More Surprising Victories in the Majors
I liked Josus’ post about surprise wins in the majors.
So I have my own poll/question, along that same line.
For the 1960s, 1970s, 1080s, and 1990s, which singles triumph in a major was the most surprising of that decade?
Here are my picks.
I’ll admit I am only going by what I read, so I claim no one expertise during this time. So I’ll say Ann Jones’ 1969 Wimbledon triumph, followed closely by Virginia Wade’s 1968 US Open win.
Jones had won the French already, but winning her country’s major was a huge accomplishment. And she beat Margaret Court and Billie Jean King (3 time defending champ) in the finals. Major pressure for her, and incredible to come through and take the title. Considering Margaret Court lost only 1 match in majors from 1969 through 1971 Australian, the Wimbledon semi win by Jones was a big win.
Wade’s initial major triumph was also a stunner. Seeded just 6th, she had to get by Rosie Casals, Judy Tegart, Ann Jones, and then defending champ Billie Jean King. Playing flawless tennis, Wade didn’t lose a set to any of those opponents, many who gave her fits throughout her career.
Wade’s 1977 Wimbledon triumph has already been discussed. And it ranks right up there for the decade. But I also want to mention Evonne Goolagong’s 1971 Wimbledon win. Evonne was seeded third, and had barely lost the Australian final that year to Court, so she was on the rise. Plus she came through a month earlier to win her first major, the French. But to defeat 3 time champ King in straight sets in the semis (the only time she ever beat King in a major), and then crush defending champ Court in the final was a masterful victory for Evonne.
However, there was one other major singles win in the decade which outranks Evonne and Virginia’s magical Wimbledon runs as most surprising in my book. Chris O’Neil’s 1978 title trot at the Australian Open was the most surprising of the decade. I know the field was rather diluted that year, with no top 10 players. However, it was still a major. And O’Neil had never won a WTA Tour level event before (or after) her Australian win. And she came through 5 matches without losing a set. Although she didn’t face the media spotlight that any of today’s players face when winning a major, it was still a singular moment for the unheralded Australian, who etched her name in tennis history as the lowest ranked woman to ever win a major.
Goolagong had a wonderfully surprising and inspiring title run at Wimbledon in 1980. With Evert, Navratilova, and Graf grabbing the majority of the major titles that decade, I would have to rate Arantxa Sanchez Vicario’s 1989 French triumph as the most surprising, with Hana Mandlikova’s 1985 US Open just behind it.
Sanchez was ranked just 10th in the world in June 1989. A straight set win over Chris Evert in her QF run the prior year, Sanchez was still much over matched against heavy favorite Steffi Graf, who seemed on a collision course to win an unprecedented second consecutive Grand Slam. Playing marvelous defense, and impervious to the pressure of a shocking win, Sanchez rallied from 3-5 in the final set to stun Graf and win her first major.
I think Hana keeping her cool to rally and beat Chris in a tough semi, and come back the next day and hold her nerve in a topsy turvy, tense battle with Martina in the finals of the 1985 US Open was also one of the most surprising major triumphs of the decade.
Another decade dominated by a few players winning majors. I think there are a number of contenders:
Conchita Martinez’ 1994 Wimbledon win. Who would have ever thought the only major singles title Martinez would win was Wimbledon? And beating 9 time champ Navratilova in the finals? Martinez barely made it to her first ever final, having to go the distance in her 3 matches prior to the finals, including a 10-8 in the third win over Lori McNeil in the semi. Most thought she would be just happy to be in the finals. But she took advantage of her opportunity, and played the match of her life in shocking Navratilova.
The last few majors of the decade provided other surprises:
Steffi Graf’s 6th French Open victory was one of the big surprises of the decade. Despite 21 major titles to date, Graf was not at her best going into Roland Garros. A tricky draw presented additional challenges, but Graf persevered. She beat #2 Davenport in the QF, #3 Seles in the SF, and in an emotionally charged final, shocked #1 and favorite Martina Hingis for her 22nd and last major win.
Serena Williams was on the rise, and entered her 2nd US Open as the #7 seed in 1999. But few expected her to be the first Williams sister to emerge in the winner’s circle of a major. First she escaped a tough tussle with future rival Kim Clijsters in the 3R. Then she rallied to beat former champ Seles in the QF, defending champ Davenport in a three set semifinal thriller. Then she turned back another former champ Martina Hingis to grab her first major in a very big surprise.
While Graf, Williams, and Martinez’ wins were all impressive, and surprising, the one victory that caught everyone off guard in the 1990s was Iva Majoli’s 1997 French Open championship run. A talented teen, Majoli had some decent results prior to 1997, but nothing that gave many pause to consider her a serious threat at any of the majors. As the #9 seed, Majoli had to overcome a huge deficit in the R16 against Davenport, not even considered a threat on clay. She also battled in three sets in the QF and SF to earn a spot in the final opposite heavily favored Martina Hingis, who ascended to #1 and hadn’t lost a match all year. Majoli outhit and outplayed Hingis throughout the match, beating her in two sets to claim the most surprising win of the decade.