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Australian Open: A look back at players who have caused surprises at the opening Grand slam of the year

Switzerland's Stanislas Wawrinka celebrates after his victory against Spain's Rafael Nadal during the men's singles final on day 14 of the 2014 Australian
Image: Stanislas Wawrinka celebrates after his victory against Rafael Nadal last year

Andy Schooler looks back 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.

And the event's history has shown us outsiders are more than capable of taking their chance to catch the big guns cold – certainly more so than any of the other Grand Slam tournaments.

Last year was a prime example with 66/1 shot Stan Wawrinka winning the men's title and rank outsider Dominika Cibulkova reaching the women's final.

Here, 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.


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. With hindsight that can probably be explained by the fact that he had tested positive for the anabolic steriod nandrolone at Wimbledon that season. When the case was heard the following year, Korda was banned for a year. He would never return to the tour.

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Thomas Enqvist (runner-up 1999)

The unseeded Enqvist proved the scourge of the Melbourne Park crowd 16 years ago. In back-to-back matches, the Swede first took out reigning US Open champion Pat Rafter and then Mark Philippoussis, another of the great home hopes that year. Two further wins followed to put a player ranked outside the world's top 20 in the final. Enqvist took the first set against Yevgeny Kafelnikov but inexplicably dropped the second 6-0 and the Russian had his opening. Kafelnikov went on to win in four sets to end what had been a dream run. Enqvist capitalised on his fine start to the year, pushing on to end it ranked fourth in the world – a career high. However, he was never able to return to a Grand Slam final and retired after the 2005 season.

Thomas Johansson poses with the Australian Open trophy in 2002
Image: Thomas Johansson poses with the trophy in 2002

Thomas Johansson (winner 2002)

Arguably the most remarkable of Grand Slam winners in recent years was Thomas Johansson, the Swede who made the most of a tournament which saw virtually all the major seeds scattered in the first week. Indeed, 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 also bowed out.

Johansson was no mean player – he was seeded 16th after all – but he had started at a three-figure price with the bookies. 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 actually 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, decided to call it a day midway through the 2009 campaign.

Image: Marcos Baghdatis lit up the 2006 event with a run to the final

Marcos Baghdatis (runner-up 2006)

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 – almost literally – their man. Aged just 20 at the time and ranked outside the top 50, Baghdatis didn't disappoint. He took out three of the top seven seeds in Andy Roddick, Ivan Ljubicic and David Nalbandian before finally coming up short against Roger Federer in the final, but only after leading by a set and a break. Baghdatis went on to reach the Wimbledon semis later that year but he's yet to return to a Grand Slam final. Many will also remember another Melbourne moment from his career – in 2008 he was involved in a match with Lleyton Hewitt which finished at 4.34am.

Fernando Gonzalez (runner-up 2007)

Not quite the story of Baghdatis' rise from nowhere 12 months previously – Gonzalez was actually the 10th seed – but the Chilean's 2007 run to the final was still a remarkable one. Regular ATP followers knew what Gonzalez was all about. The theory went he was an awesome shotmaker, capable of beating anyone on any given day, but simply not up to winning seven matches over the course of two weeks. That theory was eventually proven to be correct, but only just.

After negotiating the first week, Gonzalez got his feared forehand firing to perfection and the way he blasted Rafael Nadal and Tommy Haas off-court in straight sets to reach the final was a sight to behold. Again the maestro Roger Federer proved the rock on which the unlikely title bid foundered, Gonzalez missing two set points in the opener before succumbing in straights. Gonzalez was a regular fixture in the top 20 in the following years but knee and hip problems proved a constant pain and he finally decided to quit in March 2012.


France's Amelie Mauresmo poses with her trophy after she won an Australian Open tennis tournament final match against Belgium's Justine Henin-Hardenne in M

Amelie Mauresmo (runner-up 1999)

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.

The Swiss player was reported as describing Mauresmo as "half a man", which many took as a reference to her sexuality – she is openly gay. Hingis later denied the comment but it added a dimension to the final which was nevertheless won in straight sets by Hingis. 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. Last year, to much surprise, she became the coach of British star Andy Murray.

Jennifer Capriati celebrates winning the Australian Open in 2001
Image: Jennifer Capriati celebrates winning the Australian Open in 2001

Jennifer Capriati (winner 2001)

When 17-year-old Capriati left the tour in 1993, many felt the WTA had another case of teenage burn-out on its hands. Instead of making back-page headlines, Capriati was soon front-page news as she was twice arrested – although never convicted – in the mid-90s. From that low point it was hard to see how she could possibly return to win one of the biggest prizes in tennis. But, having made a successful comeback, Capriati did so in 2001. She lifted the trophy after beating the world's top two – Lindsay Davenport and Martina 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 calendar 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.

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. However, she won the hearts of the Melbourne crowd, her on-court interviews making the fans chuckle throughout the fortnight, with husband and coach Jiang Shan often being at the butt of her jokes. 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 last year but won't defend her crown having retired back in September.

  • This article is an updated version of one previously published on this website.

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