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Australian Open: Big surprises

Sky Sports logo Sky Sports 15-01-2016


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Andy Schooler takes a look at players who have caused a surprise at the Australian Open in years gone by.

Starting in just the third week of the season, the Australian Open always looks ripe for a surprise or two.

The event's history shows it is littered with outsiders taking their chance to catch the big guns cold - certainly more so than any of the other Grand Slam tournaments.

We take a look at some of those who have made waves at Melbourne Park - and what they've gone on to achieve after bathing in the limelight.


Carlos Moya (runner-up 1997)

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Moya was ranked inside the world's top 30 when he arrived in Australia at the start of 1997 but few saw what was to come over the following month. First up he made the final in Sydney - losing to a certain Tim Henman, who went on to win his first ATP title. Despite Moya's decent form, few gave him a chance against Boris Becker in the first round in Melbourne - Becker was many people's title favourite after his superb end to 1996. But Moya prevailed in five tough sets to spark an amazing run all the way to the final. The dream finally died on the second Sunday as Pete Sampras demolished the Spaniard, but a star had been born. This was to be no flash in the pan as 18 months later Moya became French Open champion and soon after he toppled Sampras from the world No 1 spot. With a long-term foot injury proving problematic, Moya retired from tennis at the end of the 2010 season.

Petr Korda (winner 1998) 

Famous for his 'scissors kick' celebration, Korda was seeded sixth at the 1998 tournament, but few expected him to win the event. But that's exactly what he did to climb to No 2 in the world, destroying Marcelo Rios in a one-sided final. In the following months the Czech star was often within touching distance of the top spot, but he was destined never to hit the summit. His season tailed off and he actually finished 1998 with a losing record.

Thomas Johansson (winner 2002)

Arguably the most remarkable of Grand Slam winners in recent years was Thomas Johansson, who made the most of a tournament which saw virtually all the major seeds scattered in the first week. Such was the level of shocks that Tim Henman found himself second favourite for the title come the middle weekend, but he lost out to Johansson's compatriot Jonas Bjorkman in the last 16 - the same round Pete Sampras bowed out. With his serve firing superbly and the main men falling by the wayside, he duly took his chance. The last piece of the jigsaw came on finals day, or some would say the night before. Opponent Marat Safin was apparently so confident about victory that he enjoyed a night on the town on the eve of the match and paid the price as the fully-focused Johansson was clearly the better player in the final. However, that was as good as it got for 'To-Jo'. Remarkably he failed to win another title in 2002 and finished the season with a losing record. In the years that followed he was bothered by a series of injuries and, at the age of 34, retired midway through the 2009 campaign. He's now back on the ATP World Tour - coaching rising star Borna Coric.

Rainer Schuettler (runner-up 2003)

German Schuettler's game was all about his run-all-day attitude and supreme fitness. It served him well in Melbourne in 2003. With the introduction of 32 seeds, Schuettler scraped in at 31 but no-one really thought he'd be around come week two. However, he showed no signs of letting up as he dismissed David Nalbandian and then Andy Roddick in ruthless fashion. Sadly Schuettler was destroyed by Andre Agassi in the final, winning just five games - equalling the heaviest defeat in Australian Open final history. 

Marcos Baghdatis (2006)

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It was not just the unseeded Baghdatis who lit up the tournament eight years ago but also his army of Greek-Cypriot fans. Many packed into the Rod Laver Arena for his matches to roar on their man. Aged just 20, and ranked outside the top 50, Baghdatis didn't disappoint. He took out three of the top seven seeds in Roddick, Ivan Ljubicic and Nalbandian before finally coming up short against Roger Federer in the final. Baghdatis went on to reach the Wimbledon semis later that year but he's yet to return to a Grand Slam final.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (runner-up 2008)

Ranked 38th coming into the 2008 Australian Open, Tsonga announced his name to the world with some stunning displays in Melbourne. He had the crowd on his side as soon as he had taken out Andy Murray in four sets in round one. At the time Murray came in for plenty of criticism for his defeat, but few knew then that Tsonga would go on to topple Richard Gasquet and Rafael Nadal en route to the first ATP-level final of his career. With his first serve booming, Tsonga also took the first set of the final but, as he tired, Novak Djokovic took full advantage to win in four. However, Tsonga was no one-hit wonder. Despite suffering more than his fair share of injuries, he's spent just two weeks outside the top 20 in the eight years since this memorable run.

Stan Wawrinka (winner 2014)

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Thirty-four of the previous 35 Grand Slam titles had been won by members of the so-called 'Big Four' but history mattered little to Wawrinka in Melbourne two years ago. Having pushed Djokovic to the limit in the previous year's Australian and US Opens, the Wawrinka made it third time lucky when he won another epic contest with Djokovic in the quarter-finals, ending the defending champion's 25-match winning streak at the tournament. A few days later Wawrinka was in the final but facing an arguably bigger test in Nadal - a player he hadn't beaten in 12 previous meetings. Nadal's back injury in the second set stifled the match as a contest, but Warinka played some sublime tennis nonetheless. At the age of 28, one of the great shotmakers of his generation had finally made his breakthrough.


Amelie Mauresmo (runner-up 1999)

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Without doubt Mauresmo was the story of the 1999 tournament - in more ways than one. As an unseeded player, her run to the final was remarkable, particularly in the women's game where the top names tended to dominate. After she beat top seed Lindsay Davenport in the semi-finals, everyone was taking notice. Her final opponent, Martina Hingis, certainly did. Mauresmo was soon a regular in the top 10, but following a series of defeats in the latter stages of majors the mental side of her game was questioned. That was finally put to bed in 2006 when Mauresmo won in Melbourne and claimed the Wimbledon crown. Injuries then took their toll and she retired at the end of 2009. She will be back at the Australian Open this year as coach to Murray.

Jennifer Capriati (winner 2001)

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Capriati lifted the trophy after beating the world's top two - Davenport and Hingis - back-to-back, becoming the first player to achieve that feat at a Grand Slam for 22 years. It sparked a superb run of form by the American. She went on to win the French Open that year and her bid to win the fabled Grand Slam only ended in the Wimbledon semi-finals. The world No 1 spot was soon hers and then Capriati returned for more in Melbourne, retaining her title at the start of 2002. The final proved to be one of the most memorable matches in the tournament's history - she beat Hingis from a set and 4-0 down, saving four match points in the process.

Serena Williams (winner 2007)

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Williams is perhaps not a name you'd expect to be on this list. When she won the Australian Open title for the first time in 2003, Williams completed what came to be known as the 'Serena Slam' - becoming the owner of all four major titles. Many expected her to dominate for years to come but injuries blighted her progress. By the time she arrived in Melbourne in 2007, Williams was 81st on the WTA ranking list having played just four tournaments the previous year. It mattered little to her though. She beat no fewer than six seeds en route to the title, with her dismissal of Maria Sharapova in the final (Williams lost just three games) one of the great Grand Slam final performances of recent years. It was Williams' third Australian title. 

Li Na (runner-up 2011)

The tradition of surprise finalists in Melbourne continued in 2011 with China's Li Na becoming Asia's first Grand Slam singles finalist. Three seeds were beaten, including world No 1 Caroline Wozniacki in a hard-fought semi-final. Li actually claimed the first set of the final against Kim Clijsters but went on to lose in three. Li used her shock run as a springboard to a first Grand Slam title - one which arrived in the very next major at Roland Garros. She also claimed the title in Melbourne in 2014 only to then retire later that season.

Dominika Cibulkova (runner-up 2014)

Cibulkova, in no-one's thoughts as a title contender when the event began, stormed her way through the draw with her powerful baseline hitting. She won three love sets en route to the final and took out four seeds, including Sharapova. However, the dream run was finally halted by Li at the final hurdle. After losing a competitive first set on a tie-break, it was Cibulkova who was forced to eat a bagel in the second. She'll be back for more this year but whether the 26-year-old will ever enjoy another fortnight like that in her career is open to question.

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