Top 10 Great Men's Singles U. S. Open matches in the open era

The U. S. Open has produced many great matches. Unlike Wimbledon, many of them have not been in finals. The crowds at the U. S. Open have always been great, providing a tremendous atmosphere. Jimmy Connors once said to someone in the crowd "if you're expecting Wimbledon buddy, you've come to the wrong place". Connors was always at his best at the U. S. Open and had many memorable matches over his long career. In the last few years he even took to commentating on his own matches by shouting things into the on court microphones and TV cameras. That would have been unthinkable at Wimbledon.

Judge for yourself the Top 10 U. S. Open matches selected by this website by watching excerpts of the matches.

 

1. Connors v Krickstein 1991 fourth round    DIRECT LINK TO A YOUTUBE VIDEO OF THIS MATCH

People forget how good a player Aaron Krickstein was. He had reached the U. S. Open semis in 1989 and later reached the Australian Open semis in 1995. If he hadn't had injury problems he may have reached a Grand Slam final. Jimmy Connors was one of the greats of the game but in 1991 he was eight years away from his last Grand Slam title. Connors suffered a major injury to his wrist in 1990 and his career looked over. After a year out, Connors showed glimpses of form at the 1991 French Open and Wimbledon. At the U. S. Open he was two sets to love and 3-0 down against Pat McEnroe in the first round but he fought back to win. The crowd involvement was amazing but was nothing compared to the atmosphere in the Krickstein match on a day when Connors celebrated his 39th birthday. Connors began badly by dropping the opening set. Then there was a close second set tie break. At a crucial moment Connors suffered a bad call against him. Connors erupted at the umpire and the crowd went wild. Then Connors pointed again and again at the umpire after every winning point until he won the tie-break. It was as if Connors had suddenly lost the fear of losing. Even though he had won eight Grand Slam titles and had many great matches in his career, Connors had sometimes suffered from nerves in the crucial moments, particularly against Borg. Suddenly Connors was playing without fear, but even towards the end of the second set he was showing signs of physical fatigue. Connors looked a spent force as he lost the third set 6-1, but then he got his second wind. He won the fourth set. The fifth was an epic. Connors seemed to have nothing left in the tank but it was as if the crowd had taken him over and were giving him energy. At 5-3 Krickstein served for the match, but Connors broke back. The set went to a tie break. Before the tie break started Connors looked up at the crowd. They were having a ball. Connors looked at the camera and said "this is what they paid for. This is what they want". The commentators on the American network were very quiet. It was as if they had been stunned into silence. Krickstein was still giving his all but it was as if the destiny of the match was out of his control. Connors duly won the tie break to win the match. Remarkably, Connors was not done yet. In the quarters against Paul Haarhuis, Haarhuis served for a two set lead but Connors won one of the greatest rallies of all time to break and went on to win in four sets. His run finally came to an end in the semis, when reigning French Open champion Jim Courier beat him in straight sets. Connors played his last Grand Slam event at the 1992 U. S. Open, where he lost in the second round.

 

2. Wilander v Lendl 1988 final    DIRECT LINK TO A YOUTUBE VIDEO OF THIS MATCH

This was the longest U. S. Open final and the greatest in modern times. Ivan Lendl had a point to prove. He had failed to win a Grand Slam title in 1988 and Mats Wilander had won the Australian and the French. If Wilander could win the U. S. Open title then he'd take Lendl's number one ranking. Both players gave everything to try and win. The rallies were long and arduous. Every set was hard fought. Leading by two sets to one and a break at 4-3 in the fourth set, it looked like Wilander's title, but Lendl wasn't done yet. He fought back to win the set 7-5. At 5-4 in the fifth Wilander served for the match and after an epic game held his serve to win his first U. S. Open title and seventh Grand Slam title. He had reached the top of the game but from then on he lost motivation. Wilander was never the same again after that. For some reason people don't talk about the Wilander-Lendl rivalry as much as other great rivalries. This may be because they never played at Wimbledon, but they played nine times at the other Grand Slams with Lendl leading 5-4. They may have both spent most of the time at the baseline involved in long rallies but every shot had a purpose and the mental intensity of their matches made them engrossing.

 

3. Lendl v Cash 1984 semi final    DIRECT LINK TO A YOUTUBE VIDEO OF THIS MATCH

This was a classic match between two top class players. Pat Cash only won one Grand Slam title, but if he had managed to keep injury free and played in a different era when there weren't so many great players around, he would have won lots of Grand Slam titles. Ivan Lendl was one of the greats that Cash found himself up against time and time again in the big tournaments. In the Grand Slams they played six times and won three matches each. In 1984 Cash was only 19 years old. He had shown promise at Wimbledon, where he had beaten Mats Wilander, Kevin Curren and Andres Gomez before losing to world number one John McEnroe in the semis. Lendl had won his first Grand Slam title at the French that year and only McEnroe was ahead of him in the rankings. They shared the first four sets. The fifth set was an epic and it built to a great climax. Both players had had a match point before the set entered a tie break. On Cash's match point, Lendl had hoisted a lob that landed in. Lendl went on to take the tie break to book his place in the final. McEnroe proved too good for him on that occasion, but Lendl then won the event for the next three years.

 

4. McEnroe v Connors 1980 semi final    DIRECT LINK TO A YOUTUBE VIDEO OF THIS MATCH

This was the best match in one of the greatest rivalries ever. John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors had first locked horns in the semis of Wimbledon in 1977, when Connors had won in four sets. Since then they had met in the semis of the U. S. Open in 1978 (Connors had won in straight sets) and 1979 (McEnroe had won in straight sets) and the semis of Wimbledon 1980 (McEnroe had won in four sets). Connors hit a hot streak in the middle of the match. He took a love set off McEnroe, which was very rare indeed. However, McEnroe fought back and he served for the match in the fifth set. Connors broke back. The set went to a tie break. Connors was determined to win but this seemed to make McEnroe more determined. McEnroe won the tie break to book his place in the final, where he beat Bjorn Borg in five sets.

 

5. Sampras v Corretja 1996 quarter final    DIRECT LINK TO A YOUTUBE VIDEO OF THIS MATCH

Pete Sampras had a point to prove going into the 1996 U. S. Open. He had failed to win any of the first three Slams for the first time since 1992. Alex Corretja, the Spanish clay court specialist, played the match of his life. As the match headed towards a fifth set tie break Sampras was showing signs of fatigue. Then, in the early stages of the tie break he started being sick on court. It seemed like he might not be able to finish. He wasn't moving properly but he was so determined to do the best he could. Corretja held match point which Sampras saved with a lunge volley to make the score 6 points all. Sampras stood doubled up on the service line and hit a lame first serve long. Then, suddenly, he stood up to his full height and banged in a second serve ace to set up match point. How he was able to hit that serve will forever remain a mystery. Then Corretja double faulted to hand Sampras the match. It is matches like this that define a great champion. Sampras went on to take the tournament and his career was back on track. Corretja reached the French Open final in 1998 and 2001 but never won a Grand Slam title.

 

6. Edberg v Chang 1992 semi final    DIRECT LINK TO A YOUTUBE VIDEO OF THIS MATCH

This was the tournament when Stefan Edberg showed what a great competitor he was. He had already come from a break down in the fifth set to beat Richard Krajicek and Ivan Lendl before this epic match against Michael Chang. They were on court for well over five hours. It was the longest match ever played in the championships. Every set was hard fought. Chang was at his tenacious best but Edberg was below par. He served countless double faults and his volleying was erratic. He kept fighting though. Even when Chang led by a break in the fifth Edberg kept fighting. He broke back and broke again. Then he served out the match. What was even more remarkable is that the following day Edberg beat Pete Sampras in the final to take his sixth and last Grand Slam title.

 

7. Orantes v Vilas 1975 semi final

This was probably the greatest comeback of all time. This was the first year that the U. S. Open was held on clay. Guillermo Vilas and Manuel Orantes were clay court experts. It was late at night as Vilas established a two sets to one lead and led 5-0 in the fourth. A lot of the crowd had gone home because the result seemed a forgone conclusion. Vilas reached match point at 5-0 but Orantes saved it and won the game. Still, no one believed that Orantes would come back. Orantes saved several more match points and won the set 7-5. By now the news of this extraordinary comeback had spread and some fans had returned to the court. Orantes then won the fifth set to score an amazing victory. Then Orantes beat Jimmy Connors in the final to win his only Grand Slam title. Vilas went on to win the event two years later the last time it was played on clay and also won the French that year. He then won two Australian titles against weak fields.

 

8. Djokovic v Federer 2010 semi final    DIRECT LINK TO A YOUTUBE VIDEO OF THIS MATCH

This was a match in which the best tennis was played in the fifth set (which always makes a great match greater). Novak Djokovic's one Grand Slam title seemed a distant memory as he entered this match against Roger Federer. Federer had beaten Djokovic the previous three years at the U. S. Open. It looked as if Federer would make it four in a row when he had two match points on Djokovic's serve at 4-5 in the fifth set. Djokovic showed immense courage to save the two match points and held serve. Then Federer began to crack and Djokovic broke him to lead 6-5. Djokovic then held serve in a close final game to win the match. After more than two years in the Grand Slam wilderness, Djokovic was back in the big time again.

 

9. McEnroe v Borg 1980 final    DIRECT LINK TO A YOUTUBE VIDEO OF THIS MATCH

1980 proved to be the peak of one of the great rivalries in tennis. Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe were both at the peak of their powers. Borg had managed to hold off McEnroe in a brilliant Wimbledon final. Borg had never won the U. S. Open. McEnroe was the defending champion. McEnroe began well by taking the first two sets. Borg knew he had to play his best tennis if he was going to get back into the match and he did. He came back to level at two sets all. However, McEnroe was stronger in the decider. In 1981 McEnroe beat Borg in the Wimbledon and U. S. Open finals. Then Borg retired.

 

10. Djokovic v Federer 2011 semi final    DIRECT LINK TO A YOUTUBE VIDEO OF THIS MATCH

In 2011 Novak Djokovic faced Roger Federer at the U. S. Open for the fifth year in a row. The difference this time was that Djokovic was seeded above Federer and was the favourite to win. Djokovic seemed to feel the pressure of being the favourite as he lost the first two sets. Then he managed to find some form to level at two sets all. In the fifth Federer served for the match at 5-3 and reached 40-15. However, Djokovic fought back and Federer crumbled. Djokovic took the fifth set 7-5. Federer had lost from two match points up in the fifth set against Djokovic for the second year running. Although the 2010 contest was a very significant match that showed Djokovic was capable of beating the very best players and contending at Grand Slams again, the 2011 match had another dramatic finish and was an even more unlikely comeback than the first, bearing in mind that Federer had his match points when serving for the match.

 

 

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