The US Open has seen its fair share of great matches over the years, and a few memorable finals too. This is a list of the greatest matches in terms of the quality of play, not the ones that had the maximum impact. If it was a list of the latter, it would have been ‘Borg vs McEnroe (1981) for it forever left Borg bereft of the US Open and such was its impact, that he retired. Borg was the greatest of his time, leaving many to rue the early death of a star that shone the brightest.
These finals were utterly nail-biting and there was nothing to choose between the players in their respective matches.
Connors won 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(11-9), 6-4
The American was at the peak of his career in the mid 70s. With his Brooklyn Bomber-like persona, he used to swat every opponent away. After a great 1974 season, he had a poor ‘75 and ‘76. Bjorn Borg was a rising star back then, having claimed the 1974 and ‘75 French Open. But, he was almost always at his wits’ end when coming up against Connors. He couldn’t find a way past those fast groundstrokes and the net play. But the US Open that year was being contested on a special kind of clay. Like all great matches, this one too had a roller coaster of a tie-break, which went straight into the Tie Break Hall of Fame.
Borg led 6-4, then Connors stormed back to 7-6, then again Borg 9-8, then 9-9. At one point, a ball boy had to remind the Chair Umpire that the players need to change sides. Such was the passion and madness, that the Umpire as well as the players had forgotten that. Connors then took it 11-9 and with that Borg mentally faded away. The home favourite then took the next set 6-4 to claim victory in one of the all time great finals.
Connors remembers that final fondly in his autobiography. Watching it today, even when you know the result, it is clear why.
John McEnroe won 7-6(7-4), 6-1, 6-7(5-7), 5-7, 6-4.
Those who lived back then, swear that the summer of 1980 was a great time to be alive for a tennis fan. Within the span of two memorable Grand Slam Finals, Johnny Mac and Bjorn Borg inextricably linked their name with the other, like two jilted lovers who were destined to cross paths. McEnroe was just a young upstart back then, whereas Borg was the Viking Lord who ruled the Men’s circuit. Borg had already won the greatest Wimbledon Final ever contested, in 5 gorgeous sets.
The US Open Final looked set to be McEnroe swatting Borg away in some style until Bjorn Borg reminded himself that he was….Bjorn Borg. He roared back in typical Borg ruthlessness, winning 5 straight points in the third set tie break and then taking the fourth set too. The momentum was with him and it looked like he was finally about to break his US Open voodoo. This was until McEnroe rolled the dice one last time. This throw changed the course of the set, the match and history. He took the fifth set, retained the US Open crown and for Borg, the die had been cast. He had blown away the greatest chance he had of winning the US Open.
Wilander won 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 5-7, 6-4.
This match still remains tied for the longest US Open Final, clocking in at an insane 4 hours, 54 minutes. Wilander was out to gain the No. 1 ranking, which had been Lendl’s for 159 weeks. Also, he was out to succeed where his great countryman Bjorn Borg had failed-to win the title at Flushing Meadows.What made it all the more exciting was that, both the players had similar styles. Tough as nails, hard hitting base-liners, both were clay court geniuses, with 3 French Open titles each.
The rivalry came to a head at the US Open Final in 1988, where Wilander triumphed in 5 gruelling sets, none of which went to a tiebreak, a further testament to the slugfest that was on, seeing that this was the longest final ever.Wilander even had to change tactics, approaching the net far more frequently and trying to play it the Serve and Volley way. This yielded results as Lendl committed 83 unforced errors. This also proved to be the final Grand Slam the Swede would win.
Sampras won 6-4, 6-3, 4-6, 7-5.
This rivalry was as evenly matched as they come. Both Americans, both of almost the same age, both top professionals, and with totally contrasting styles. Sampras being an exponent of the serve and volley style, whereas Agassi liked the baseline, hard hitting returning game. Fittingly, over the course of 34 games they played, Sampras led 9-3.
But, here’s the catch. Leading into this match, they were tied at 8 wins apiece. But, the loss here, when both were at their peaks proved to be a difficult blow for Agassi, as he would later say. He called it one of his loneliest moments on the Circuit ever. Post this, he plummeted wildly in the rankings, going as low as 141 and their H2H over the next 4 years read 9-3 in Sampras’ favour. He triumphed that day in 4 sets that was a dream for any tennis fan and left Agassi trailing in his wake. The victory seemed sweeter because Agassi had defeated him at the Australian Open final that year itself.
Murray won 7-6, (12-10), 7-5, 2-6, 3-6, 6-2.
Andy Murray finally ended years of being the perennial underachiever and ended an agonising wait of 76 years for Britain to get its next Grand Slam champion. He finally returned home as the ‘Brit who won’, rather than the ‘Scot who lost’.
Fittingly, this happened in a match lasting 4 hours, 54 minutes, thus tying itself as the longest US Open final along with the Wilander-Lendl classic. If you are a sucker for long rallies(which every self respecting tennis fan is), this match played out like a dream, with both Gladiators amping it up and taking things to the limit. Sample this-that dazzling first set tiebreak, which lasted 22 points, itself featured 10 points which were played out over 10 shots or more. Oh, and there was a 55 shot rally too.
Just when Djokovic should have been shattered after losing 2 sets agonisingly, he called upon his infinite well of stamina, to power through the next 2 sets and take the match into a decider. But, just when the momentum looked to have truly shifted, Murray jumped into a 3-0 lead in the final set and comfortably played it out to win his first grand Slam. A nation rejoiced.