Though the singles tournament is perennially the star attraction at the US Open, great doubles has always been part of New York menu. Hall of Fame greats like John Newcombe, Stefan Edberg, Stan Smith, Jimmy Connors, Ken Rosewall, Fred Stolle, Billie Jean King, Margaret Smith Court, Venus and Serena Williams and Ilie Nastase all have their names on the US Open doubles honor roll.
Doubles is a banquet feast for the tennis connoisseur, featuring an intoxicating mix of grace and power, lightning fast points and shot-making creativity that is not usually seen in singles.
Championship teams, however, are built on more than just winning strokes. Great duos have precision teamwork, moving together in sync and almost as one on the court, and have a perfect mesh of personalities.
In this week’s Best of 3, we take a look at the US Open’s most legendary doubles teams of the Open era, all of which had one thing in common – they had one left- and one right-handed player.
Martina Navratilova and Pam Shriver
The first time this pair met at the US Open, in 1978, they were on opposite sides of the net. There, the then-16-year-old Shriver earned a surprising upset over top-seeded Navratilova in the semifinals.
Three short years later, the two talented players joined forces and found quick success on the doubles court, forming a partnership that would last for more than eight years. In total, Navratilova and Shriver went on to win 20 Grand Slam titles and an impressive 79 women’s doubles titles overall. Four of those Grand Slam victories came in New York, as the pair took home the crown in 1983, 84, 86 and 87 – the most of any women’s doubles team in the Open era. They also made the 1985 final, falling to Claudia Kohde-Kilsch and Helena Sukova in three sets, setting another Open era record for five consecutive finals.
In 1984, the pair captured all four major women's doubles titles, achieving the calendar Grand Slam. This was part of a record 109-match winning streak that spanned 1983 to 1985. The duo was also named the WTA doubles team of the year eight consecutive times from 1981 to 1988.
Navratilova and Shriver went their separate ways in 1989, but by then, their legendary status as one of the best doubles teams of all time had been cemented.
John McEnroe and Peter Fleming
No one could have predicted that a pair of local junior players – John McEnroe of Queens and Peter Fleming of New Jersey – would grow into the best doubles team of their generation. The pair won 54 career double titles on tour and were the cornerstone of U.S. Davis Cup teams from the late 1970s through the late 1980s.
The duo won three US Open crowns, four Wimbledon titles and seven at the season-ending Nabisco Masters. Their three titles at Flushing Meadows in 1979, 1981 and 1983 are third-best in the Open era. They also made the final in 1980 for an Open era record of three successive finals.
Their partnership was a mesmerizing contrast of styles, temperament and personalities that somehow blended together perfectly to dominate their peers and enthrall fans with their brilliance.
“He was left, I was right," said Fleming. "I hit it hard, he had touch. I was tall, he was short. We worked so well together."
Bob and Mike Bryan
The Bryan brothers may not have been the first pair of siblings to win a US Open doubles title – that claim to fame belongs to Carr B. and Samuel R. Neel, who achieved the feat in 1896 – but they certainly have been the most successful.
Together, Bob and Mike have reached the US Open men’s doubles final an Open era-record six times, taking home the title in five of them, also an Open era mark. Their five championships tie them with Richard Sears and James Dwight as the most successful male duo of all-time.
In 2012, the brothers made further history by taking home the Olympic gold medal at the London Games, becoming just the fifth tandem ever to win both Olympic gold and the US Open doubles titles overall. The Bryans are also just the third pair in history (and second in the men's game) to win both in the same year.
Over their illustrious careers that began in 1995 and continue today, the two have won a record 112 tour titles and have been finalists on 54 other occasions. In addition to their five US Open titles, the Bryans have won 11 other Grand Slam titles – a total of 16 that is more than any men’s team in the Open era – and they are the only doubles pairing in history to have completed a double career Grand Slam – winning all four Grand Slams at least twice.