Unexpected Tales

  • By: Andy Schooler (Twitter: @NetTalkTennis)
  • Last Updated: January 9 2013, 18:16 GMT

Like many films, the Australian Open likes to display its tagline - or slogan, if you will.

Thomas Johansson: Surprise winner in 2002

'The Grand Slam of Asia/Pacific' are the words you'll find plastered all over the tournament's literature.

All rather dull we feel.

To us 'Australian Open - you're in for a surprise' is much more suitable to remind people what this event has been all about in modern times.

The first Grand Slam of the year has earned a reputation for producing finalists out of deep left field, some of the sport's 'lesser' names often catching their 'bigger' counterparts cold with the tournament coming so early in the season.

Here our Andy Schooler takes 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.


Carlos Moya (runner-up 1997)

Moya was ranked inside the world's top 30 when he arrived in Australia at the start of 1997 but few saw what was to come over the following month. First up he made the final in Sydney - losing to a certain Tim Henman, who was winning his first ATP title. Despite Moya's decent form, few gave him a chance against Boris Becker in the first round in Melbourne - Becker was many people's title favourite after his superb end to 1996. But Moya prevailed in five tough sets to spark an amazing run all the way to the final. The dream finally died on the second Sunday as Pete Sampras demolished the Spaniard, but a star had been born. This was to be no flash in the pan. In 18 months' time Moya would be French Open champion and soon after he toppled Sampras from the world number one spot. With a long-term foot injury proving problematic, Moya retired from tennis at the end of the 2010 season.

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 number two 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 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.

Thomas Enqvist (runner-up 1999)

The unseeded Enqvist proved the scourge of the Melbourne Park crowd 13 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 never able to return to a Grand Slam final and retired after the 2005 season.

Arnaud Clement (runner-up 2001)

When Clement reached the 2001 Mebourne final, he was the first Frenchman to do so in 73 years. He wasn't a bad player at the time, but it was certainly a case of 'Arnaud who?' by the time he had beaten messrs Federer, Rusedski and Kafelnikov to reach the semi-finals. He then saved two match points before seeing off compatriot Sebastien Grosjean, only to be demolished by Andre Agassi in the final. Clement returned to Melbourne nine times to play singles after that but won just three matches. He became better known for his doubles exploits - he won the Wimbledon title with Michael Llodra in 2007 - before retiring last year.

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.

Rainer Schuettler (runner-up 2003)

German Schuettler's game was all about his run-all-day attitude and supreme fitness. It served him well in Melbourne in 2003. With the introduction of 32 seeds, Schuettler scraped in at 31 but no-one really thought he'd be around come week two. However, he was and he showed no signs of letting up either as he dismissed David Nalbandian and then Andy Roddick in ruthless fashion. Sadly Schuettler was destroyed by Andre Agassi in the final, winning just five games - equalling the heaviest defeat in Australian Open final history. Like Clement before him, Schuettler never went beyond the second round again, opting to retire at the end of last season. He has already been involved in coaching, linking up with Sergiy Stakhovsky.

Marcos Baghdatis (runner-up 2006)

It was not just the unseeded Baghdatis who lit up the tournament seven 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. 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.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (runner-up 2008)

Ranked 38th coming into the 2008 Australian Open, Tsonga announced his name to the world with some stunning displays in Melbourne. The Muhammad Ali lookalike had the crowd on his side as soon as he had taken out Andy Murray in four sets in round one. At the time Murray came in for plenty of criticism for his defeat, but few knew then that Tsonga would go on to topple Richard Gasquet and Rafael Nadal en route to the very first ATP-level final of his career. The semi-final demolition of Nadal brought back memories of Gonzalez's efforts the year before - again the awesome inside-out forehand doing much of the damage. With his first serve booming, Tsonga also took the first set of the final but as he tired Novak Djokovic took full advantage to win in four. However, Tsonga was no one-hit wonder. Despite suffering his fair share of injuries, he's been a regular fixture in the top 10 for some time now.


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 tend 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 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.

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 Grand Slam only ended in the Wimbledon semi-finals. The world number one 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.

Serena Williams (winner 2007)

Williams is perhaps not a name you'd expect to be on this list. When she won the title here for the first time in 2003, Williams completed what came to be known as the 'Serena Slam' - becoming the owner of all four major titles. Many expected her to dominate for years to come but injuries and, according to some pundits, a lack of focus cost her dearly. By the time she arrived in Melbourne in 2007, Williams was 81st on the WTA ranking list having played just four tournaments the previous year. It mattered little to her though. She beat no fewer than six seeds en route to the title, with her dismissal of Maria Sharapova in the final (Williams lost just three games) one of the great Grand Slam final performances of recent years. It was Williams' third Australian title. She now has five.

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 number one 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, 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.