Top 10 Great Men's Singles French Open surprises in the open era
The French Open has produced many upsets over the years, as many of the top players have not been at their best on clay. Even clay court masters have lost surprisingly, though these loses have been quite few. To qualify for this list, the player that lost must be seeded in the top four and the player that won must be seeded outside the top 16.
1. Soderling v Nadal 2009 4th round
This has to go down as one of the biggest upsets of all time, because in his first ten appearances at the French Open, Rafael Nadal won nine titles and lost only once. This was the loss. At the time Robin Soderling was outside the top 20. Rafael Nadal was going for his fifth title in a row. Nadal looked nervous and Soderling was hitting Nadal's high bouncing shots for winners. In the fourth set tie break Nadal crumbled and Soderling closed out his best victory. The following year Soderling beat Federer, but by then Soderling was a top 10 player.
2. Svensson v Lendl 1988 quarter final
This was a massive upset. Ivan Lendl was a great clay court player at his peak. Jonas B. Svensson was a decent player but not in Lendl's class. Svensson won in straight sets.
3. Gaudio v Coria 2004 final
This was a massive upset. Guillermo Coria was the best clay court player around at the time. Gaston Gaudio was a journeyman. For the first two and a half sets the final was very predictable. The favourite and third seed was easily beating the unheralded unseeded Gaudio. Then Coria choked on a grand scale and Gaudio somehow ended up winning. Then both Coria and Gaudio disappeared back into obscurity.
4. McNamee v McEnroe 1980 3rd round
This was a massive upset. John McEnroe was the second seed and reaching his peak. Paul McNamee was a great doubles player but little more than a journeyman at singles. McNamee won in four sets.
5. Roger-Vasselin v Connors 1983 quarter final
In 1982 Jimmy Connors won Wimbledon and the US Open. He then won the 1983 US Open. At the 1983 French Open top seeded Connors lost to the unseeded Christoph Roger-Vasselin in the quarter finals in straight sets. Roger-Vasselin lost easily in the semis to Yannick Noah. This was the only time in his career when Roger-Vasselin did anything of note in a Grand Slam. Roger-Vasselin had one of the worst records of any Grand Slam semi finalist.
6. Kuerten v Federer 2004 3rd round
In 2004 Roger Federer was at his peak. He had won Wimbledon 2003 and the Australian in 2004 and then won Wimbledon and the US Open in 2004. Federer became a perennial finalist at the French, but Gustavo Kuerten knew how to play on clay. He had won the event three times. However, by 2004 Kuerten had dropped down the rankings and shortly afterwards his career was brought to an end by injuries. This was the last great win of his career. Federer has not lost before the quarter finals of a Grand Slam event since this match. Perhaps part of the reason is the fact he hasn't played anyone of the calibre of Kuerten before the quarter finals.
7. Chesnokov v Wilander 1986 3rd round
In the mid 1980s Mats Wilander was at his peak. Wilander's best surface was clay. Yet in 1986 he surprisingly lost to Andrei Chesnokov, who was playing in the third Grand Slam event of his career. Chesnokov won easily. He went on to have a decent career but was not one of the greats.
8. Pecci v Vilas 1979 quarter final
Guillermo Vilas and Bjorn Borg were the dominant players of the late 1970s. Borg won six Grand Slam titles on clay and Vilas won two. Vilas would have won more if Borg hadn't been around. However, in 1979 it wasn't Borg the third seeded Vilas lost to, but the unseeded Victor Pecci in straight sets. Pecci then beat second seeded Connors in four sets in the semis, another massive upset just missing out on being listed here. Borg beat Pecci in the final.
8. Schaller v Sampras 1995 1st round
At the time Pete Sampras was still a good clay court player. He'd won events on clay, but never the French. Gilbert Schaller was a journeyman. Sampras was the second seed. Schaller played the match of his life and won in five sets. Sampras reached the semis in 1996, but then his clay court form declined. He suffered many early loses at the French from 1997-2002. In 1990 Ivan Lendl even missed the French to try to win Wimbledon. If Sampras had tried as hard to win the French as Lendl did to win Wimbledon he may have won the title.
10. Woodruff v Agassi 1996 2nd round
Andre Agassi was the number three seed and twice former finalist. Chris Woodruff was a journeyman. Woodruff won in five sets. 1996 was a year of surprise losses for Agassi. He almost loss to Gaston Etlis at the Australian, lost to Woodruff at the French and Doug Flach at Wimbledon.
The top surprise that almost came to pass but didn't
Kuerten v Russell 2001 fourth round
Top seed and defending champion Gustavo Kuerten found himself two sets to love and match point down against qualifier Michael Russell in the fourth round. On the match point Kuerten hit a shot that hit the line. Kuerten went on to win the match and went on to win the event.
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