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Underdogs That Have Taken Women’s Majors By Storm

topical Jun 07, 2020

By Val Febbo

When thinking back on Grand Slam history, many remember the triumphant underdog stories more than that of the actual champions of specific years, whereas some have flown completely under the radar.

All four majors have had their stories, so here are five from the women’s draws since 2000.

Jelena Dokic - 2009 Australian Open quarterfinalist

The former World No.4 and former Wimbledon semifinalist was in her first Grand Slam main draw since 2006 and just her second since the 2004 US Open after a torrid time with personal issues and injuries and many thought it was amazing simply at the fact that she was back in a major.

Nobody would think that she would capture the hearts of a nation throughout a stunning performance that has gone down in Melbourne Park folklore. She began her event with a three set win over Tamira Paszek before another epic struggle against 17th seed Anna Chakvetadze in her second match.

Just reaching the third round was an achievement, as she had not won a Grand Slam match since her first round win at the 2003 US Open against Switzerland’s Emmanuelle Gagliardi. Dokic would face future Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki in the third round and after dropping the opening set she roared back to claim the next two in clinical fashion with the Rod Laver Arena crowd in raptures.

Yet another match and another three set thriller for the Australian, this time against Russian Alisa Kleybanova. The Melbourne Park fans were treated to a delight, the match ebbed and flowed and just when Kleybanova seemed to be gaining the advantage Dokic broke to seal a 7-5 5-7 8-6 victory in three hours and two minutes.

WTA statement: Jelena Dokic

Photo courtesy of wtatennis.com

Unfortunately for the Australian she would fall in another three set thriller to eventual runner up Dinara Safina 6-4 4-6 6-4. Dokic would never pass the second round of a major after that event, but it will always be remembered for a magical performance.

Jelena Ostapenko - 2017 Roland Garros champion

Just two days after she turned 20, Jelena Ostapenko pulled off arguably the most remarkable of Grand Slam triumphs in one of the more historic days in Latvian sporting history.

After convincingly reaching the fourth round the young prodigy defeated Louisa Chrico, Olympic champion Monica Puig and Lesia Tsurenko to set up her first major fourth round where she would meet 2016 semifinalist and 2010 runner up Sam Stosur.

Stosur looked the better of the pair for the first set and a half, before the Riga native stormed back to claim a three set win and continue her personal best Grand Slam, entering an encounter with Caroline Wozniacki.

Again Ostapenko would drop the opening stanza before her attacking style got the better of the Dane and she trounced through the final two sets to clinch a semifinal birth where she would meet Swiss Timea Bacsinszky.

This time she would win the first set before having to fight off a strong fightback from her counterpart, but she would prevail and continue her fairytale with red hot favourite Simona Halep waiting in the final.

The Romanian looked completely set in her game, leading with a set and break before the Latvian began to hit winners from all wings and turn the match completely on its head, storming back to clinch her crown 4-6 6-4 6-3 and breaking Romania’s heart.

Not only was it her first Grand Slam title, it was her first career singles title. She has since won two more and has reached the quarterfinals and semifinals at Wimbledon in 2017 and 2018 respectively.

Eugenie Bouchard - 2014 Australian Open semifinalist

Eugenie Bouchard is one of the most highly known players on the WTA but unfortunately it is not as much for her tennis anymore as it is her social media and lifestyle, but in 2014 she took the world by storm out of nowhere.

The Canadian reached the second round at all three main draws she participated in during 2013 but when she arrived in Melbourne she had a point to prove, and the 30th seed established her quality with a truly astonishing run.

She breezed through her first three rounds over Tang Haochen, Virginie Razzano and Lauren Davis before her fourth round encounter with Australian fan favourite Casey Dellacqua. The quality of the opening set was as good as any set for the entire fortnight, with the Australian emerging with the lead after a tiebreak.

Bouchard however remained focussed, dismantling the Australian’s defence to drop just a measly two games en route to a maiden Grand Slam quarterfinal. The 19-year-old would find herself a set down again against Serbian Ana Ivanovic before producing another scintillating brand of tennis that saw her emerge with a 5-7 7-5 6-2 victory and become a Grand Slam semifinalist.

Her run would be halted brutally by eventual champion Li Na who looked almost invincible in the 6-2 6-4 win. However the 2014 run of the Canadian affectionately known as ‘Genie’ will remain in the minds of all tennis fans.

Bouchard would go on to make another semi on the clay of Paris before her maiden Grand Slam final at Wimbledon. She returned to Melbourne Park with a run to the quarters in 2015, but has since not returned to the final eight at a major with only one title to her name.

Horror series ended - Eugenie Bouchard can still win · tennisnet.com

Photo courtesy of tennisnet.com

Marion Bartoli - 2007 Wimbledon runner up

After reaching her first major fourth round at Roland Garros the previous month, the Frenchwoman was in for form as the tennis world descended on SW19.

The 18th seed was ruthless in her opening three matches, easily accounting for Flavia Pennetta, Olga Govortsova and Shahar Pe’er setting up a rematch with her conqueror in the French Open round of 16, Jelena Jankovic.

The Parisian encounter went easily to Jankovic at 6-1 6-1, and she looked like she would repeat the result with a convincing opener. However Bartoli would show steely resolve to force a decider after a tight second before taking the third and booking her place in the quarterfinals.

The then 22-year-old’s next assignment would be Michaella Krajicek, who was also enjoying a career best run at a major. The Dutchwoman would claim the opening set before running out of steam with Bartoli carrying the French dreams through to the semis.

There she would meet the 2006 runner up Justine Henin and would again fall behind after the opening set after sublime tennis from the Belgian, but for the third successive battle she would fight back and after a tight second set she would blow her more experienced foe off the court for a 1-6 7-5 6-1 win.

Unfortunately Bartoli could not replicate the feat of her compatriot Amelie Mauresmo from the previous year and fall to Venus Williams 6-4 6-1.

However five years later Bartoli would have a Wimbledon crown of her own, before retiring on the highest of highs.

Sloane Stephens - 2017 US Open champion

After a torrid left foot injury plagued her 2016 season Stephens opted to undergo surgery in January and fell in the opening round of Wimbledon in her comeback.

She used a protected ranking to enter the US Open main draw and went in unseeded and with the toughest of draws, facing the 2015 US Open finalist Roberta Vinci first up. She easily accounted for the Italian before staving off a fightback from the ever tenacious Dominika Cibulkova in the second round.

Stephens began to find the form that saw her reach the Australian Open semifinals in 2013 as she dispatched Ash Barty and defeated Julia Goerges in three to reach her first major quarterfinal since 2013 Wimbledon.

She would meet 16th seed Anastasija Sevastova, who had just defeated Maria Sharapova, and it was an epic with Stephens holding on in a tense final set tiebreak to progress to her second Grand Slam semifinal.

There she would meet compatriot Venus Williams, who reached the Australian Open and Wimbledon finals that year. Again for Stephens it was a tussle after heavy momentum shifts in the opening two sets. Somehow after losing the second without winning a game, the then 24-year-old would take the final set 7-5 and book an all American showdown with Madison Keys to decide the title.

From there, the pressure was gone as she romped home to claim an unlikely but famous 6-3 6-0 win and reinvigorate her career.

Stephens would go on to reach the final of the French Open in 2018, before falling in another tight encounter to Simon Halep.

Val Febbo is a tennis writer for the first serve and host of the Break Point Podcast

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