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The 3 Biggest French Open Upsets of All Time

It seems like it’s been a lifetime since every Grand Slam Final did not include at least one of Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer. That’s because it has basically been the case for two decades. The point is that massive tennis upsets are not all that common despite there being four major tournaments a year. That’s why we need to cherish them, hold them close forever when we do see a Robin Soderling knock off a Nadal. That’s where we’re starting as we cover the three biggest French Open upsets of all-time.

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Biggest French Open Tennis Upsets of All Time

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Robin Soderling Over Rafael Nadal (2009 Quarterfinals)

Obviously, anyone who beats Nadal in the French Open is going to be on the list of upsets, and if they aren’t Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic, they’re basically a lock to be No. 1.

Nadal is, by any measure, the greatest clay-court tennis player who ever lived. It’s not close; there’s no debate. And in 2009, he was smack dab in the middle of his prime, having won all French opens from 2005 to 2008 and then also winning every one from 2010 to 2014 — and then again from 2017 to 2020, and then another in 2022. You get it.

To put it in perspective, Pete Sampras had the major record prior to the Big 3 era. He won 14 majors total. Nadal has won 14 French Opens, tying Sampras without considering any of the other three yearly Grand Slams.

Between 2005 and 2014, the only person to beat Nadal at the French Open was Robin Soderling, who was the No. 23 seed in the tournament. And he knocked Nadal out in the quarters.

If Soderling had gone on to win the tournament, he could have put beating Nadal on par with the U.S. beating the USSR in the 1980 Olympics. Alas, Roger Federer beat Soderling in the final and ruined the Cinderella story. Still, Soderling was 48-1 to beat Nadal at close and pulled it off.

As far as sporting accomplishments go, beating prime Nadal at the French Open is akin to climbing Mount Everest in shorts.

Michael Chang Over Ivan Lendl (1989 Round of 16)

Maybe Ivan Lendl was past his prime. He was arguably the best clay player of the 1980s, but by 1989, he was pushing 30 — and pre-Nadal/Federer/Djokovic, that was the end of things.

Still, his main rival, Mats Wilander, was cooking and looking to defend his 1988 French Open title, so Lendl couldn’t mess around.

He definitely couldn’t be nonchalant with an American teenager who had never made a deep run at a tennis major.

Michael Chang took on Lendl in the 1989 Round of 16, and as expected, he got down two sets, 4-6, 4-6. But then he found his rhythm and went 6-3, 6-3 to even things up. He then dealt with some major cramping and basically limped his way through the fifth set, even utilizing an underhand serve. But he got through it and knocked off the heavily favored Lendl 6-3 and, unlike Soderling, went on to win the whole friggin’ tournament at just 17 years old — his only grand slam win.

Tathiana Garbin Over Justine Henin (2004 Second Round)

This was the rare massive upset you could sort of see coming a mile away. In some ways, Justine Henin was in the beginning stages of a Nadal-esque run at the French Open, as she was the defending champ and would go on to win the next three as well from 2005 to 2007.

Leading up to the 2004 French Open, Henin was the top player in the world and was basically unbeatable. But then she suffered a viral infection that compromised her entire life, let alone her tennis game. She did not play tennis for six weeks before deciding to enter the French Open as the top seed in the tournament.

Tathiana Garbin, on the other hand, was an unknown who was ranked No. 86 in the world. She won her first-round match handily 6-1. 6-2, but was still a heavy underdog to the No. 1 women’s player. Henin had also won her first match, but it didn’t look great — she squeaked out her two sets 6-4, 6-4.

And while Henin put up a valiant effort against Garbin despite her weakness, the Italian underdog won in straight sets 7-5, 6-4. It marked just the second time that Henin had lost before the fourth round at a Grand Slam, and also the first time ever that the No. 1 lost before Round 3.

Garbin took advantage of her huge upset by losing in the third round, and she never made it farther than the fourth at any singles Grand Slam. Henin, thankfully, recovered and went on to win a bunch more majors before finally retiring in 2011.

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