Terrific Tennis

The United States Open Tennis Championships is one of the oldest and most prestigious tennis tournaments in the world.  First contested in 1881 as the U.S. National Championship, the U.S. Open is the fourth and final Grand Slam event of the calendar year.

With total prize money topping $ 50 million, the Open is the richest tennis tournament in the world.  It is also the most well-attended of the Grand Slam events.  Played on acrylic hard courts at Flushing Meadows in New York since 1978, the U.S. Open is the only major that employs a tie-breaker in the final set of a match.  In the other three Grand Slam tournaments, matches must be decided by a margin of two games.

Owned and organized by the non-profit United States Tennis Association [USTA], the U.S. Open consists of five event championships, all of which conclude this weekend.  Mixed Doubles and Men’s Doubles Finals take place Saturday, as does the Women’s Singles Final.  Sunday will host Women’s Doubles and Men’s Singles Finals.  Additionally, the U.S. Open hosts competitions for senior, junior and wheelchair players.

Many of the sport’s greatest players have cemented their legacies at the U.S. Open.  Here are some of the most spectacular battles Flushing Meadows has witnessed.

John McEnroe versus Bjorn Borg is one of the fiercest rivalries in tennis history.  It reached its pinnacle in 1980.  In July, the two met in a scintillating Wimbledon final, where Borg bettered McEnroe in five sets.  The top-seeded Borg had captured both the French Open and Wimbledon in 1980, placing him on the doorstep of matching the great Rod Laver’s feat of winning three Grand Slam events in a calendar year.  Johnny Mac charged to a quick lead, taking the first two sets in what appeared to be a runaway.  The Swede roared back to win the third and fourth sets over a tiring McEnroe, who steadied himself and broke in the seventh game of the fifth set.  The fiery American gained revenge for Wimbledon when he served out a 6-4 win to take the match.

The 1984 Women’s Singles Final pitted the games two biggest stars – Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova – in a rematch of the previous year’s final.  Coming in, Martina had the clear edge over her nemesis, having beaten Chrissie a dozen straight times before this match.  Navratilova had won five straight majors, and was only one win short of equaling Evert’s Open Era record of 55 straight Tour wins.  Evert came out firing, taking the first set 6-4 and igniting the capacity crowd at Louis Armstrong Stadium.  Navratilova seized the second set, then kept her cool to win the match, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4.  It was Martina’s sixth consecutive Grand Slam win, tying her with Margaret Court and Maureen Connolly for most all time.  The Czech also became the first player to win Grand Slams on clay, grass and hard court in the same calendar year.  Chrissie would later admit she choked.

In 1988, Mats Wilander and Ivan Lendl battled in the longest final in U.S. Open history.  The match pitted the two best baseliners in the game.  Lendl arrived having spent 159 straight weeks as the top-ranked male in the world.  The icy Czech was gunning for a fourth straight title at Flushing Meadows, while Wilander was still searching for his maiden U.S. Open trophy.  Wilander took the first set and Lendl battled back to win the second.  After Wilander forged ahead and claimed the third, the defending champion fought back and grabbed the fourth.  Following a grueling 4 hour, 54 minute final, Wilander prevailed and became the first Swede to win a U.S. Open, a feat that the great Bjorn Borg never achieved.

The 1995 Women’s Final featured Steffi Graf and Monica Seles, two of the greatest females ever to play the game.  It was Seles’ second tournament back from a 30-month hiatus after being attacked during a tournament in Germany in April 1993.  While Seles was away from tennis, Graf had risen to World No. 1.  Upon Monica’s return, she was reinstated alongside Steffi as joint Number 1.  Graf fought to win the first set, 7-6.  Seles charged back in the second to blank the German, 6-0.  Graf collected herself and took the third, 6-3, to claim her fourth U.S. Open title.  Steffi, who would collect 22 Grand Slam singles titles by age 30, described the win as the best of her career.

Roger Federer came to Forest Hills in 2009 chasing an historic sixth straight U.S. Open.  He was also aiming to be the first man since Rod Laver to win Grand Slam events on clay, grass, and hard courts in the same calendar year.  Standing in his path was 21-year-old first-time finalist Juan Martin del Porto.  Federer owned 15 major singles titles when he arrived in New York, and was on a 41-match winning streak.  After defeating Rafael Nadal in the semifinal, the Argentinian faced the greatest player in history in the final.  Federer won the first and third set, while del Potro took the second and fourth.  In the fifth and deciding set, del Proto outgunned the GOAT, 6-2, to become the first Argentinian to win a Grand Slam event.  It remains del Porto’s only career major singles title.