Where Does Liam Broady Beating Casper Ruud Rank Among The Great British Wimbledon Upsets?

Liam Broady won a Challenger Tour title in Vilnius.

It has been a crazily concertinaed Wimbledon so far, where heavy rain at the start of the week has meant that some first round matches, including those involving seeds such as Alexander Zverev, were not played until Thursday, by which time some players were already in the third round. As a consequence, it is possible that Liam Broady, who faces Canada’s Denis Shapovalov in the third round on Friday, will already be out of the tournament before the first round proper is fully completed. But even if that happens, Broady will always have the memory of beating Casper Ruud, the No. 4 seed, on Centre Court in the biggest win of his career.

But where does Broady beating Ruud rank among the great British Wimbledon upsets, whereby an unknown (or relatively unknown) and lowly ranked Briton somehow overcomes a far more established player who is ranked far more highly than them?

Here are the five greatest British Wimbledon upsets of the Open Era, not just in chronological order but in order of sheer seismic shock.

  1. Roger Taylor defeats Rod Laver in the 4th round in 1970

Roger Taylor was arguably the best British male tennis player between Fred Perry and Tim Henman. John Lloyd reached a Grand Slam Final, the Australian Open of 1977 (which he lost in five sets to the USA’s Vitas Gerulaitis), but Taylor was more consistently successful, three times reaching the semifinal at Wimbledon and at least reaching the quarterfinal of the other three Majors. However, his finest moment by far came in the fourth round of Wimbledon in 1970, when he defeated the great Rod Laver.

Laver, of course, is arguably the greatest male tennis player of all time. It is only the fact that he was banned from competing at the Majors for most of the 1960s, after turning professional in 1962, that prevented him from adding to his comparatively paltry total of 11 Majors. However, eight of those 11 Majors came in just two years, 1962 and 1969, when he completed Calendar Slams, i.e. the actual and original Grand Slam of winning all four Majors in one year. Only one other man, the USA’s Don Budge in 1938, has ever completed the Calendar Slam and so far at least none of The Big Three of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have managed it (https://lastwordonsports.com/tennis/2021/09/13/calendar-slam-beyond-big-three/). The fact that Laver managed it twice, first as an amateur and then as a professional, probably says it all about his singular brilliance.

In 1970, however, when he was the defending champion at Wimbledon, Laver was beaten in four sets by Roger Taylor, who won 4-6, 6-4, 6-2, 6-1. Their meeting in the last 16 was scheduled, as it were, because Laver, as the reigning champion, was No.1 seed while Taylor was No.16 seed (at a time when there were only 16 seeds). Very few people, if any, foresaw what happened next, especially after Laver won the first set 6-4. But Taylor, playing serve-volley against arguably the greatest serve-volleyer there has ever been, struck back magnificently to win the next three sets for the cumulative loss of just seven games. Unfortunately, he could not convert that triumph into a Wimbledon title, as he eventually lost in the semi-final to another great Aussie, Ken Rosewall. Nevertheless, the feat of beating Rocket Rod at Wimbledon remained the greatest achievement of his career.

  1. Tim Henman defeats Yevgeny Kafelnikov in the first round in 1996

The fact that more than 25 years passed between the first entry on this list and the second says it all about the long dark age that British tennis, especially British men’s tennis, went through for most of the 1980s and 1990s. Of course, the man who did more than anyone to end that dark age was Tim Henman, who virtually brought British tennis back to life in the 1990s and early 2000s after it had been feared dead. And arguably no match in Henman’s career was more important than his first round victory over Russia’s Yevgeny Kafelnikov, the then French Open Champion, in 1996.

In retrospect, the result may not seem so surprising. Although Kafelnikov had triumphed at Roland Garros just a few weeks earlier, beating Germany’s Michael Stich in the final after defeating Pete Sampras in the semi-final (which was the closest that Pistol Pete ever got to winning the French Open), he was as uncomfortable on grass as most Russian and eastern European players. By contrast, on the back of this victory, Henman went on to become one of the greatest grass-court players of his generation, reaching four Wimbledon semi-finals in total, each one of which he lost to the eventual champion.

However, as is so often the case, context is everything and in 1996 British men’s tennis was arguably at its lowest ebb ever. In addition, English sport in general was almost suicidal after the men’s football team had narrowly failed to reach the final of the European Championships that they were hosting, losing to eventual winners (and perpetual nemesis) Germany in the semi-final. Enter Henman, who not only beat Kafelnikov in a truly epic five-set thriller – 7-6 (8-6), 6-3, 6-7 (2-7), 4-6, 7-5 – but went on to reach the quarterfinals, where he lost to the USA’s Todd Martin. Thus began Henman’s own remarkable transformation and with it the transformation of British men’s tennis, which would eventually lead to Henman becoming, in tennis terms at least, the John the Baptist to Andy Murray’s Jesus Christ.

  1. Sam Smith defeats Conchita Martinez in the third round in 1998

For a brief period, Sam Smith looked as if she might just be the female Tim Henman – a British woman who could challenge at the very top, or at least on the home grass of Wimbledon. Sadly, she never quite managed to transform herself, her career and British women’s tennis as thoroughly as Henman managed on the men’s side. However, she did achieve arguably the greatest ever British upset at Wimbledon by a woman when she defeated Spain’s Conchita Martinez in the third round in 1998.

Martinez was not only the No.8 seed in 1998 but, even more importantly, she was a former Wimbledon Champion, having won the Women’s Singles title in 1994 when she defeated the great Martina Navratilova in the final Wimbledon Singles Final that Navratilova reached (a remarkable 16 years after reaching her first Wimbledon Final). Consequently, when Martinez met the relatively unheralded Smith in the third round in 1998, it was thought that there could only be one winner. Smith, however, had other ideas.

She lost the first set relatively easily, going down 6-2, and it seemed certain that she would become just another plucky British loser in London SW19 (arguably the most famous postcode in the world and not just in tennis). However, she fought back superbly in the second set to take it 6-3 and eventually won a supremely close third set 7-5.

What should have been the springboard for Smith’s career ultimately proved to be its sole great highlight. She lost to France’s Nathalie Tauziat in the next round and never again scaled such stellar heights. But even as her career fizzled out, she would always have the golden memory of Wimbledon 1998.

  1. Andy Murray defeats Radek Štěpánek in the second round in 2005

As with Tim Henman’s first round win over Yevgeny Kafelnikov in 1996, in retrospect Andy Murray’s victory over the Czech Republic’s Radek Štěpánek in 2005 may not seem so surprising. However, just as with Henman nearly a decade earlier, at the time Murray’s triumph was truly shocking, because he was an 18-year-old newcomer and Štěpánek, at 26, was not only nearly a decade older but much more highly ranked, such that he was the No.14 seed. Nevertheless, in what was probably the first real indication of the greatness that was to come at Wimbledon over the next decade, Murray virtually wiped the grass with Štěpánek, winning relatively easily in straight sets, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.

It was that manner of victory that was probably the most shocking thing to British tennis fans at the time. Over the previous decade, they had become used to the almost annual Tim Henman rollercoaster at Wimbledon, whereby Henman would invariably almost go out early in the tournament before recovering to reach the semi-finals, where he would lose to the eventual winner of the tournament (Sampras, Ivanisevic or Hewitt), and each match would be a five-set marathon.

By complete contrast, Murray, even at an early age and an early stage of his career, usually made light work of lesser opponents, as he did against Štěpánek in 2005, and eventually showed enough all-court ability (in comparison with Henman’s pure serve-volley style, which only really succeeded on grass) to convince British tennis fans that he could go all the way and win Wimbledon. And although he lost his next match in 2005 in five sets to David Nalbandian, the 2002 Runner-Up, in less than a decade he was the Wimbledon Champion, ending Britain’s near-century-long wait for a male Singles champion.

1. Liam Broady defeats Casper Ruud in the second round in 2023

And so we come to the newest entrant on this list, which goes to No.1 with a bullet, or at least a high-speed serve. However, the inclusion of Liam Broady’s defeat of Casper Ruud in the second round of this year’s tournament is not just the most recent example of recency bias but a clear-headed assessment of his truly historic achievement.

There is, of course, a caveat with Casper Ruud, namely that the Norwegian is obviously so uncomfortable at playing on grass that in the future he might just forego competing Wimbledon at all and instead play more of his beloved golf at this time of year. And in the final set of his remarkable five-set loss to Broady – the Briton won 6-4 3-6 4-6 6-3 6-0–he was actually bagelled, which sums up how he seemed to stop competing after losing his serve early on, an impression that Broady’s older sister, Naomi, who is herself a former player, seemed to confirm later when she discussed her brother’s triumph on the BBC.

Nevertheless, Ruud is the world No.4 and has reached three Grand Slam finals (two French Open finals and the US Open final) in the last year, whereas Liam Broady has never cracked the world’s top 100 (although that might change if he can continue to progress at Wimbledon) and until this year his greatest achievements as a singles player had been reaching the third round of the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 and reaching the same round at Wimbledon last year. Consequently, Broady beating Ruud so stunningly (and so comprehensively in the deciding set) can rightly be regarded as the greatest British upset win at Wimbledon in the Open Era.

However, if Broady’s compatriot Katie Boulter can somehow beat defending Wimbledon Champion Elena Rybakina over the weekend (the biggest of ifs, admittedly), it may not be a title that he holds for long.

Main Photo Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

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