Serena Williams seemed destined to make history from the time she first stepped onto the court at the U.S. Open.
Instead, she found herself planted firmly on a list no athlete wants to be: A victim of one of the bigger upsets in sports history.
Roberta Vinci’s stunning win Friday over Williams in the semifinals of the Open wasn’t exactly Buster Douglas beating 42-1 favorite Mike Tyson for the heavyweight title in Japan. Still, Williams put herself in the conversation about the biggest upsets by losing to a journeyman opponent with the first Grand Slam in tennis since 1988 on the line.
“Sorry guys,” an emotional Vinci said after the upset, though she had nothing to be sorry about. The 18-1 underdog who had never won a set from Williams won the last two in their semifinal matchup to leave Williams two wins short of completing the Grand Slam that everyone watching at Flushing Meadows already assumed was hers.
Rank them how you want, but here are some of the biggest upsets ever:
TYSON-DOUGLAS: Tyson wasn’t just unbeatable, but was such a ferocious puncher that fighters risked their health just by getting in the ring with him. Douglas was a decent heavyweight but wasn’t supposed to prove much of a test for Tyson, who had knocked out 33 opponents in winning all 37 of his fights. Tyson’s personal life was in turmoil, though, and he trained only sparingly for the 1990 fight, a mistake that would haunt him. Douglas refused to back down, got off the canvas in the eighth round, and stopped Tyson was a flurry of punches in the 10th.
MIRACLE ON ICE: A collection of American college kids didn’t have a chance at the 1980 Olympics against the finely oiled machine that was the Soviet Union hockey team. The Soviets were so good they posted a winning record on a tour against NHL clubs, and had beaten the U.S. team 10-3 in a pre-Olympics match at Madison Square Garden. But the U.S. scored twice in the third period, with the captain Mike Eruzione giving his team a 4-3 lead the Americans somehow found a way to hold over the last 10 minutes. The U.S. would go on to beat Finland for the gold medal.
GUARANTEED WIN: The merger of the AFL and NFL was still a work in progress when the New York Jets met the Baltimore Colts in the third Super Bowl, though few thought the leagues were ever equals. The Colts were 18-point favorites, causing more than a few fans to laugh when Joe Namath guaranteed the Jets would win the game. But Namath came through at the Orange Bowl, frustrating the Colts defense with his quick release and leading the Jets to a 16-7 win that proved the talent gap between the leagues wasn’t so big after all.
WRESTLING GOLD: Alexander Karelin literally couldn’t be beaten in Greco-Roman wrestling. The Russian won three straight Olympic golds in the super heavyweight division, had never lost in international competition and hadn’t even given up a point in seven years. Gardner was lightly regarded but took the match into overtime, winning 1-0 on a disputed move and effectively ending Karelin’s illustrious career.
MICHIGAN’S MOMENT: The Big House was filled with 109,218 fans for Michigan’s 2007 football opener, which was supposed to be such an easy win over Appalachian State that Vegas oddsmakers didn’t post a line. It looked that way early when Michigan scored a touchdown on its first possession, but three plays later the Mountaineers tied the game. A blocked field goal as time ran out gave the Mountaineers a 34-32 win, the first time a Football Championship Subdivision school had ever beaten a ranked Football Bowl Subdivision school.
US-ENGLAND: England was on a postwar run, dominating European soccer heading into the 1950 World Cup. The U.S., meanwhile, fielded a team of part-time players to compete in a sport most Americans had no interest in. The U.S. had lost its seven previous international matches by lopsided margins, and a British newspaper suggested the Americans should be given three goals to start. Then Joe Gaetjen sent in a header in the 37th minute and the U.S. held on for a 1-0 win. Three days later, Chile routed the U.S. 5-2.
UNLV-DUKE: UNLV might have had the greatest college team of all time, and the Runnin’ Rebels were 34-0 and had won 45 straight over two years heading into the 1991 Final Four. When a last gasp shot by Anderson Hunt fell short, though, Duke had not only snapped the streak with a 79-77 win but got revenge for a 30-point loss a year before in the national title game.
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