This year, as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the US Open, we’re counting down the 50 most memorable moments in the history of America’s Grand Slam. Today, we take a look back at No. 8.
Every year, from his debut in 1970 through the 1980s, Jimmy Connors had a deep, enduring and almost symbiotic relationship with the US Open. He won the championships of his country five times, sealing his victories on three different surfaces. No one else in history, man or woman, has done that.
Moreover, Connors was the central performer at the Open for a long while. It was his favorite playground, the atmosphere he relished, the stage he most enjoyed performing on. In so many ways, Jimmy Connors and the US Open were made for each other.
Connors celebrated so many signature moments at the Open – routing Ken Rosewall in an immaculate 1974 final, toppling Bjorn Borg in the 1976 and 1978 finals, upending Ivan Lendl against the odds in the 1982 and 1983 finals. In turn, he lost a pair of magnificent semifinals in 1980 and 1984 against John McEnroe that would live long in the imaginations of all who observed those clashes.
And yet when his career was over, after all was said and done, Connors would recollect and appreciate his 1991 run to the semifinals at the age of 39 as his most satisfying time as a tennis player. He was a wild card that year, ranked No. 174 in the world, not expecting much and hoping for everything. In the first round, Connors was in dire straights, down two sets to love under the lights against Patrick McEnroe, trailing 0-3 in the third set. Somehow, Connors climbed out of that corner.
He then moved past Michael Schapers, No. 10 seed Karen Novacek and, most memorably, Aaron Krickstein. In his Labor Day appointment against Krickstein, Connors rallied from 2-5 in the fifth set to win in a tiebreak. That put him in the quarterfinals against Dutchman Paul Haarhuis, and he battled back to win, 4-6, 7-6, 6-4, 6-2, after his opponent served for the second set at 5-4.
The startling journey of Connors concluded in the semifinals against French Open champion Jim Courier, who came through comfortably in straight sets. But what Connors did across that fortnight overwhelmed and overshadowed everyone else, including the two worthy victors, Stefan Edberg and Monica Seles.
More than a decade after his sparkling 1991 Open, Connors was asked to choose his most memorable moment at the US Open. He replied without hesitation, “1991. That was the best 11 days of my career.”
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