The 5 most surprising Wimbledon champions of the last 50 years

Maria Sharapova celebrates with the trophy at Wimbledon 2004.
Jeff Overs // Getty Images

Professional tennis revolves around the four Grand Slams—the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open—the biggest tournaments held annually. Wimbledon, the oldest tennis tournament in the world, is the finest of them all, having churned out champions since 1877. It's considered the most prestigious tournament—and players long to win, in part because it's played on grass, the original tennis surface. Millions of people worldwide tune in every year, and over half a million attend in person.

To play Wimbledon is to keep the tradition alive. At the championships of The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, players abide by club rules, including referring to men as "gentlemen" and women as "ladies." The tournament also famously requires players to wear almost entirely white clothing—not off-white, not cream—permitting a 1-centimeter trim of color around the neckline or sleeve cuffs. In 2022, the club expanded its policy to allow women to wear dark-colored shorts underneath their white skirts or shorts to prevent anxiety caused by wearing white during their menstrual periods.

On July 1, players will vie to take home tennis' biggest title. The champions will be inducted as club members—an exclusive group of 500 people who can play tennis and croquet there—use the locker rooms and gym, and have dedicated seats on Centre Court. In 2023, Wimbledon also paid out approximately $3.1 million to each singles winner.

In the history of the tournament, there have been some amazing outcomes. ATS.io compiled a ranking of the five most surprising Wimbledon champions of the last 50 years using data from SportsOddsHistory.com. The victors were ranked according to their championship odds before the first round of the tournament, and ties were broken using the player's championship odds before the final. Player seeds indicate who is likely to take home the title, but the skill and mental fortitude to win can come from a player of any seed—or none at all.

Michael Stich during the Final of the Wimbledon Championship against Boris Becker.
Simon Bruty // Getty Images

#5. Michael Stich (1991)

- Pre-tournament odds: +3000
- Wimbledon final odds: +180

From 1988 to 1990, the men's final was between Stefan Edberg and Boris Becker, and in 1991, all signs pointed to a fourth straight final between the two. However, the sixth-seeded Michael Stich went on a tear, first ousting French Open winner Jim Courier in straight sets in the quarterfinals, then shutting down defending champ Edberg in a three-hour, four-set contest in the semifinals.

Stich, in just his fourth year as a professional, had only one pro singles title under his belt—a 1990 victory in Memphis, Tennessee, but his lack of wins didn't matter when he stepped onto Centre Court to face world #1 Becker.

In their one previous meeting, Becker had defeated his fellow German in straight sets, but in this matchup, Stich had Becker's number. Stich delivered 15 aces and broke Becker's serve four times in a decisive straight-sets victory. It was the only Grand Slam singles win of his career, though in 1992, he partnered with John McEnroe to take the Wimbledon doubles title.

Maria Sharapova kissing the Wimbledon trophy.
Bongarts // Getty Images

#4. Maria Sharapova (2004)

- Pre-tournament odds: +5000
- Wimbledon final odds: +255

The 2004 tournament's #13 seed, then-17-year-old Maria Sharapova was a long shot to get to the final, let alone win against Serena Williams. Willams was going for her third straight Wimbledon victory, but the 6-foot-2 Russian proved too tough.

Sharapova played aggressively, causing Williams to produce several unforced errors. She broke Williams' serve twice in the first set, taking it handily, 6-1. Though Williams started the second set strong, pulling ahead 4-1, Sharapova came back and broke Williams' serve to go up 5-4 and then served out the match to seal her first Grand Slam victory.

Sharapova's win catapulted her to the world stage as a force to be reckoned with on the court. Off the court, she became the top-earning female athlete for 11 consecutive years, per Forbes. She achieved a Career Grand Slam by 2012 with wins in each of the four major tournaments, but her rivalry with Willams became one-sided, as Willams won 18 of their next 19 matchups.

Elena Rybakina celebrates with the Venus Rosewater Dish trophy.
SEBASTIEN BOZON // Getty Images

#3. Elena Rybakina (2022)

- Pre-tournament odds: +10000
- Wimbledon final odds: +140

In 2022, Wimbledon banned players from Russia and Belarus over the war in Ukraine, which meant many big names, including 2021 semifinalist Aryna Sabalenka, would not compete. Yet Russia-born Elena Rybakina was in the draw—her second time in the senior women's tournament—because she had become a citizen of Kazakhstan in 2017 to receive better funding.

No one expected much from Rybakina—she wasn't in the best form, had an injury, and her expectations were low, she told The Daily Mail. But the draw turned in several upsets, and the #1 and #2 seeds were out by the third round. Even Rybakina, then the #17 seed, didn't face another seeded player until the semifinals.

In the final, she played Tunisian Ons Jabeur, who was also playing in her first Grand Slam final and vying to become the first Arab and African to win a major. Though she displayed jitters, losing the first set, Rybakina employed her powerful serve and forehand to dismantle Jabeur and become the first Kazakh to win a Grand Slam.

Marion Bartoli of France poses with the Venus Rosewater Dish trophy.
Dennis Grombkowski // Getty Images

#2. Marion Bartoli (2013)

- Pre-tournament odds: +10000
- Wimbledon final odds: +180

Though Marion Bartoli had reached the Wimbledon final once before in 2007, she was not known for her performances in Grand Slams, with just three quarterfinals and one semifinal appearance before this.

She was seeded #15 but had an easy tournament, as she never faced anyone seeded higher than her. Bartoli dominated those opponents—her unorthodox serve and two-handed forehands troubled players throughout the event—winning each match in straight sets.

Going into the final, #23 seed Sabine Lisicki was favored, in part because of her stunning upset of #1 seed Serena Williams in the Round of 16. The then-23-year-old Lisicki's nerves got the better of her, however, and Bartoli prevailed in her 47th Grand Slam appearance, becoming just the sixth player in the Open era to win the title without losing a set.

Six weeks after her Wimbledon victory, she shockingly retired, citing wear and tear on her body.

Marketa Vondrousova celebrates with the Venus Rosewater Dish trophy.
SEBASTIEN BOZON // Getty Images

#1. Marketa Vondrousova (2023)

- Pre-tournament odds: +10000
- Wimbledon final odds: +185

Though Markéta Vondroušová had been to a French Open final in 2019, she did not have a good track record at Wimbledon, having only once reached the Round of 64 in four previous attempts. She missed the tournament in 2022 because of a wrist injury and didn't have a high enough world ranking to get seeded, but Vondroušová didn't let that stop her.

She left five seeded players in her wake, including #4 Jessica Pegula in the quarterfinals. In the semifinals, she dropped wild-card entry Elina Svitolina of Ukraine—who had become the tournament darling because of her recent maternity leave and the war in her home country—6-3, 6-3.

In the final, Vondroušová faced Ons Jabeur, who was trying to avenge her final loss to Elena Rybakina the year before. Because it was windy, the roof on Centre Court was closed, which gave the match an indoor feel and played to Vondroušová's strengths. Though she trailed in each set, she rallied to win 6-4, 6-4.

Vondroušová made history as the lowest-ranked—and first unseeded—player to win Wimbledon.

Story editing by Mike Taylor. Additional editing by Kelly Glass. Copy editing by Robert Wickwire. Photo selection by Clarese Moller.

This story originally appeared on ATS.IO and was produced and distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.

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