The Two Biggest Grand Slam Upsets Of 2021

  • Posted: Dec 25, 2021

Rounding off our review of the 2021 season, looks back at the biggest Grand Slam upsets of the year. Yesterday we focused on three of the top five upsets at Grand Slam level and today we will complete the list, with #NextGenATP Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz and Hubert Hurkacz pulling off big results.

2) Wimbledon, Second Round, Hubert Hurkacz d. Roger Federer 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-0
The Big Three have staked their claim on history, each winning 20 major titles, neatly dividing the tennis turf into three distinct fiefdoms. Rafael Nadal, of course, has hoisted (and bitten) La Coupe des Mousquetaires an astounding 13 times. Novak Djokovic, the Wonder Down Under, is a nine-time Australian Open champion. With eight titles at Wimbledon, Roger Federer is the epitome of elegance and panache, floating regally over the grass at the oldest Grand Slam.

These are all records, underlining the brilliance of these players in their favourite venues. When Federer went through an awkward stage, going nine straight majors without winning one, he ended that streak with a win at Wimbledon in 2012. On the cusp of his 31st birthday, Federer reinforced the idea that he was largely invincible at the All England Club, and it’s an image that had, correctly, persisted.

When he first saw this year’s Wimbledon draw, 14th seed Hubert Hurkacz knew the possibility of facing Federer existed. After he upset World No. 2 Daniil Medvedev in the fourth round, in a wild, five-set match, it became a reality.

“I don’t know what to say,” Hurkacz told reporters. “It’s super-special for me, to play on this court. Playing against Roger, when you’re a kid, it’s like a dream come true.”

Could Federer, at the daunting age of 39, possibly add a record ninth Wimbledon title to his resume? Ken Rosewall, the last 39-year-old to reach the final at Wimbledon, in 1974, hoped so. Federer cherished his message of congratulations and support.

It was a career-first major quarter-final for the 24-year-old from Poland – as opposed to Federer’s epic total of 58. And yet, it was Hurkacz who displayed poise under the pressure of the moment on Centre Court.

Standing 6’ 5”, he had powerful groundstrokes and a sizzling serve. Hurkacz won the first set, but soon found himself down 1-4 in the second as Federer, urged on by a supportive crowd, fleetingly returned to vintage form. That advantage, however, disappeared when he was broken in the next game and Hurkacz ultimately prevailed in a tie-break. The effect on Federer was devastating: He lost all six games of the final set.

Hurkacz, who would complete his best-ever major effort with a loss to Matteo Berrettini in the semi-finals, wound up qualifying for the Nitto ATP Finals and finishing in the year-end Top 10.

Hubert Hurkacz, Roger Federer
Photo Credit: AELTC/Pool/Getty Images
1) US Open, Third Round, Carlos Alcaraz d. Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-3, 4-6, 7-6(2), 0-6, 7-6(5)
There is no easy path to forge when following in the footsteps of countrymen as accomplished on the Grand Slam stages as those from Spain. Under the guidance of Roland Garros champion and former World No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero and touted as the next great Spanish prospect to eventually succeed Rafael Nadal, Carlos Alcaraz is fast learning to juggle the hype.

A maiden tour-level title in Umag in July set off the latest “youngest since Nadal” comparisons, but it was a third-round boilover on Arthur Ashe Stadium against World No. 3 Stefanos Tsitsipas that really sounded his potential. The 18-year-old had already brought down 26th seed Cameron Norrie in straight sets and Frenchman Arthur Rinderknech, but the Greek had reached back-to-back ATP Masters 1000 semi-finals in Toronto and Cincinnati leading in as was considered a strong contender to foil Djokovic’s Grand Slam bid.

Carlos Alcaraz
Photo Credit: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
Alcaraz had never passed the third round at a major and the World No. 55 looked to have met his match when he dropped the fourth set 6-0. But competing with the composure of a player far beyond his years, he shook off the fourth-set blowout and stuck with the third seed on serve throughout the fifth to force a deciding tie-break.

The crowd was baying for the upset and, not to be overawed, Alcaraz jumped to a 6/3 lead. The Spaniard held his nerve to secure his passage on his third match point, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6(2), 0-6, 7-6(5) and become the youngest player to reach the fourth round at a major since 1992.

“I can’t believe that I beat Stefanos Tsitsipas in an epic match. For me it’s a dream come true,” Alcaraz said. “I think without the crowd I couldn’t have the opportunity to play a great fifth set and be able to beat Stefanos. I think the crowd was really amazing. I really loved it.”

Alcaraz, who went on to reach his maiden Grand Slam quarter-final in New York, was the youngest player to beat a top three opponent at a major since Michael Chang, 17, defeated World No. 1 Ivan Lendl and World No. 3 Stefan Edberg at Roland Garros in 1989. There was nothing but respect from a vanquished Tsitsipas.

“I’ve never seen someone hit the ball so hard. [It] took time to adjust. [It] took time to kind of develop my game around his game style,” Tsitsipas said. “It’s one of these matches and one of these feelings where you pick up [your level] at some point of the match, you feel like you’re in control, and it doesn’t really go your way at the end.”

Read More From Our Best Of 2021 Series

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