It takes a special player to announce themselves to the tennis world at a Grand Slam, so here’s a top 10 of players who have achieved that very feat here in Melbourne.
But first, a couple of ground rules. To make the list, players can’t have won an ATP/WTA title prior to their breakthrough performance Down Under, and we’re only looking back as far as 1988, the year the Australian Open moved to hard courts at Melbourne Park (then Flinders Park). Here we go.
10. Sam Stosur: Fourth round, 2006
Sam hasn’t always done it tough at the Australian Open. Back in 2006, before she was Australia’s No.1 player, world No.98 Stosur surprised 21st seed Ana Ivanovic on her way to the fourth round, where she fell to Swiss Miss Martina Hingis. Later in the year, Stosur made it to her third WTA final in Prague but would have to wait until 2009 to win her first title in Osaka.
9. Casey Dellacqua: Fourth round, 2008
Down-to-earth West Australian Casey Dellacqua surprised three higher-ranked opponents, including seeds Patty Schnyder and Amelie Mauresmo, en route to the fourth round. The bubbly lefty quickly became a crowd darling and the Queen of Upsets in a week to remember at Melbourne Park.
8. Marin Cilic: Fourth round, 2008
Some promising results in 2007 had many tipping young Croatian Marin Cilic to soon become a giant of the game. At Australian Open 2008 he surprised Nicolas Almagro in the first round before upsetting seventh-seeded Chilean Fernando Gonzalez to make it through to the fourth round. Later that year, Cilic would win his first ATP title in New Haven and break into the top 25 by year’s end.
7. Milos Raonic: Fourth round, 2011
Fifteen years after Philippoussis, another big-server would make a name for himself at the Australian Open. Ranked No.152 in the world, Milos Raonic launched his name into common tennis vernacular by first fighting his way through qualifying and then defeating three players ranked higher than him, including 10th seed Mikhail Youzhny.
6. Mark Philippoussis: Fourth round, 1996
Just 19 years of age, Mark Philippoussis thrilled his home crowd when he pulled off a huge upset of world No.1 Pete Sampras in the third round. It was by far the biggest win of the Melburnian’s career and heralded the coming of a new star.
5. Martina Hingis: Quarterfinals, 1996
Aged just 15 and playing in her second Australian Open main draw in 1996, Martina Hingis had already made it to the fourth round at a major, but she was about to surpass that. The Swiss Miss conceded just 14 games en route to the quarterfinals, where she fell in three sets to 16th seed Amanda Coetzer. It was a solid effort from a teenager who would win the next three Australian Open titles and feature in the next six finals.
4. Alexandr Dolgopolov: Quarterfinals, 2011
Few had heard about ‘The Dog’ before Australian Open 2011, but everybody knew Alexandr Dolgopolov by the end of it. His attack-at-all-cost game and super-fast style of play was good enough to unsettle seeds Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Robin Soderling. It would take the steady hand of Great Scot Andy Murray to trip Dolgopolov up. Later in the year he would win his first ATP title at Umag.
3. Sloane Stephens: Semifinals, 2013
Sloane’s previous best result at a major was making it to the fourth round of Roland Garros 2012. She surpassed that by far at Australian Open 2013. Headlined by a stunning upset of third seed and 15-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams, the 19-year-old American announced herself as a future contender.
2. Marcos Baghdatis: Final, 2006
After turning in an 11-12 season in 2005 that included seven first-round losses, few tipped Marcos Baghdatis to have any impact on Australian Open 2006. Wrong. ‘Baggy’ wouldn’t just win a few rounds; he would capture the tennis world’s imagination. The Smiling Cypriot knocked out four seeded players – No.20 Radek Stepanek, No.8 Ivan Ljubicic, No.4 David Nalbandian and No.3 Andy Roddick – on his way to the final, where top seed Roger Federer was waiting. When ‘Baggy’ won the second set to tie the match at a set apiece, the fairytale looked like it may just come true. But, true to form, Federer showed his class and won 12 of the final 14 games to claim the title, but it was Baghdatis who won our hearts.
1. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: Final, 2008
Burly Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga didn’t become a regular on the ATP circuit until the second half of 2007, so little was expected when the world No.38 arrived in Melbourne at the beginning of 2008. An opening round upset of ninth seed Andy Murray was considered to be more an aberration rather than a sign of things to come, but for the next 13 days Tsonga unleashed some of the most destructive, powerful tennis we’ve ever seen. His total dominance over world No.2 Rafael Nadal was one of the most complete thrashings Melbourne Park has played host to. Sadly for Tsonga, the ride ended a little too soon as he fell in the final to Novak Djokovic in four sets.
Did I miss anyone? Have your say in the comments below.