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Unseeded and looming: Best Open runs

September 9, 2017 - 2017 US Open Women's Singles Champion Sloane Stephens.

Sloane Stephens' run to her first Grand Slam title on Saturday was as historic as it was feel-good: with the victory, the American became the lowest-ranked player to raise the trophy in New York since the computer rankings began in 1975.

With her comeback from a foot injury well-documented, Stephens had been at a career-high ranking of No. 11 in 2013, but came into the US Open ranked No. 83.

Stephens' run to the title, where she beat four seeded opponents, got us thinking: who else was unseeded and looming – and lived up to the billing – in US Opens past?

Here's a look back at some of the best. 

Kim Clijsters - Champion (2009)

In just her third event following her return after the birth of her first child, Kim Clijsters was a Grand Slam champion – again.

Having played two events in that year's US Open Series, the 2005 champion was given a wild card in the final major of 2009. She became the first wild card ever to reach the US Open final, with wins over Venus and Serena Williams en route to the championship, where she conquerered Caroline Wozniacki in straight sets to win her second US Open.

She also became the first mother to win a Grand Slam title since Evonne Goolagong Cawley won Wimbledon in 1980, as the title kicked off a "second" career where she won a total of three Grand Slams and returned to the world No. 1 ranking

Angelique Kerber - Semifinals (2011)

She raised the trophy in 2016, but the German lefty announced herself at the US Open five years earlier with a stunning run to the 2011 semifinals. 

Kerber entered the tournament ranked world No. 92, but certainly didn't play like it in her run to the final four. She defeated No. 12 seed Agnieszka Radwanska in the second round, and another eventual champion in No. 26 seed Flavia Pennetta in the quarterfinals. 

She was one set away from the final after splitting sets with eventual champion and No. 9 seed Samantha Stosur, but went two steps better in winning it all five years later – and rising to world No. 1 as a result.

Roberta Vinci - Final (2015)

Vinci played her part in a historic all-Italian women's final at the US Open by denying Serena Williams her own bit of history. Williams came into Flushing Meadows looking to win the calendar-year Grand Slam after winning the first three majors of the season, but the unseeded Vinci had other plans in their semifinal.

From a set down, Vinci rallied past Williams, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4, as the five-time Grand Slam doubles champion reached her first major final in singles before finishing runner-up to Pennetta. Her exploits at the US Open in part to helped her rise to a career-high ranking of No. 7 in May 2016.

Venus Williams - Final (1997)

It was a breakout tournament for the 17-year-old Venus in 1997, as she raced through to the final in her first US Open, which doubled as the first year of Arthur Ashe Stadium. 

Her run was ended by world No. 1 Martina Hingis in the championship, but she became the first woman since Pam Shriver in 1978 to reach a US Open singles final in her first main draw appearance, and was the first unseeded US Open women's singles finalist since 1958. 

Kim Clijsters and her daughter at the 2009 US Open (Getty Images)
Photo by:  (Getty Images)

Jimmy Connors - Semifinals (1991)

At age 39, five-time champion Jimmy Connors cemented himself in US Open lore in 1991. A a wild card, Connors made a run to the quarterfinals in an effort that became the subject of an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary ("This Is What They Want") and saw its share of epic comebacks.

He defeated Patrick McEnroe from two sets to love down in the first round, and rallied from two sets to one down against Aaron Krickstein in the fourth round – a match which itself became the stuff of legend as it aired on CBS during many tournament rain delays in the years since. 

Connors' run came to an end at the hands of eventual runner-up Jim Courier in the final four.

Mardy Fish - Quarterfinals (2008)

Mardy Fish was the feel-good story at the US Open in 2008, and for good reason. The American defeated three seeded players to captivate the home crowd en route to a run to the last eight, which set up a meeting with top seed Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals. 

Inside Arthur Ashe Stadium under the lights, Fish played an inspired brand of tennis to snag the opening set, only to fall to Nadal, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4, 6-2. In what was a late night in the Open that year, the two players finished the match at 2:11 a.m., which is just 15 minutes shorter than the latest US Open finish. 

Jarkko Nieminen - Quarterfinals (2005)

While Sweden had its share of Grand Slam glory, its Scandinavian neighbor Finland didn't have much of a pedigree – that is, until Jarkko Nieminen came along.

Helped in part by an open section of the draw vacated by Australian Open champion Marrat Safin's withdrawal in 2005, the Finn made his first of three career Grand Slam quarterfinals. He became the first from his country to reach the last eight at a major, and saw his run ended by No. 3 seed Lleyton Hewitt in five sets – after having a two-sets-to-one lead.

Greg Rusedski - Final (1997)

Having never won a match in three previous main draw appearances at the US Open, Rusdeski had a breakout tournament in 1997 to reach his only Grand Slam singles final.

The Brit, who came off of a quarterfinal appearance at Wimbledon, took advantage of an open section of the draw after No. 4 seed Goran Ivanisevic went out in the first round, and didn't drop a set en route to the semifinals. 

The tournament proved to be a highlight for Rusedski, who reached just one fourth round in nine subsequent US Open appearances.