The Greatest Achievements in US Open History
By Mark Preston, E.J. Crawford & Joel Drucker
Everything about the US Open is hard, from its courts to its competition. The season’s final Slam is much more than the ultimate tournament, it is the ultimate test. It is a test not only of talent, but of fortitude, grit, intelligence and heart. There’s a reason why they call it the world’s toughest tennis, for here in the late-summer swelter of New York, you need to dig particularly deep if you’ve got any hope of coming out on top.
Indeed, the blue courts at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center are professional tennis’ ultimate proving grounds. To survive here is impressive; to achieve here is spectacular. The idea of winning seven matches may not seem like a lot, but to win them here is to make the ultimate statement in the game. If you can somehow pull that off, you get a very nice trophy, a very big check, and credentials that last a lifetime.
There aren’t many who know the unparalleled feeling of winning a US Open title, if only because there aren’t many who have the means to lift themselves into that rarified air. It is a special place, and if you’ve been there, you are most certainly a special player.
In the Open era, which dawned in 1968, the US Open has provided the most illuminating showcase for those most special players. The greatest in the game tend to bring their greatest efforts to this place—because they know they have to. In doing so, they’ve left an indelible mark on this tournament—and on this sport.
On the following pages, we take a look at what we consider to be the greatest achievements in the history of the US Open. These players and their achievements have made the US Open the world-class sporting spectacular that it has become. All are particularly impressive; some are especially remarkable. Which is the greatest of all? We’ll leave that up to you. Visit usopen.org and cast your vote. At the close of the Open, we’ll post your choice for the ultimate achievement at tennis’ ultimate event.—M.P.
A DYNAMIC PRESENCE
The US Open is not built for dynasties. The bright lights of New York City can throw off even the most seasoned competitor, and its egalitarian courts ensure that everyone—dirt ballers and big hitters alike—have a chance to mount an upset and claim the title. Or at least they did until 2004. Since then, the blue courts of Flushing Meadows have belonged to Roger Federer, who has won five straight US Open singles titles to become the first person—man or woman—to accomplish that feat in the Open Era.
Of course, almost as impressive as the fact that he did it is how he did it. During his five-year run, Federer has been pushed to five sets just twice, and in his five finals he has knocked off former US Open champions Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick and Lleyton Hewitt, as well as two of the world’s current top four players, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. And he dropped a total of just two sets in those five matches. Federer is not finished yet. He certainly figures as a favorite for his sixth straight Open crown in 2009.—E.J.C.
FOUR PLUS FOUR EQUALS GREAT
The US Open has seen its share of singles champions and doubles specialists, but in the men’s game there was only one John McEnroe. In the Open era, no man has won more than McEnroe’s eight combined singles and doubles titles. In fact, not only is
McEnroe the only men’s player in the Open era with four singles titles and four doubles titles, he also is the only man with two in each discipline. From 1979 to 1985, the combustible left-hander dominated the US Open, reaching either the singles or doubles
final each year but 1982. And McEnroe’s accomplishments have grown only more impressive through the years. Since 1975, just two other men have managed to win both the US Open singles and doubles crowns—Stefan Edberg (singles 1991–92, doubles 1987) and Lleyton Hewitt (singles 2001, doubles 2000)—leaving McEnroe in a class by himself.—E.J.C.
Chris Evert came to the US Open as a 16-year-old schoolgirl—and left it as a 34-year-old queen. Over the course of playing 19 consecutive US Opens, Evert advanced to the semifinals or better a remarkable 17 times, including 16 straight from 1971 to 1986. Her 1971 debut was pure Hollywood: fighting off match points on national TV, advancing past veterans, the schoolgirl showed an uncanny cool before bowing
to Billie Jean King in the semis. Soon enough, Evert commenced a grand reign. Beginning in 1975, Evert won six of the next eight US Opens, overcoming a flock of rivals who would all eventually join her in the International Tennis Hall of Fame—Evonne Goolagong, Martina Navratilova, Tracy Austin, Hana Mandlikova. The Evert game was a connoisseur’s delight, marked by consistency, pinpoint accuracy, unwavering concentration and that rare ability to raise her level of play at the right time. Even more, Evert was the classiest of competitors, as gracious in defeat as she was in victory.—J.D.
Once the most highly touted tennis player of his era, Andre Agassi arrived at the 1994 US Open looking for spark to reignite his career. He had lost in the first round of the Open in 1993, his ranking had slipped into the 20s and he had lost in the second round at Roland Garros and the fourth round at Wimbledon.
But this US Open was different from the start. Agassi received a favorable first-round matchup and he eased past cagey Frenchman Guy Forget in four sets in the second. Then he started an incredible run that saw him planting seed after seed in the hard courts of Flushing Meadows. The first was No. 13 seed Wayne Ferreira in straight sets, followed by a five-set victory over No. 6 Michael Chang, a straight-setter over No. 14 Thomas Muster and a four-setter over No. 9 Todd Martin. That left only No. 4 seed Michael Stich, and the German would do little to stand in the way of history, falling, 6-1, 7-6 (4), 7-5, as Agassi became the first and only player in the Open era to knock off five seeds en route to a championship, his first of two US Open titles.—E.J.C.
A MAN FOR ALL SURFACES
It’s a mark that will almost certainly never be matched, attained by a man with a persona tennis will likely never see again. Over a sizzling five-year period, Jimmy Connors won the US Open on three different surfaces, each victory punctuated by Connors’ distinctive style. In 1974, the last year the US Open was played on grass, Connors lit up the West Side Tennis Club with a new breed of swagger and shotmaking, destroying sentimental favorite Ken Rosewall in the final in just over an hour. Two years later, on gritty clay, the fiery Connors overcame the icy Swede, Bjorn Borg, in a match considered one of the greatest of all time. Thanks in large part to Connors’ ability to draw increasing numbers of fans to the game, by 1978 the US Open had relocated to bigger quarters at Flushing Meadows. Fittingly, Jimbo inaugurated the USTA National Tennis Center with trademark bravado, thrashing John McEnroe and Borg on the last two days without losing a set to earn the third of what would eventually be five US Open singles titles.—J.D.
A SIZZLING SISTER ACT
In 2001, sisters Venus and Serena Williams, two teenagers who learned the game from their dad, Richard, on the public courts of Compton, Calif., became the first siblings in US Open history to square off for the singles title. There had been other brother and sister acts since the first officially recognized men’s championship in 1881 and the first recognized women’s championship in 1887, but only one other pair had made it as far as the final weekend—and that was in 1902, when Hugh L. Doherty defaulted against his brother, Reginald, in the semifinals. But this inaugural all-sister finale was special on many fronts: It was a meeting of the previous two champions (Serena in 1999 and Venus in 2000), it was the first women’s singles final played in prime time, and it was the first US Open final between two African-Americans. On this night, Venus beat her younger sister, 6-2, 6-4, to defend her title, and cap what was a truly historic night.—E.J.C.
DECADES OF DOMINANCE
Martina Navratilova owns 16 US Open championship titles, fourth-best among women all-time and tops among women in the Open era. That is, of course, itself a pretty impressive accomplishment. But then consider this: Navratilova won the first of those titles in 1977 at the age of 20, taking the US Open women’s doubles crown with Betty Stove, and she took her 16th US Open title in 2006 at the age of 49, winning the mixed doubles championship with Bob Bryan. Throughout the 1970s, 80s, 90s and 2000s, Navratilova has been a final-round fixture at Flushing Meadows, winning US Open titles in four different decades. All through that time, Navratilova’s unparalleled focus on fitness and mental toughness helped change the face of the entire women’s game and raise its level of play—and appeal—as she continually redefined herself as a champion. All told, the Hall of Famer won four singles titles, nine doubles titles and three mixed doubles titles at the Open, making her one of the most prolific champions in the history of the event.—M.P.
A GREAT EIGHT
Driven. Relentless. Effective. These three words best describe the Ivan Lendl approach to tennis. Never was this more apparent than at the US Open. Beginning in 1982, Lendl reached the US Open final for eight consecutive years. Over the course of a staggering 51-5 run, Lendl pioneered many innovations that have become mainstays in the pro game: conducting a rigorous off-court fitness regimen, maintaining a proper diet, changing racquets with every ball change. Though he lost the first three of his final-round appearances, to Jimmy Connors in 1982 and 1983 and John McEnroe in 1984, Lendl then dominated his opponents with his sharp serve and powerful forehand, winning the title three straight years from 1985–87, with victories over John McEnroe, Miloslav Mecir and Mats Wilander. In 1988 and 1989, he lost in finals that were all-out slugfests, first to Wilander (in a record-setting 4 hour, 54 minute marathon) and then to Boris Becker. But for eight years running, Lendl earned a place in the tournament’s final—the ultimate statement for a champion who helped change the face of men’s pro tennis.—J.D.
ONE FOR THE AGES
“A pup going through a zone” was the way Pete Sampras described his run to the 1990 US Open title. Taking out Ivan Lendl, John McEnroe and Andre Agassi in the last three rounds, the lanky 19-year-old Californian snapped off winners on all sides with dazzling skill and unsurpassed poise to become the youngest US Open men’s champ in history. Having raised the curtain in such a captivating manner, Sampras’ middle act was even richer. In his 20s, he earned three US Open titles, including two vs. fellow Americans
Agassi and Michael Chang in 1995 and 1996 where the world No. 1 ranking was at stake. Act III of the Sampras saga was a storybook ending. In 2002, the 31-year-old Sampras took the court against Agassi—and played a masterful final, serving 33 aces to earn his 14th Grand Slam singles title in the last match of his career. That final victory meant that Sampras had earned US Open titles in his teens, 20s and 30s—a champion for the ages, if ever there was one.—J.D.
A TERRIFIC TWO-FER
In 1968, no one was exactly sure if this radical idea of “Open” tennis—which allowed professionals to compete alongside amateurs at the game’s grandest events—was going to take. So to hedge its bet, the USTA used the time slot prior to the first US Open at Forest Hills to stage the U.S. Amateur Championships at the Longwood Cricket Club in Boston. There, a 25-year-old U.S. Army lieutenant named Arthur Ashe notched an impressive five-set final-round win over Bob Lutz to claim the Amateur crown. But even with that title in his pocket, the host of top pros coming to the inaugural US Open meant Ashe would be seeded No. 5 at Forest Hills. Still, as the top pros fell, Ashe the amateur played on, and two weeks after his win at Longwood, the lieutenant on leave from West Point beat Dutch pro Tom Okker in the final to win the first US Open men’s title. Those back-to-back wins make Ashe the only man ever to win the Amateur and Open titles in the same year. And since Open tennis and that little annual event in Flushing Meadows both seem to have caught on, Ashe’s singular double is a feat that never will be repeated.—M.P.
A KING’S LASTING LEGACY
She always had poor eyesight and remarkable vision. She knew, even as a child, where life’s journey would take her—that greatness would be the ultimate destination and that she was perfectly capable of driving herself there. From the first time Billie Jean King set foot on the public courts of Long Beach, Calif., she knew that she wanted to be the No. 1 player in the world, and that is exactly what she became. At the US Open, she won a total of 13 titles in singles, doubles and mixed doubles. She was a champion, but more, she used her status to champion those causes she believed in, both inside the lines and out. She was—and continues to be—a driving force in the success of women’s tennis and of the game as a whole. In 2006, in recognition of King’s lifetime of stellar achievements and unparalleled commitment to the sport, the public facility that houses the US Open was rechristened the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center—a lasting legacy for a champion who has left an indelible impression on a tournament, a sport and a society.—M.P.