When historians weigh in on the greatest days ever celebrated at the US Open, the discussion among these experts almost always starts and ends with Sept. 8, 1984. On that splendid "Super Saturday," the program was scintillating. The opening contest was a senior final between 1971 US Open champion Stan Smith and 1973 victor John Newcombe, with Smith triumphing in a come-from-behind three-set match. Next up was the first men’s semifinal match, featuring French Open champion Ivan Lendl against the dynamic Pat Cash of Australia, with Lendl saving a match point before subduing his adversary in a fifth-set tiebreak. Martina Navratilova followed with a dramatic 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 victory over Chrissie Evert in the women's final, defeating her old rival for the 13th straight time, winning largely on willpower. And then in the second men’s semifinal, John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors—the two outstanding left-handed Americans—went five sets in a classic, with McEnroe prevailing. From 11:07 in the morning until 11:16 at night, it was an incomparable day of tennis.
But nine years and two days earlier, there was another spellbinding day of tennis at Forest Hills that belongs high on the US Open list of gems. This one commenced with Sweden's implacable Bjorn Borg taking on Jimmy Connors in a first-rate semifinal. A year later, they would meet in an epic final, but in this penultimate-round clash, Connors was too good on the biggest points, upending the Swede by the symmetrical score of 7-5, 7-5, 7-5.
That set the stage for a delightful women's final between two of the most elegant players in the history of tennis: the free-wheeling Evonne Goolagong of Australia vs. the thoroughly disciplined and sound backcourt disciple from Florida named Christine Marie Evert. Goolagong had already appeared in her first Open final two year earlier, falling in three sets to countrywoman Margaret Smith Court in three sets. In 1974, Goolagong had put on a dazzling shot-making show against Billie Jean King. Both players had the Forest Hills crowd gasping in astonishment at their breathtaking rallies, with King ultimately winning, 3-6, 6-3, 7-5.
Both of those skirmishes were fought out on grass courts. This 1975 meeting was the first US Open final held on clay, or Har-Tru, to be more precise. Evert's clay-court record was nothing less than astounding; she was in the midst of a record 125-match winning streak on that surface. Despite the fact that Goolagong had beaten Evert in two majors the previous year, Evert was the overwhelming favorite to win on her favorite surface.
The fact remained that the seemingly carefree yet ever-gifted Goolagong was entirely at home on clay, mixing up her game with slice and topspin backhands, running balls down with verve and joy, displaying her capacity to unleash improbable winners with almost casual ease. Evert would often say that one of her primary problems when playing Goolagong was not getting distracted by the grace of her opponent.
Evert, of course, was the American, and that presumably would have made her the clear favorite of the New York crowd. Moreover, she had lost in the semifinals of her first four US Opens, and this was her chance to make amends and win the championship of her country for the first time. No wonder she felt an unusual degree of pressure to come through on this occasion.
The first set was very closely contested, and it could have gone either way. But Goolagong took it largely on the strength of her versatile and brilliant backhand. Evert was a pillar of consistency from the backcourt, and her two-handed backhand was impenetrable. But she could not stop Goolagong, who was inspired and spontaneously brilliant in taking the opening set, 7-5. The second set was almost as close. The score was locked at 4-4. Evert was two games away from what would have been a devastating defeat. But she kept her shots deep, gave little away and played entirely to the score; it was imperative to stick strictly with the percentages and coax errors from Goolagong.
That is what happened. Evert took that set but soon fell behind 1-2 in the third, as Goolagong seemed revitalized. Not for long. Evert collected five games in a row to come away with the US Open title, winning 5-7, 6-4, 6-2 over a very worthy rival. Recollecting that victory not long ago, she said, "I remember looking up at my mother after the match, and she was sobbing hysterically. I felt kind of embarrassed because I am more like my dad was in not showing my emotions. That was a seesaw match with Evonne. I felt I had better focus on clay than she did, but Evonne was so brilliant and talented. Winning that tournament meant a lot to me."
After Evert had defeated Goolagong in that high-quality, three-set confrontation, the Spaniard Manuel Orantes played Guillermo Vilas of Argentina for the right to meet Connors in the final. This match would start on the evening of Sept. 6 but conclude in the wee small hours of Sept. 7. It was a tremendous battle of left-handers, with Vilas displaying his heavy topspin and Orantes countering with more traditional, flatter strokes.
Vilas seemed certain to win when he took the first two sets and then built a 2-0 lead in the third. Orantes swept six consecutive games to win that set, but then the Argentine was ahead 5-0 in the fourth set. He would have five match points all together but eventually fell in five sets. Somehow, Orantes recovered from that debilitating duel, cutting down Connors, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3, the next afternoon.
The startling Orantes' upset of Connors was a nice way to end the tournament, but for those of us who were there, for longtime observers of the tournament, for people with a keen sense of history, the "Super Saturday" package of the two men's semifinals and the women's final in 1975 was one of the most memorable days ever at the US Open.