The US Open – the 4th and final Grand Slam of a calendar year – is one of the oldest and most prestigious tennis tournament. Unlike the Plexicushion hard courts in Australia, clay in France or the grass in Wimbledon, US Open is played on acrylic hard courts at Flushing Meadows in New York. The US Open also has the distinction of being the most attended Grand Slam. The defending champions are Novak Djokovic (men’s) and Flavia Pennetta (women’s).
Incidentally, US Open is the only Grand Slam which employs a tie-breaker in the final set of a match. That is, if the 5th set (or the 3rd in case of women) of a match is tied 6-6, the tie-breaker comes into play. In the rest of the 3 Grand Slams, you need to play until you win by a margin of 2 games (12-10 etc) in the final set.
Many of the sport’s greatest have sealed their legacies with spectacular US Open campaigns. As such, the Flushing Meadows has witnessed many spectacular battles between the best.
The 2016 US Open, which begins on 29th August, is almost upon us and we take a look at some of the best finals in the history of the tournament (Open era). We have considered factors like the enormity of the result, the drama of the contest and star power of the contestants.
5) 2009 Men’s final – Roger Federer vs Juan Martin Del Potro
Coming into this match, there was a lot at stake for Roger Federer. Not only was he chasing a historic 6th straight US Open, he was also aiming to be the first man since Rod Laver to win a Grand Slams on clay, grass and hard courts in a calendar year.
Standing in his path was a 21-year-old first-time finalist in Juan Martin Del Potro. Federer, then World No.1, began the final in imperious form and took the first set 6-3. But Del Potro doggedly held on in the 2nd to push it to the tie-breaker and level the match. A surprised Federer restored normal service by capitalising on a break to go ahead, only to be pegged back again in the tie-breaker by Del Potro.
While most expected the 5-time defending champion to blow Del Potro away in the final set, the Argentine had other plans. He displayed nerves of steel as a stunned Federer was beaten 3-6, 7-6, 4-6, 7-6, 6-2. Del Potro had become the first Argentine to win a Grand Slam and in the process defeated one of the best ever to grace the game.
4) 1995 Women’s final – Steffi Graf vs Monica Seles
The 1995 final between 2 of the greatest women to play the game was fittingly riveting. There was an intense sub-plot to the game as Seles was only playing her 2nd tournament after being sidelined for about 2 and a half years.
In fact, Seles (then No.1) was stabbed in 1993 by a German fan at Hamburg who wanted Steffi to regain supremacy over Seles. Moreover, Steffi’s father and mentor had been jailed in Germany for failure to pay taxes on Steffi’s earnings. Naturally, the atmosphere was emotionally charged and what unfolded was an intense battle.
Seles looked set to take the first set in the tie-breaker at 6-5 before Graf fought back and won it. Seles made amends by annihilating Graf in the 2nd set, blanking the German 6-0. But the champion that Graf is, she gathered herself and produced scintillating tennis to take the 3rd set and claim the US Open. Steffi described 7-6, 0-6, 6-3 win as the best of her career.
3) 1988 Men’s final – Mats Wilander vs Ivan Lendl
The 1988 US Open final between Mats Wilander and Ivan Lendl was the longest final in the history of the tournament. It was bound to be, as 2 of the best baseliners in the game went up against each other for a prized trophy. The Czech, Lendl, was the World No.1 for 159 consecutive weeks and was gunning for a 4th straight title at Flushing Meadows, while Wilander was still searching for his maiden US Open title.
In a match characterised by long baseline rallies, no quarter was ceded by both players. The fortunes see-sawed – Wilander won the first set 6-4, Lendl won the 2nd 6-4. Wilander edged ahead in the 3rd but Lendl again fought back in the 4th.
But Wilander’s willingness to approach the net when the rallies started to prolong would ultimately settle the 5th set in the Swede’s favour. After a gruelling four hours and 54 minute final that finished 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 5-7, 6-4, Wilander would reign supreme and become the first Swede to win the US Open – a feat the great Bjorn Borg couldn’t achieve.
2) 1984 Women’s final – Martina Navratilova vs Chris Evert
The rivalry between the 2 great Americans was much fabled in the 1970s and 80s and often considered one of the best in women’s tennis.
But coming into the 1984 US Open final, Navratilova had the clear edge over her rival. She had beaten Evert 12 straight times before this match (they met each other 80 times overall) and was only one win short of equalling Evert’s Open-era record of 55 straight wins on tour. Evert’s losses to Navratilova also had been one-sided and the same was expected this time.
But contrary to expectations, Evert came out firing on all cylinders and took the first set 6-4 to spark tremendous cheers from the crowd. But the champion that Navratilova was, she hit back to take the 2nd 6-4, despite facing 2 break points at a crucial stage. Though Evert produced some brilliant tennis in the 3rd, Navratilova kept her cool to win the match 4-6, 6-4, 6-4.
Though Evert would later admit that she choked, the match witnessed a momentum shift in their rivalry with Evert competing on level terms from then on.
1) 1980 Men’s final – Bjorn Borg vs John McEnroe
The rivalry between Borg and McEnroe was at its zenith in 1980, with fans raving over the glorious Wimbledon final where Borg bettered McEnroe in 5 sets.
The match had even seen a 18-16 tie-breaker in the 4th set and naturally fanfare and expectation surrounding the US Open final was huge after both of them reached the summit clash. Borg, the top seed, had won the French Open and the Wimbledon and was only a step away from emulating Rod Laver to have won all 3 in a calendar year. McEnroe and Borg also had distinctively different persona and gameplay.
The Swede, ice cool and composed, was the polar opposite of the fierce and temperamental American.
McEnroe started the clash in fantastic fashion. He won the 1st set in a tie-breaker before blowing Borg away 6-1 in the 2nd. McEnroe looked to be running away with the game before Borg hit back.
The Swede emphatically won the 3rd set tiebreak and then went on to edge a tiring McEnroe in the 4th set. Borg had not lost a 5-setter in 12 previous games and looked the favourite to win the match. But McEnroe had his revenge for the Wimbledon final when he broke in the 7th game of the 5th set and served out a 7-6, 6-1, 6-7, 5-7, 6-4 win.