During one of the most unpredictable years in recent memory (both in tennis and otherwise), it’s only fitting that we take a trip down Tennis Paradise memory lane and relive some of the most surprising upsets in the history of the BNP Paribas Open. From the shocking ascension of young superstars to unheralded qualifiers toppling established giants of the sport, there’s been no shortage of unforeseeable moments throughout the history of our tournament. So before we head back to the desert next March, let’s take a deeper dive into five of the most particularly shocking upsets:
Serena Surges Forward (1999): The 1999 final between 17-year-old Serena Williams and 21-time Major Champion Steffi Graf proved to not only have a shocking outcome, but also to be a true passing of the torch moment in women’s tennis history. The confident but inexperienced American outplayed her veteran opponent in three thrilling sets, emerging victorious by the score of 6-3, 3-6, 7-5. Although nobody knew it at the time, it was a glimpse into the future for both Graf and the fans in attendance, as Serena would go on to surpass Graf’s major trophy count and become arguably the greatest women’s player in the history of the sport. While now at the tail end of her career, Serena is still piling up victories and will have the chance to add another BNP Paribas Open title to her resumé when the 2021 tournament kicks off in March.
Federer’s 41-Win Streak Snapped (2007): In one of the most unexpected outcomes in the history of our tournament, Argentinian Guillermo Canas (who was only granted entry into the field as a lucky loser after Xavier Malisse withdrew), stunned the world by defeating No. 1 overall seed and 3-time defending champion Roger Federer in the second round. It was a shocking victory all on its own, but its historical fame stems from the fact that the loss snapped Federer’s unbelievable 41-match win streak. It was the Swiss Maestro’s first defeat since August of the previous year and opened up the possibilities for a men’s field that had grown accustomed to being stifled by Federer’s brilliance in Indian Wells. To put the upset into even greater perspective, Federer would reach the finals of all four Grand Slam events that year.
Vasek Pospisil Downs World No. 1 (2017): In a second-round affair during the 2017 tournament, World No. 129 Vasek Pospisil was faced with the enormous task of taking on World No. 1 Andy Murray under the bright lights in Tennis Paradise. What was supposed to be a foregone conclusion and routine victory for Murray turned into a match that had most onlookers feeling like they had entered the Twilight Zone, as Pospisil scored the biggest win of his career with a 6-4, 7-6(5) upset triumph. The Canadian came into the 2017 tournament a paltry 3-20 against top-10 competition, but put it all together to overcome Murray on the night.
5-Time Champion Djokovic Falls to Qualifier (2018): Although Novak Djokovic’s 2017 season was marred with persistent injuries and faulty play, the famed Serb still arrived in the Desert for the 2018 tournament full of hope for a return to glory. And who could blame him, as he was already tied for the winningest champion in tournament history with five BNP Paribas Open titles (2008, 2011, 2014-2016). Unfortunately for Djokovic, he ran into 109th ranked qualifier Taro Daniel, who would put together the most impressive performance of his entire career. Daniel, representing Japan, pulled off a shocking 7-6(3), 4-6, 6-1 upset in a true opening Sunday stunner. While Djokovic would once again be ousted early the following year by Philipp Kohlschreiber, he has returned to form throughout 2020 and will look to become a six-time tournament champion next March.
Bianca Andreescu Bursts onto the Scene (2019): Entering the 2019 BNP Paribas Open as an unheralded wild card who even the most fervent fans gave little chance of success, Canadian teenager Bianca Andreescu would go on to shock the women’s field with a tournament run for the ages. After downing several top-flight opponents, she capped her brilliance in the desert by defeating reigning Wimbledon champion, former World No. 1 and 3-time Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber in the final. With a 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 victory, Andreescu became the first-ever wild card to win the tournament and the youngest victor since Serena Williams defeated Steffi Graf back in 1999. As it turned out, her Tennis Paradise triumph was just the beginning of her blossoming stardom, as Andreescu would win both her hometown Roger’s Cup and the US Open later that year. Will she be able to repeat as champion when the BNP Paribas Open returns to the desert in 2021? Only time will tell.