- The clay surface at the French Open tends to make it less prone to huge upsets compared to the other grand slam events.
- However, there have still been some memorable moments at Roland Garros where the underdog overcame long odds to pull a shocking upset.
- We take a look at the 13 most memorable upsets from the last 40 years of the French Open.
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The French Open tends to be the one grand slam event where the status quo seems to play more often than the other grand slam events thanks to players, like Rafael Nadal, who dominate on the clay surface.
But while huge upsets are rare, there have still been many memorable moments where the underdog bucked long odds to shock the tennis world.
Below we take a look back at the 13 most memorable upsets from the last 40 years at the French Open.
2012: Virginie Razzano over Serena Williams in the first round
Serena Williams, the fifth seed, won the first set and was up 5-1 in the second set tiebreaker but ultimately lost the match to the No. 111 player in the world, Virginie Razzano of France. It was the first and only time in Williams’ career that she lost in the first round of a grand slam event. Despite seemingly hitting rock-bottom – Williams had not won a slam in two years and only reached one final in that stretch – she would go on to win the next two slams and four of the next six.
2009: Robin Söderling over Rafael Nadal in the fourth round
Rafael Nadal has won 11 grand slam titles at Roland Garros and has only lost two of his 88 matches at the French Open. The first came in 2009 to 23-seed Robin Söderling of Sweden in four sets. Top-seeded Nadal had won the previous four French Open titles and even beat Söderling 6-1, 6-0 a month earlier on clay. Söderling eventually reached the final but lost to Roger Federer for his only career win at the French Open.
2004: Tathiana Garbin over Justine Hénin-Hardenne in the second round
From 2003 through 2007, Justine Hénin won four French Open titles. Her only loss came in 2004 to unseeded and 86th-ranked Tathiana Garbin of Italy in straight sets as the top-seeded Henin battled a virus. It was the earliest exit for a defending grand slam champ in 15 years.
1989: Michael Chang over Ivan Lendl in the fourth round
American Michael Chang won his only grand slam title at the 1989 French Open at the age of 17, becoming the youngest men’s singles champion ever at a grand slam. He beat third-seeded Stefan Edberg in the final, but it was his win over top-seeded Ivan Lendl in the fourth round that had the tennis world buzzing. Chang seeded 15th, was down 2-0 and a break in the third set before rallying. He also overcame severe leg cramps that nearly caused him to retire.
1983: Kathy Horvath over Martina Navratilova in the fourth round
Martina Navratilova was in the midst of one of the greatest runs in tennis history. She had won three of the previous four grand slams and went 254-6 over three years. In 1983, Navratilova won three slams and was 86-1. Her only loss was to 17-year-old American Kathy Horvath in the fourth round of the French Open in three sets. Horvath then lost in the next round to an unseeded player, 6-1, 6-1. Horvath never reached the semifinal of a grand slam event in her career.
1993: Stéphane Huet over Ivan Lendl in the first round
Stéphane Huet was a French Open qualifier from France ranked 297th in the world. Ivan Lendl was a three-time French Open champ but lost to Huet in the first round in four sets. Lendl was 33 at the time and retired the next year, but was still seeded No. 7 at the French Open.
2002: Anikó Kapros over Justine Henin in the first round
Justine Henin makes the list a second time, thanks to her 2002 opening-round loss as the fifth seed to Anikó Kapros of Hungary. Kapros was a 179th-ranked qualifier who won in three sets, losing just one of the final 13 games of the match.
1997: Gustavo Kuerten over everybody
Gustavo Kuerten was the first unseeded player to win the French Open in 15 years. He was also the first Brazilian ever to win a grand slam, and at No. 66 in the world, was the second-lowest-ranked grand slam champion. Along the way, he beat three defending French Open champs, including fifth-seeded Thomas Muster in the third round, No. 3 seed and defending champ Yevgeny Kafelnikov in the quarterfinals, and 16-seed and two-time winner Sergi Bruguera in the final.
1997: Iva Majoli over Martina Hingis in the final
In 1997 and 1998 Martin Hingis won four out of five grand slams and became the youngest No. 1 ranked player ever at 16. But at the French Open in 1997 she lost to Iva Majoli of Croatia in the final in straight sets. Hingis went 71-5 in 1997, and this was her only loss on clay or grass.
2017: Ekaterina Makarova over Angelique Kerber in the first round
Angelique Kerber won two grand slams in 2016, but at the 2017 French Open, she became the first top seed to ever lose in the first round. She lost, 6-2, 6-2, to Ekaterina Makarova of Russia.
1987: Éric Winogradsky over Stefan Edberg in the second round
Third-seeded Stefan Edberg was coming off a win at the Australian Open and would later reach the semifinals at both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. But at the French Open in 1987, he lost to Éric Winogradsky of France, the 152nd-ranked player in the world who needed a wild card to get into the tournament.
2017: Jeļena Ostapenko over Simona Halep in the final.
Jeļena Ostapenko of Latvia became the first unseeded woman to win the French Open in the open era, beating No. 3 Simona Halep in the final. It was Ostapenko’s first title of any kind and the first grand slam for Latvia. Halep came back to win the French Open the following year.
1996: Chris Woodruff over Andre Agassi in the second round
American Chris Woodruff, ranked 72nd at the time, was playing in his first French Open and beat third-ranked Andre Agassi in five sets. Agassi was reportedly overweight heading into the tournament, committed 63 unforced errors, and was said to have “simply given up,” late in the match, according to the television commentary. Woodruff only got past the third round of a slam once in his career, when he reached the quarters of the 2000 Australian Open.
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