Wimbledon: Unforgettable upsets

On the hallowed Centre Court grass, they met, these two gentlemen -- one, at that time, the greatest of all to wield a tennis racquet, and the other, who’d replace him as the best-ever -- for the first, and the last, time. Sampras, despite barely surviving a second-round scare, was supposed to quash the hot-headed, pony-tailed Swiss and then, the rest, to draw level with Bjorn Borg by winning his fifth straight title at Wimbledon. Instead, Federer, with a fine exhibition of serve-and-volley-tennis, took down the seven-time champion in a five-set thriller. This was Federer’s first time at Centre Court, where, two years later, he’d go on to win the first of his 18 Grand Slam titles. After the three-hour 41-minute battle, Sampras said this of Federer: “There are a lot of young guys coming up but Roger is a bit extra-special - he has a great all-round game, like me doesn't get too emotional and is a great athlete.”
“Doo… who?” some of those who’d heard the result of this second round match, featuring Boris Becker and Peter Doohan, might’ve asked. Well, to be fair, Doohan, at that time, had featured in four Wimbledons -- two more than Becker. While Doohan was yet to win there, Becker was, by then, invincible, unbeaten, King Boris. But, back then, Wimbledon’s lawns were quicker, more slippery: even the mightiest fell if he underperformed against a big guy with a big serve. And, that’s what happened. Despite producing 21 service winners, including 14 aces, Becker couldn’t beat a man, who’s used to getting beaten at the grandest stage of tennis. Photo: Getty Images
Lleyton Hewitt, after his third round defeat at the French Open and a quarterfinal-exit at Queen’s, wasn’t the red-hot favourite for the title. But, he was, after all, the world No. 1 and the defending champion. And, Ivo Karlovic -- he was an unknown 24-year-old playing at a Grand Slam for the first time, who’d lost the first set 1-6. Hewitt’s defeat, hence, stunned everyone -- perhaps including Karlovic. No men’s defending champion had lost in the first round since Manuel Santana was beaten by Charlie Pasarel in 1967. The 2003 Championships was also Hewitt’s last Grand Slam as the titleholder. Photo: AP
The skies were dark for most of the match; it rained a little -- disrupting Steffi Graf’s rhythm on a day when she needed all the luck in the world. For, Lori McNeil, the unseeded American, was tormenting the three-time defending champion by relentlessly rushing to the net. Graf, uncharacteristically dormant and error-prone, just couldn’t bring her A Game when she needed it. The first set, she lost after making a double fault at McNeil’s set point. In the second, she squandered a 4-2 lead and allowed the set to a tie-breaker, which she lost after a slew of errors. "It doesn't hurt to lose my crown, it hurts to lose," said Graf, the first women’s champion to be dethroned in the first round. Photo: Getty Images
Upsets, when it involves a top-seed and an unseeded player, usually aren’t woefully one-sided. The underdog triumphs, but the favourite, too, has her chances, a few moments, a glimmer of hope before the ultimate agony. But Jelena Dokic, a 16-year-old qualifier from Australia and the world No. 129, allowed world No. 1 Martina Hingis no such leeway. For Dokic knew a little gap was all Hingis needed to burst through the door and wreak havoc. “I thought she could always maybe come back, and I knew if I gave her a chance, she would take it,” Dokic said after the match. “I just tried to win every point, no matter if it was 15-0, or 30-30, or deuce.” Photo: Getty Images