The Five Biggest Grand Slam Upsets Of 2018
Continuing our Season In Review series, ATPWorldTour.com revisits the Top 5 Grand Slam upsets of 2018...
(5) Ernests Gulbis d. Alexander Zverev 7-6(2), 4-6, 5-7, 6-3, 6-0 – Wimbledon 3R
Ernests Gulbis turned back the clock in 2018. If you hadn't heard much about the Latvian in recent years, you're not alone. Struggling to find his form due to injuries and inconsistent play, Gulbis had fallen as low as No. 589 in the ATP Rankings a year ago.
But in 2018, the former World No. 10 and six-time ATP World Tour champion made serious progress in his quest to compete at the top once again. Gulbis entered the All England Club for the 132nd edition of the Wimbledon Championships as a qualifier, and he would produce one of the shocks of the tournament.
After needing five sets to overcome British wild card Jay Clarke in the first round and 27th seed Damir Dzumhur in the second, Gulbis entered a third-round clash with World No. 3 Alexander Zverev high on confidence. And despite grinding for more than six hours to defeat Clarke and Dzumhur, he went toe-to-toe with the German for a marathon three hours and 20 minutes.
Biggest Grand Slam Upsets Of 2018 (by ATP Ranking)
|No. 315 Santiago Giraldo||No. 84 Marcos Baghdatis||Roland Garros
|No. 224 Stan Wawrinka||No. 6 Grigor Dimitrov
|No. 219 Lorenzo Sonego||No. 43 Robin Haase||Australian Open|
|No. 171 Dennis Novak||No. 19 Lucas Pouille||Wimbledon|
|No. 190 Denis Kudla||No. 48 Steve Johnson||Australian Open|
|No. 168 Yoshihito Nishioka||No. 29 Philipp Kohlschreiber||Australian Open|
|No. 138 Ernests Gulbis||No. 3 Alexander Zverev||Wimbledon|
Gulbis would prevail 7-6(2), 4-6, 5-7, 6-3, 6-0, sending shockwaves throughout SW19 with the comeback upset. Zverev had won 19 of 22 matches coming into the encounter, including titles in Munich and Madrid, but he struggled to replicate his clay-court success on the grass. Making his 11th Wimbledon appearance, Gulbis would enjoy his best result in reaching the Round of 16, notching his third straight five-set victory to stun Zverev. The only player who took more attempts to reach the fourth round at Wimbledon was Tommy Robredo, who needed 13 tries.
"I'm proud of qualifying here," said Gulbis. "I'm proud of winning three five-set matches. Of course, in this match in particular because I was two sets to one down," Gulbis said. "I'm proud of just hanging in there and not giving up after also losing the third set, when I was serving for the set. I'm really happy about it."
The 30-year-old used great variety, hitting powerful backhands and exquisite drop shots and pinpoint lobs to rattle his German opponent. And despite falling to Kei Nishikori two days later, he carried the momentum through the remainder of the season. Runner-up at the Intrum Stockholm Open in October, he capped his campaign at No. 96 in the ATP Rankings. It marks his first year-end Top 100 finish since 2015.
(4) Tennys Sandgren d. Dominic Thiem 6-2, 4-6, 7-6(4), 6-7(7), 6-3 – Australian Open 4R
This win was for all the Challenger stalwarts, for all the players battling for their careers on the circuit. Since 2011, Tennys Sandgren had dreamt of forging a path in the upper echelon of pro tennis. For those seven years he competed on the ATP Challenger Tour in search of that breakthrough moment.
At the 2018 Australian Open, it finally arrived for the Tennessee native. Entering the fortnight in Melbourne, Sandgren had competed in eight tour-level main draws in his career, winning just two combined matches. But something clicked for the 27-year-old as he began his campaign under the searing Aussie sun.
Sandgren had never defeated a Top 10 opponent and he would stun both Stan Wawrinka and Dominic Thiem en route to his first Grand Slam quarter-final. After downing Jeremy Chardy in the first round, he pulled his biggest upset in defeating 2014 champion and World No. 8 Wawrinka in straight sets. While it was the Swiss' first tournament in six months following knee surgery, the victory was a great achievement for Sandgren, who dropped just seven games to advance.
The American was not done there, advancing to the Round of 16 with a four-set win over Maximilian Marterer and pulling the upset of the tournament in edging fifth seed Dominic Thiem in five gripping sets. He needed a marathon three hours and 54 minutes to topple Thiem, triumphing 6-2, 4-6, 7-6(4), 6-7(7), 6-3 on Hisense Arena.
“I’m starting to disbelieve what is happening now,” said Sandgren. “But maybe it’s not a dream? He played some really, really great tennis, especially in the fourth-set tie-break. Goodness gracious! I knew I had to take my chances and he, from behind the court, would outlast me. I had to stay aggressive and serve well.”
Having failed to convert one match point opportunity at 6/5 in the fourth set tie-break, Sandgren could easily have folded, but he held his nerve in the deciding set. As the end came into sight, he never wavered – hitting 63 winners, including 20 aces overall for victory.
The World No. 97 became the first player since Alexandr Dolgopolov in 2011 to reach the Australian Open quarter-finals on his main-draw debut. Sandgren had previously travelled to Melbourne on five occasions, but never progressed through the qualifying competition.
Sandgren would ascend to a career-high No. 47 in the ATP Rankings in April, after reaching his first ATP World Tour final in Houston (l. to Johnson).
(3) Marco Cecchinato d. Novak Djokovic 6-3, 7-6(4), 1-6, 7-6(11) – Roland Garros QF
In 2018, Cinderella could be spelled 'Cecchinato'. In an era where the game's elite have dominated the Grand Slams, putting their authoritative stamp on the latter stages of the biggest tournaments, it was time for a party crasher to descend on Roland Garros.
In Marco Cecchinato's career, he owns a total of five match wins at the major level, all of which came at one tournament. You read that right. Having never previously won a Grand Slam match, the Italian completed one of the more improbable runs ever. The World No. 72 laid waste to the field in Paris, stunning 10th seed Pablo Carreno Busta, eighth seed David Goffin and former champion Novak Djokovic en route to the semi-finals.
How improbable was Cecchinato's run on the terre battue? He became the lowest-ranked Roland Garros semi-finalist in nearly 20 years, since No. 100 Andrei Medvedev in 1999. And the Palermo native was also the first Italian man to make a Grand Slam semi-final since Corrado Barazzutti at Roland Garros in 1978.
“I'm very, very happy,” Cecchinato said. “When I won my Grand Slam match, I felt good. And match by match, I felt I could win the next round... it's a special moment for me.”
Arguably his biggest achievement of the tournament came in the quarter-finals, when the 26-year-old stayed calm under a cauldron of pressure to dismiss Djokovic in four sets. He prevailed 6-3, 7-6(4), 1-6, 7-6(11) in three hours and 26 minutes. Two days after registering his first Top 10 win over Goffin, he would stun the eventual year-end No. 1. Djokovic was admittedly not competing at his peak just yet, but to defeat the Serbian in the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam requires a special performance.
In front of a packed Court Suzanne Lenglen, Cecchinato played the match of his life. Mixing in well-timed drop shots with an aggressive baseline game, he surged to a two-set lead. And despite being broken four times in the third set, the Italian quickly rediscovered the script in the fourth. He denied three set points in the ensuing tie-break - a 24-point marathon - and eventually crossed the finish line with a backhand winner.
Cecchinato would fall to Dominic Thiem in straight sets in the semi-finals, but this was a fortnight he will never forget. A nominee for Most Improved Player of the Year in the 2018 ATP Awards Presented by Moët & Chandon, the Palermo native would finish the year at No. 20 in the ATP Rankings, a massive boost from his 2017 standing of No. 110. He also lifted his first ATP World Tour trophies in Budapest and Umag.
(2) Guido Pella d. Marin Cilic 3-6, 1-6, 6-4, 7-6(3), 7-5 – Wimbledon 2R
Entering the 2018 grass-court season, Guido Pella had won only two matches on the surface in his entire career. And against Top 5 opposition, the Argentine had yet to win a match in six encounters, dropping 17 of 17 sets. So when Pella entered No. 1 Court at Wimbledon for a second-round clash with Marin Cilic, he was faced with a seemingly insurmountable task.
At No. 5 in the ATP Rankings, Cilic was not only coming off a title at the Fever Tree Championships at Queen's Club, but had reached the Wimbledon final in 2017. In addition, the Croatian had reached the quarter-finals at the All England Club in four consecutive years.
But Pella was not intimidated. And he remained unfazed even when Cilic streaked to a 6-3, 6-1 lead on a sun-kissed afternoon in southwest London. Having won just four games through two sets, where many players would acquiesce to defeat, Pella was stoic under pressure. He mounted a stunning comeback to pull the upset of the tournament 3-6, 1-6, 6-4, 7-6(3), 7-5.
"It's the best win of my career, by far" said Pella. "And because of the situation which it happened, being down two sets and a break in the fourth set and then coming back a second day. To win at Wimbledon, he was the clear favourite and the way he has been playing is great. It must be the best win of all."
The 28-year-old Pella earned the biggest win of his career after battling for three hours and 13 minutes. At one stage, Cilic won 18 straight points on serve and hit 27 aces overall, but inconsistency on return and 37 forehand unforced errors would prove costly. The encounter spanned two days, with darkness halting play with Pella leading 4-3 in the third set. After forcing a fourth set, he would recover from a 1-3 deficit and stayed the course in a gripping decider.
The seeds were planted weeks earlier, when Pella reached the quarter-finals at the MercedesCup in Stuttgart. There, he registered his first grass-court match win in a professional main draw, before falling to Roger Federer.
Having ascended to a career-high No. 39 in 2016, Pella will continue to push towards that mark in the upcoming season. He capped his 2018 campaign at No. 58 in the ATP Rankings, after reaching a third ATP World Tour final in Umag and notching his 15th ATP Challenger Tour title in Montevideo.
(1) John Millman d. Roger Federer 3-6, 7-5, 7-6(7), 7-6(3) – US Open 4R
For two weeks in early September, New York City was a sauna. Oppressive heat and humidity descended on the US Open, as the final Grand Slam of the year became a true test of physical and mental endurance. Each match challenged players' conditioning and their ability to survive the elements.
This made John Millman's stunner over Roger Federer even more impressive. The Aussie veteran pulled the biggest upset of the year with a 3-6, 7-5, 7-6(7), 7-6(3) victory over five-time champion Federer on a steamy late afternoon on Arthur Ashe Stadium.
"I felt like a deer in the headlights to begin with; Roger had it on a string, he was manipulating me around the court, but I got out of a tough second set and really found my feet," Millman said on court after the match. "I started to be more aggressive and I started to serve well and capitalised a little bit on Roger having an off service day."
Federer had never lost to a player outside the Top 50 at the US Open, but this was Millman's day to end the trend. The Aussie rallied from a set down to reach his first quarter-final at a Grand Slam, capitalising on a sluggish and fatigued Federer to prevail after three hours and 35 minutes. While the Swiss' 77 unforced errors glare from the stat sheet, all credit goes to Millman, who remained unfazed.
Federer was rattled in his gameplan, often coming forward at inopportune moments and trying to keep rallies short at all costs. Millman won an impressive 51 per cent (90/177) of the points he played from the baseline.
"I've got to control the controllables, I said that before I went out and played," Millman added. "The one thing I can control is the fight in me. I have always done that."
Millman would fall to Novak Djokovic in the quarter-finals, but it was a tremendous fortnight for a player who underwent groin surgery last February and had previously undergone two shoulder surgeries. Toward the end of 2017, the Aussie was concerned about staying healthy. Now, he is two months removed from a career-high No. 33 in the ATP Rankings and playing the best tennis of his career.
The 29-year-old enjoyed a standout season, reaching his first ATP World Tour final in Budapest and claiming ATP Challenger Tour titles on the hard courts of Kyoto, Japan and the clay of Aix-en-Provence, France. The Brisbane native is now the No. 3 Aussie in the ATP Rankings and has his sights set on an even stronger 2019 campaign.