U.S. Open an occasion for anniversaries
It's the start of a new decade, which means we should be able to expect -- for reasons that no one can quite explain -- the inevitable triggering of another historic U.S. Open occasion. We take a look back at the many notable anniversaries that have marked the past quarter century.
Andre Agassi's last run. At 35, he reached the finals versus defending champion Roger Federer. At one point, it was a set-all with Agassi leading 4-2, 30-love. But Federer rallied, played brilliantly to win a third-set tiebreaker 7-1 and ran through the fourth, 6-1.
Having lost four Grand Slam finals, Kim Clijsters surely was wondering if she would ever break through. Deliverance came in New York when Clijsters earned a career-defining comeback win over Venus Williams in the quarterfinals, a snappy three-setter over Maria Sharapova in the semis and a final-round dismantling of Mary Pierce.
A year earlier, Venus Williams had watched her younger sister Serena steal her thunder by becoming the first of the sisters to win a Grand Slam singles title. But little could stop Venus in New York in 2000. Fighting back from down 3-5 in the third versus world No. 1 Martina Hingis in the semis, Venus built on that momentum to earn a satisfying triumph over Lindsay Davenport in the finals.
On the men's side, all seemed business as usual when veteran Pete Sampras took the court against mercurial Marat Safin. Surely the Russian would feel the nerves against the great Sampras on the biggest stage in tennis. Guess again. In straight sets, Safin obliterated Sampras, boldly striking repeatedly with thundering serves and groundstrokes.
Giddy, giggling and grunting, Monica Seles returned to competition more than two years after a stabbing took her off the tour. She made her way to the finals, where she and Steffi Graf played a superb three-set final. It was also an emotional fortnight for Graf, who was playing amid a cloud while her father faced tax evasion charges. Graf won the final in three sets, but both players felt redeemed.
The zenith of the Sampras-Agassi rivalry. Agassi was ranked No. 1 in the world, but Sampras won Wimbledon, and so they fought it out in New York. Sampras took charge, with this fine match highlighted by Sampras snapping up the first set by concluding a blistering 22-shot rally with a backhand winner.
When the 1990 U.S. Open started, 19-year-old Pete Sampras was seeded 12th but was strictly a bundle of wiry potential. Overcoming a case of food poisoning to grub out a fourth-round match against rugged Thomas Muster, Sampras proceeded to embark on what he would call "a pup going through a zone." In the quarters, he ended Ivan Lendl's eight-year run to the finals. In the semis against hometown hero John McEnroe, Sampras showed the cool of a cucumber in comprehensively dispatching an icon. And although the underdog in the finals versus Andre Agassi, Sampras treated the ball and his opponent with thorough contempt, handily winning in straight sets to become the youngest man ever to win the U.S. Open singles title.
Perennial bridesmaid Gabriela Sabatini revamped her game, coming to net more and jolting world No. 1 Steffi Graf in the finals to earn the only Grand Slam of the Argentine's career.
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Having lost in the finals the previous three years, Ivan Lendl found the fourth time to be the charm. In his Saturday semi, he beat the man who had taken him down in the '82 and '83 finals, Jimmy Connors. The next day, facing defending champ John McEnroe, Lendl was down 2-5 in the first set but rallied to take that set and the next two. It was the beginning of a three-peat reign for Lendl.
Another Czech, Hana Mandlikova, had the tournament of her life, knocking off Chris Evert in the semis and then, in the finals, squeaking by Martina Navratilova in a third-set tiebreaker.
Sixteen-year-old Steffi Graf reached her first Grand Slam semifinal. Best effort: A superb quarterfinal on the Grandstand Court versus Pam Shriver, as Graf fought back from 1-4 down in the third to win it 7-6, 6-7, 7-6.
Joel Drucker is based in Oakland, Calif., and writes for Tennis Magazine and Tennis Channel.
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