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Best of 3: Final-set tiebreaks

Monica Seles, 1991 US Open (Getty Images)
Photo by:  (Getty Images)

The US Open is the only Grand Slam that has a final-set tiebreak, ensuring that the deciding set doesn’t last for extra hours (or days, if you’re John Isner and Nicolas Mahut at Wimbledon). The drama in these high-quality matches reaches a crescendo as fans know that hours of intense play will ultimately be decided by a few points.

There are always a few matches each year that end up going to a final-set tiebreak, but only a handful of them have become instant classics. In this week’s Best of 3, we take a look at the US Open matches that ended in final-set tiebreaks that fans are still talking about decades later.

Jimmy Connors d. Aaron Krickstein, 3-6, 7-6, 1-6, 6-3, 7-6 (1991 fourth round)

If you missed this classic match as it unfolded, you’ve definitely seen it during a US Open rain delay over the past 25 years. The build-up is now legendary: Connors, ranked No. 174, accepted a wild card that had more to do with legacy than current form. But the five-time US Open champion once again found himself invigorated by the New York crowds and ended up in the second week, where he faced fellow American Aaron Krickstein on his 39th birthday.

Connors worked the crowd, sparred with the referee and used an arsenal of off-speed shots to frustrate Krickstein for more than four hours. Just before the final-set breaker, he looked at the camera and declared, “This is what they paid for. This is what they want.”

With his larger-than-life personality and classic game on full display, Connors hit a volley winner on match point and leapt in the air, saluting all four corners of Louis Armstrong Stadium. He would go on to reach the semifinals before losing to fellow American Jim Courier.

Monica Seles d. Jennifer Capriati, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (1991 semifinals)

In a match widely regarded as the introduction of the power game in women’s tennis, these two teenagers traded big grunts and even bigger ground strokes for nearly two hours. It appeared that Seles would race through the match after going up a set and 3-1, but the American tennis darling reeled off five straight games to force a deciding set.

Capriati served for the match twice, but the prospect of reaching her first Grand Slam final proved too overwhelming. Seles clawed her way back and eventually took the match with a forehand winner. Afterward, a tearful Capriati raised eyebrows by lamenting that she should have been even more aggressive. Seles went on to defeat Martina Navratilova in the final for her first of two US Open titles.

Andre Agassi d. James Blake, 3-6, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3, 7-6 (2005 quarterfinals)

Having grown up in nearby Yonkers, Blake was arguably the only player who could match Agassi as a fan favorite at the US Open. Competing in his first Grand Slam quarterfinal, Blake produced lights-out tennis for the first two sets of their match under the lights in Arthur Ashe Stadium.

But Agassi, 10 years older than Blake, showed his trademark resilience and fitness by bringing the match to a deciding set and even appearing fresher than his opponent. In the early morning hours, Blake served for the match at 5-4 but was broken after a pair of crushing returns from Agassi. The two-time US Open champion hit a return winner on his second match point and both players embraced at the net.

"At 1:15 in the morning, for 20,000 people to still be here, I wasn't the winner,” Agassi said afterward. “Tennis was."