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Serena Williams' loss to Vinci ranked as biggest upset ever, Rafael Nadal's loss to Soderling at No. 2

  • Serena Williams' 2015 US Open loss & Rafael Nadal's 2009 Roland Garros loss were ranked as the 2 biggest upsets ever.
  • 5 of the 10 upsets in the list occurred at Wimbledon, the only grasscourt tournament on the Grand Slam calendar.
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Modified 19 May 2020, 02:42 IST

Serena Williams (L) and Rafael Nadal
Serena Williams (L) and Rafael Nadal

Serena Williams' loss to unheralded Italian Roberta Vinci in the semifinals of the 2015 US Open has been ranked as the biggest upset of all time by Tennis Channel. Meanwhile, Rafael Nadal's shock defeat against Robin Soderling at Roland Garros 2009 came in second.

When Roberta Vinci overturned monumental odds to stun Serena Williams

Serena Williams congratulates Roberta Vinci after their 2015 US Open semifinal
Serena Williams congratulates Roberta Vinci after their 2015 US Open semifinal

2015 was a spectacular season for Serena Williams as she racked up titles at the Australian Open, Roland Garros and Wimbledon. Her only loss in the first half of the year came at the hands of Petra Kvitova, in the Madrid semifinals.

The then 33-year-old arrived at the US Open as the three-time defending champion, and was considered the overwhelming favorite. Serena Williams was looking to become the first player since Steffi Graf in 1988 to win all four Slams in the same year, a feat that is termed the 'Calendar Grand Slam'.

Serena Williams beat her elder sister Venus in the quarterfinals to arrive at a seventh consecutive semifinal at the US Open. Facing the unseeded Roberta Vinci for a place in a fourth Grand Slam final of the year, Serena Williams was not expected to have much trouble against the Italian veteran - who had not even taken a set in their four previous meetings.

Vinci was given 300/1 odds for an upset on that day. Serena Williams' dominance over Vinci looked set to continue as she took the opening set in the rain-delayed semifinal, for the loss of just two games. However, things soon unraveled spectacularly.

Serena Williams suddenly appeared flat-footed and slow at the baseline as Vinci made regular forays to the net to force a decider. The American even smashed a racquet at the changeover and earned a reprimand from the chair umpire.

Serena Williams seemed to have restored normalcy when she led 2-0 in the third set. But Vinci broke back and then won a breathtaking rally at game point down in the seventh game. Two points later, the Italian broke for 4-3 as a partisan crowd looked shell-shocked.

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A crestfallen Serena Williams couldn't conjure a comeback. Vinci produced a love service hold at 5-4 to register the biggest win of her career, and one of the biggest upsets of all time.

Serena Williams won more points in the match - 93 to 85 - but her whopping 40 unforced errors turned out to be her undoing on the day.

The result set up the first-ever all-Italian Grand Slam final in the Open Era, and the first between two ladies above the age of 30.

A distraught Serena Williams struggled for words after her stunning defeat.

"She played out of her mind. I don’t think I played too bad. She did not want to lose today and neither did I. I didn’t feel pressure. I never feel pressure. I made a couple of tight shots but that’s maybe normal."

With the enormity of the upset yet to fully sink in, Roberta Vinci sounded modest about her achievement and was effusive with her praise for Serena Williams as she said:

"This is an incredible moment for me. It’s like a dream. I’m in the final. I beat Serena Williams. For me it is an amazing moment. I lost the first set, tried to save every single point. I tried not to think about the match, about Serena Williams. It is the best moment of my life. I’m sorry for the American people, for Serena Williams, for the Grand Slam. But today’s my day. Sorry guys."

Robin Soderling's win over Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros 2009, the 2nd biggest upset of all time


Rafael Nadal lost for the first time at Roland Garros, going down to Robin Soderling in the 2009 fourth round
Rafael Nadal lost for the first time at Roland Garros, going down to Robin Soderling in the 2009 fourth round

Robin Soderling etched his name into the history books by becoming the first of only two men to beat 12-time champion Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros. The Swede's win over Rafael Nadal was termed by Tennis Channel's panel of experts as the second biggest upset of all time.

Four-time defending champion Rafael Nadal faced Robin Soderling for a place in his fifth consecutive Roland Garros quarterfinal. Earlier in the season, the Spaniard had thrashed Soderling for the loss of just one game, in the Rome Masters third round.

The odds were overwhelmingly in favor of Rafael Nadal. He was 31-0 on the Parisian terre battue and 48-0 in five-set matches on the surface. But Soderling on the day set about ruining those impeccable stats.

The Swede's laser-sharp forehand pinned Rafael Nadal deep behind the baseline, as he conceded just two games in a lopsided opening set. That was the first time the Spaniard had lost a set at Roland Garros since his four-set win over Roger Federer in the 2007 final.

Rafael Nadal regrouped to break for 2-1 in the second, but couldn't serve it out at 5-4. In the ensuing tiebreak though, as Soderling's level dropped, Nadal took full advantage to restore parity.

Far from being unruffled, Soderling rediscovered the zip on his forehand and broke Rafael Nadal for 4-3 in the second before serving out a two sets to one lead.

Not one to relinquish his crown without a fight, Rafael Nadal took a 2-0 lead in the fourth. But Soderling roared back to recoup the break.

In the tiebreak the Swede drew first blood to lead 3-1, and then won the next three points to arrive at five match points. Rafael Nadal saved the first but a forehand volley error brought the three hour 35-minute contest to a close.

The defending champion acknowledged Soderling's effort when he said:

"He didn't surprise me because I know how he plays, how dangerous he can be. I didn't play my best tennis. No, I didn't attack in no one moment. I played very short, and I made it very easy for him to play at this level."

Rafael Nadal, however, took the defeat in his stride by remarking that it was inevitable in some ways.

"This is not a tragedy, losing here in Paris. It had to happen one day, and this is an excellent season for me," said Rafael Nadal. "Of course it's a bit sad, but I have to overcome this as quickly as possible."

Soderling won north of 60% points on both deliveries and was clinical on the break points (5/6). Two more wins later, the Swede reached his first Grand Slam final - where he went down in straight sets to Roger Federer.

Which other matches made up the list of tennis' top 10 upsets, apart from Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal?

Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal.
Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal.

Katleen Hovarth's win over Martina Navratilova at 1983 Roland Garros was ranked as the third biggest upset in tennis history. The defeat to the American teenager was Navratilova's only loss of the season where she went 86-1, racking up 16 titles. A left-hander like Rafael Nadal, Navratilova's win% of 98.8 is the best single-season mark by any player, male or female.

Tennis Channel ranked Lori McNeil's first-round win over three-time defending champion Steffi Graf at Wimbledon 1994 fourth. Meanwhile, Swiss journeyman George Bastl's five-set win over seven-time champion Pete Sampras in the erstwhile 'Graveyard of Champions' court at 2002 Wimbledon rounded off the top 5.

Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic also made an appearance in the list. Djokovic's second round loss to Denis Istomin at the 2017 Australian Open came in at No. 9, followed by Federer's Wimbledon 2013 defeat against Sergiy Stakhovsky at No. 8.

The full list of the 10 greatest upsets in tennis history, in descending order, is as follows:

10. Michael Chang defeated Ivan Lendl (1989 Roland Garros final)

9. Denis Istomin defeated Novak Djokovic (2017 Australian Open 2R)

8. Sergiy Stakhovsky defeated Roger Federer (2013 Wimbledon 2R)

7. Peter Doohan defeated Boris Becker (1987 Wimbledon 1R)

6. Artur Ashe defeated Jimmy Connors (1975 Wimbledon Final)

5. George Bastl defeated Pete Sampras (2002 Wimbledon 2R)

4. Lori McNeil defeated Steffi Graf (1994 Wimbledon 1R)

3. Kathleen Horvath defeated Martina Navratilova (1983 Roland Garros 4R)

2. Robin Soderling defeated Rafael Nadal (2009 Roland Garros 4R)

1. Roberta Vinci defeated Serena Williams (2015 US Open Semifinal).


Published 19 May 2020, 02:42 IST
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