© Ella Ling

Juan Martin Del Potro

The unlikely US Open champions


A grand slam winner is by definition a champion, but perhaps some are more champion than others. Here’s the fourth part in our slightly cruel but well-meaning look back at the “most unlikely” grand slam champions of the Open era.

The unlikely US Open champions.

The men

Juan Martin Del Potro (2009)
Not that he wasn’t seen coming, just that he was not considered a likely champion at that stage, having made just one grand slam semi-final to that point. Throw in the fact that he was playing Roger Federer, who was chasing his sixth straight US Open title and his chances looked slim. But the powerful Argentine slowly overpowered Federer and took his first, and to date, only grand slam title.

Pete Sampras (1990)
A 19-year-old, slightly gangly and shy Sampras had never been past the fourth round in a grand slam before he arrived in New York that year. And even when he stunned Thomas Muster, Ivan Lendl and John McEnroe to reach the final, he was still the underdog against the more established Andre Agassi. But Sampras duly began his dominance of his fellow American with a brilliant straight-sets victory.

Stan Smith (1971)
The tall American had never made it past the quarter-finals of a grand slam before, partly because he kept running into Rod Laver and partly because few expected he was good enough. But in 1971 Smith found himself as the No 2 seed and with top seed John Newcombe going out to Jan Kodes in round, the path was clear for Smith to down Kodes in the final.

The women

Samantha Stosur (2011)
When Stosur threw away a winning position in the French Open final of 2010, many felt she had missed her chance of a grand slam title. And even when she made it to the US Open final, few gave her much hope of beating Serena Williams to take the trophy. But, aided by a now familiar Serena outburst, Stosur produced the performance of her life to storm to victory.

Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario (1994)
Now Sanchez-Vicario had already won two grand slam titles by the time she came to New York in 1994 but both of them were in Paris on her beloved clay-courts while winning on the faster surfaces was far more problematic. Taking on the uber-dominant Steffi Graf in the final was, it seemed, a task too far, especially when she was blitzed in the first set. But somehow she stormed back, playing more aggressivel

Virginia Wade (1968)
The Briton had made just two grand slam quarter-finals before the US Open of 1968 and when she went out in the first round at Wimbledon that summer, she even thought about quitting the sport. It was the first true US Open, as the professional era began and players had to pay their own way. “Till then all my fares had been covered. I was rather pessimistic about the whole event,” she said. And yet she stormed to victory, beating Maria Bueno and then big favourite Billie-Jean King to win the first of her three grand slam crowns.

  • Cristianolambertucci

    Andy Roddick should be in this list.

  • http://thebigblogofsport.wordpress.com/ bigsportblog

    How can a number 2 seed be considered an unlikely champion?