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Jackie Berkery
Published: Sep. 04, 2019

US Open Tennis: Memorable Moments in History


 

Well, the US Open tennis tournament has done it again, giving us all an incredible two weeks of action and entertainment to help close out the summer. The US Open tennis 2019 dates provided us with 14 consecutive days of competitive tennis involving hundreds of the best players in the world. It's been almost too much tennis to absorb in such a short period of time – but we've loved every minute. Now that the 2019 US Open is coming to an end, it’s a perfect time to take a look back at the history of the tournament to see how the latest version compares with all of the other amazing moments in US Open tennis history.

 

Different Time, Different Place

Most tennis fans know that the US Open is one of four major tournaments on the calendar every year along with Wimbledon, the French Open, and the Australia Open. But most people don’t know that the tournament has roots that go back to 1881. Back then, it was known as the U.S. National Championship and was played on grass courts in Newport, Rhode Island. From 1884 to 1911, the tournament had an unusual format in which the champion from the previous year would automatically qualify for the finals, leaving all other participants fighting for the right to face the reigning champion in the finals. And it wasn’t until 1887 and 1899 when women’s singles and doubles, respectively, were added to the tournament.

 

The Big House

The USTA National Tenner Center (also known as the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center) in Flushing Meadows, Queens has become synonymous with the US Open tennis tournament – but the tournament has only been held there since 1978. When the location of the US Open changed, so did the playing surface. The tournament was played on grass from its inception in 1881 until 1974, then switched to clay for three years before changing to hard court in 1978. Today, it’s impossible to envision playing the US Open anywhere but Flushing Meadows, especially with the famous Arthur Ashe Stadium as the centerpiece, where all of the top matches have taken place since it opened in 1997.

 

On Every Surface

You now know that there have been three different types of surfaces used for the US Open during the course of its history. It's a fact that gives American player Jimmy Connors a unique record that will likely never be matched, as he’s the only player to win the tournament on all three surfaces. Connors won in 1974 on grass, 1976 on clay, and then won three times on hard court, the first in 1978. On the women’s side, Chris Evert is the only player to win on two surfaces at the US Open. She won four years in a row from 1975 to 1978, covering the three years it was on clay and the first year the tournament switched to hard court.

 

What a Comeback

The women’s singles finals of the 1995 US Open is one of the most talked-about matches in the history of the tournament. That year, the tournament served as the comeback event for Monica Seles, who had been stabbed by a crazed fan two years earlier. It was her first major tournament after two years away from competitive action, and Seles dominated the tournament, winning every set she played on her way to the finals against Stefi Graf. However, after battling injuries throughout the tournament, Graf got the better of Seles in the finals, winning 7-6, 0-6, 6-4. Despite the loss, it was an incredible performance by Seles throughout the tournament following her extended absence from the game.

 

A Bedtime Story

Without question, one of the oddest things to ever happen at the US Open took place in 1979. It was a seemingly innocuous second-round match between Romanian Ilie Năstase and John McEnroe. The crowd was lively for the nighttime match, and emotions were high for both players. At one point, Năstase felt victimized by an umpire’s call, and in a form of protest, he pretended to sleep on the court, putting his racket under his head as if it were a pillow. After the Romanian refused to stand up and play, he was ruled to have defaulted the match, giving the win to McEnroe. The crowd reacted by yelling obscenities and throwing things onto the court. Eventually, tournament director Bill Talbert intervened, allowing Năstase to continue after what was later known as “18 minutes of chaos.” In the end, McEnroe won the match in four sets and went on to win the tournament.

 

The Last Goodbye

The 2006 US Open is best remembered for being the farewell tournament of tennis legend Andre Agassi. His lack of playing in the preceding months due to back and leg pain made Agassi an unseeded player in the tournament. He required injections of painkillers both before and after matches but managed to win his first two matches, including an upset of Marcos Baghdatis, who was the no. 8 seed. However, his physical pain and limitations caught up with him after that match, and he lost in four sets to Benjamin Becker. When the match was over, the crowd of 23,000, as well as Becker, gave Agassi a four-minute-long standing ovation. When the ovation ended, Agassi addressed the crowd through tears, saying: “I will take you and the memory of you with me for the rest of my life” in his emotional and final goodbye to the game of tennis.

 

 


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