had to qualify for the Wimbledon main draw in 2010 and he found himself on life support not once, but twice. The Frenchman won his second-rounder 3-6, 6-3, 24-22 over Alex Bogdanovic before outlasting Stefan Koubek 6-7(8), 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 to qualify.
Mahut’s grueling week in London caught up with him to an even greater extent than it did Isner. He posted 1-4 ATP-level record for the rest of the season and also struggled in Challengers until winning one (over Dimitrov) in October. The oft-injured veteran finished the next year at No. 80 in the world and he reached the Top 60 (right on the number at 60th) for one week last season, but physical problems have contributed to recent existence almost entirely outside of the Top 100. In a way it’s a shame Mahut lost the match, because—unlike Isner—he will not be remembered for anything else.
Biggest win: d. Rafael Nadal 6-2, 6-7(2), 6-4, 7-6(2) (2009 French Open fourth round)
Ranking at time of win: 25
Final ranking of same year: 8
Final ranking of following year: 5
Biggest win prior: d. David Ferrer 6-7(5), 7-5, 6-2, 7-6(5) (2009 French Open third round)
Biggest win since: d. Fernando Gonzalez 6-3, 7-5, 5-7, 4-6, 6-4 (2009 French Open semifinals)
As his previous biggest win suggests, Soderling had basically done nothing prior to the 2009 French Open. In fact, the Swede’s only real claim to fame was imitating Nadal’s butt-picking and time-wasting during a contentious, rain-delayed five-setter at Wimbledon in 2007. He had a trio of 250-point ATP titles to his credit, a whole host of Masters Series third-round appearances, and two Masters quarterfinals. That’s it. Needless to say, his upset of Nadal came absolutely out of nowhere. Just four weeks earlier, the Spaniard had humiliated Soderling 6-1, 6-0 on the clay courts of Rome.
That all changed at Roland Garros, as did Soderling’s entire career. He parlayed his historic win into a runner-up finish after destroying Nikolay Davydenko and outlasting Fernando Gonzalez in a five-set semifinal. The performance propelled Soderling past his previous career-high ranking of 15th (at which he peaked for all of one week earlier in 2009) to No. 12 in the world. From that point forward, Soderling was a staple of the Top 10—and even the Top 5 for the last 12 months of his playing career—until a disappearing act of which David Copperfield would be proud in the summer of 2011.
Biggest win: d. Guillermo Coria 0-6, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1, 8-6 (2004 French Open final)
Ranking at time of win: 44
Final ranking of same year: 10
Final ranking of following year: 10
Biggest win prior: d. David Nalbandian 6-3, 7-6(5), 6-0 (2004 French Open semifinals)
Biggest win since: d. Fernando Gonzalez 1-6, 7-5, 7-5 (2005 Masters Cup round-robin)
Gaudio was not quite as long of a long-shot as Gustavo Kuerten was when the Brazilian entertained his way to the 1997 French Open title as the No. 66 player in the world. But Gaudio’s odds were long…and they became even longer when he got blown out in the first two sets of his final against Coria—a fellow Argentine and clay-court wizard. The improbability became even greater when Gaudio gave back a break in the third and trailed 4-3, two games from defeat. That’s when a raucous wave took over Court Philippe Chatier and changed the momentum of the match. Gaudio ended up winning a wild, momentum-swinging thriller 8-6 in the fifth and he remains the last player to win a Grand Slam final after saving a championship point (he saved two with Coria serving at 6-5 in the final set).
Whereas Coria fell off the face of the tennis earth almost immediately, Gaudio used the momentum to become one of the best clay-court players in the world throughout 2004 and 2005. He qualified for both year-end championships, even in 2005 without the benefit of a slam victory (he reached the semifinals of the year-ender in ’05 and was rewarded with a double-bagel from Federer). Gaudio had another solid year in 2006 before injuries plagued the rest of his career, which came to an end in 2010.
Biggest win: d. Pete Sampras 6-3, 6-2, 4-6, 3-6, 6-4 (2002 Wimbledon second round)
Ranking at time of win: 145
Final ranking of same year: 160
Final ranking of following year: 277
Biggest win prior: d. Juan Carlos Ferrero 7-6(1), 6-4 (2000 Miami second round)
Biggest win since: d. Daniele Bracciali 6-7(5), 6-1, 6-4 (2006 Miami first round)
Nobody defines one-match wonder quite like George Bastl. Look no further than his other biggest wins to figure out that he never did anything before beating Pete Sampras at Wimbledon and he never did anything after beating Pete Sampras at Wimbledon. The Swiss had peaked at No. 71 in the world in 2000 and even after his win over Sampras he never again surfaced in the Top 100. The immediate aftermath—not to surprisingly—was positively dismal. Bastl got blown out by eventual runner-up David Nalbandian 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 in the third round then lost in the first round of his next two tournaments.
Just how big of an upset was it? Sampras was a seven-time champion of Wimbledon and he had won 57 of his last 59 matches at the All-England Club. Although the American would soon retire, it’s not like he was on his very last legs. Sampras went on to win the U.S. Open later that summer. As for Bastl, he never again won a main-draw match at a Grand Slam and his record for the rest of his slam career—qualifiers included—was 1-12.
Biggest win: d. Juan Carlos Ferrero 6-1, 6-0, 4-6, 6-3 (2002 French Open final)
Ranking at time of win: 22
Final ranking of same year: 9
Final ranking of following year: 25
Biggest win prior: d. Alex Corretja 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 (2002 French Open semifinals)
Biggest win since: d. Tommy Robredo 2-6, 3-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-2 (2003 French Open quarterfinals)
How the heck did Albert Costa win the 2002 French Open? Well, first of all he benefited from playing in between the Sampras era and the Federer era. Every single Grand Slam in 2002 was completely up for grabs (even though Sampras won the U.S. Open, he came close to losing several times along the way. See: Rusedski, Greg). Secondly, Ferrero was not dominant until 2003 so the final itself was not too big of an upset. Additionally, Costa’s nearest seed was Sampras—who once again underwhelmed on clay by losing in the first round.
The stars never quite aligned for Costa again like they did in 2002, but he at least proved the title was not entirely a fluke when he made a return trip to the Roland Garros semis one year later. Aside from that result, the Spaniard never did anything else. Coasta had a losing record outside of the French in 2003 and he had losing marks every season thereafter until his retirement in the spring of 2006.
Biggest win: d. Marat Safin 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, 7-6(4) (2002 Australian Open final)
Ranking at time of win: 18
Final ranking of same year: 14
Final ranking of following year: unranked
Biggest win prior: d. Jiri Novak 7-6(5), 0-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 (2002 Australian Open semifinals)
Biggest win since: d. David Nalbandian 7-6(5), 6-2, 6-2 (2005 Wimbledon quarterfinals)
Don’t be fooled by the rankings and the seedings; Johansson’s win over Safin is without question one of the biggest upsets in the history of Grand Slam finals. Safin was only seven spots ahead of his opponent, but he had reached No. 1 in the world one season earlier and he dropped only one set—to Sampras—en route to the semifinals before getting past Tommy Haas in five. Johansson had just one straight-setter on his way to the title match and he was also coming off a five-setter (against Jiri Novak). Playing this one on his 22nd birthday, Safin was already a Grand Slam champion (2000 U.S. Open) and he had been to the quarters and semis of his two previous slam appearances, respectively. Johansson had been past the fourth round of only two previous majors and he owned a dismal 5-7 record at the Australian Open prior to 2002.
With an assist from a mentally-challenged Safin, Johansson managed to pull off the surprise. That likely made missing the entirety of the 2003 season (knee injury) a lot easier to take than it otherwise would have been. The Swede never did much of anything throughout the remainder of his career, although he did reach the 2005 Wimbledon semifinals out of just about nowhere before losing a four-set thriller to Roddick.
Biggest win: d. Patrick Rafter 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 2-6, 9-7 (2001 Wimbledon final)
Ranking at time of win: 125
Final ranking of same year: 12
Final ranking of following year: 243
Biggest win prior: d. Pete Sampras 6-7(4), 7-6(5), 6-4, 6-2 (1992 Wimbledon final)
Biggest win since: d. Gustavo Kuerten 6-2, 6-7(2), 6-4 (2001 Masters Cup round-robin)
Goran was by no means a one-match wonder, but—like everyone else on this list other than Mahut—there can be no hesitation when it comes to the discussion of his most famous win. Three times he had been to the Wimbledon final prior to 2011 and three times he had failed, twice in heartbreaking five-set fashion. In both of those finals the Croat led by a set and also had the momentum going into the fifth after winning the fourth. Goran’s other final (in 2004) saw him lose a pair of tiebreakers to Sampras before accepting a bagel in the third. He had also been to three Australian Open quarterfinals, three French Open quarterfinals, and a U.S. Open semifinal.
At last, close wasn’t going to cut it for Goran Ivanisevic. However, he did come dangerously close to blowing yet another golden chance. One set away from glory, Goran got erased by Rafter 6-2 in the fourth. After breaking at 7-7 in the fifth, he double-faulted on his first two championship points. A third was thwarted by a Rafter backhand lob before big serves at deuce and at ad-in propelled Goran to the long-awaited finish line. For the oft-injured (both physically and mentally) 29-year-old, the Wimbledon triumph was enough. He won fewer matches in all of 2002 (six) than he did at the 2001 Wimbledon event (seven) and he played only three more Grand Slams the rest of his career, never again advancing past the third round.
Biggest win: d. Marcelo Rios 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 (1998 Australian Open final)
Ranking at time of win: 7
Final ranking of same year: 13
Final ranking of following year: unranked
Biggest win prior: d. Michael Stich 2-6, 6-4, 7-6, 2-6, 11-9 (1993 Grand Slam Cup final)
Biggest win since: d. John van Lottum 6-3, 6-4, 7-6(4) (Wimbledon fourth round)
Like Gaudio, Costa, and Johansson, Korda will be remembered for somehow managing to win a slam. Unlike that trio, however, the scissor-kicking Czech did not come entirely out of the blue at his watershed tournament. He had been a member of the Top 10 in 1991, 1992, and 1993 before resurfacing at that level in 1997. Still, his triumph down under was a borderline shock. Korda outlasted world No. 4 Jonas Bjorkman in a five-set quarterfinal, got a favorable draw against 20th-ranked Karol Kucera in the semis, then eased past Rios—the same Rios who would become No. 1 in the world just two months later.
Unlike Rios, who was 22 at the time of the 1998 Australian Open final, Korda was just about ready to ride off into the sunset with his trophy. The 30-year old compiled a mediocre 14-10 record in between the Aussie and Wimbledon, then—after a quarterfinal run at the All-England Club—he went a wretched 4-10 for the remainder of the year following the grass-court major. Korda was out of the Top 100 by March of 1999 and after September of that year he never again found himself inside the Top 1,000.
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|1. Djokovic||12 500 pts|
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