The US Open has seen its share of dazzling accomplishments since opening its doors to both pros and amateurs at the dawn of the Open era in 1968. In this week’s Best of 3, we take a look at the Open era men who have stood out above the rest. (Check back next week for the Open era’s most outstanding women’s accomplishments.)
Jimmy Connors: Titles on Three Different Surfaces
Jimmy Connors holds a record that will most likely never be matched: He is the only player, man or woman, to have won US Open singles titles on grass, clay and hard courts.
The first title came on turf at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, N.Y., in 1974, when Connors blitzed Ken Rosewall, 6-1, 6-0, 6-1, in the most lopsided final in US Open history. That would also prove to be the last Open on grass, until that point the tournament’s sole surface since its inception in 1881. The next year Forest Hills switched to Har-Tru, or green clay, but the change proved only a speed bump for Connors. He reached the final in 1975 and won his second title in 1976, over Bjorn Borg.
In 1978, the US Open moved to Flushing Meadows and adopted an egalitarian hard court as its surface of choice. Connors again adjusted, again dispatching Borg for his third of five career men’s singles crowns – bookending with titles a peculiar five-year stretch unlike any seen in Grand Slam tennis.
Ivan Lendl: Eight Consecutive Finals
Ivan Lendl reached his first US Open men’s singles final in 1982, falling to Jimmy Connors in four sets. That would kick off an unprecedented run in Flushing Meadows, with the Czech returning to the title match each year through the end of the decade, three finals setbacks turning to three consecutive titles before two more defeats.
In all, Lendl faced four different Hall of Famers in his eight finals: Connors (1982-83), John McEnroe (1984-85), Mats Wilander (1987-88) and Boris Becker (1989). And his streak was snapped by another one: Pete Sampras, who defeated Lendl in five sets in the 1990 quarterfinals en route to his first Grand Slam title.
The closest to matching Lendl’s great eight are Roger Federer, who reached six finals in a row from 2004 to 2009, and Connors, who went five straight from 1974 to 1978. The women’s record holder is Chris Evert, who advanced to six consecutive finals from 1975 to 1980.
Roger Federer: Five Titles in a Row
It took Roger Federer a bit of time to warm to the US Open. He failed to advance past the fourth round in his first four trips to New York, and by the time he arrived at Flushing Meadows for the 2004 US Open, he had already won the Australian Open (once) and Wimbledon (twice) and reached the quarterfinals at the French Open.
But once the Swiss solved the Open’s boisterous atmosphere and concrete floors, he never looked back. Federer ran through five consecutive titles from 2004 to 2008, defeating past US Open champions Lleyton Hewitt, Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick in his first three finals and future Open winners Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray in his last two.
Federer’s streak ended in stunning fashion – a five-set loss to 20-year-old Juan Martin del Potro in the 2009 final – but his run of success is unmatched. In fact, in the Open era, only Ivan Lendl (1985-87) and John McEnroe (1978-81) have won even three consecutive men’s titles, and Chris Evert’s women’s record stands at four (1975-78).