Naomi Osaka won her first Grand Slam title after taking on Serena Williams in Saturday’s women’s singles final; the Japanese star hoped to add her name to a list of champions who got their first taste of glory in New York.
After prevailing over her idol, Osaka becomes the 11th woman in the Open Era to win her first major at the US Open. USOpen.org rewinds to the eight other women who have accomplished the feat in the last 30 years, from Hall-of-Famers to one-Slam success stories.
Gabriela Sabatini (1990)
The Argentine had developed a reputation for making it to the tail end of Grand Slams, reaching the 1988 US Open final and seven other Grand Slam semifinals, but never getting over the finish line. But with the New York crowds fervently supporting her, she survived a marathon semifinal over Mary Joe Fernandez and ousted longtime rival Steffi Graf in the final. Sabatini would continue to go deep in majors for the remainder of her career, but never won another before retiring from the tour in 1996.
Lindsay Davenport (1998)
Davenport was always known as an immensely talented ball striker, but critics wondered if her fitness would hold her back from winning majors. After arriving to the US Open in the best shape of her life, she powered into her first Grand Slam final by dropping an average of just four games per match. In a fitting moment during the championship match against Martina Hingis, a speedier Davenport tracked down a drop shot and laced a backhand winner on match point for her first major title. Davenport went on to win two more majors and clinch the No. 1 ranking.
Serena Williams (1999)
Most tennis critics pegged Venus Williams to be the first in the family to win a major, but 17-year-old Serena had other ideas. She rallied from 3-5 down in the final set of her third-round match against Kim Clijsters, then defeated three Grand Slam champions in succession to face World No. 1 Hingis in the final. Serena played one of the best matches of her young career to prevail, raising her arms in disbelief at the moment.
Of course, that was the start of what could be considered to be the greatest career in the Open Era, with Serena one win away from tying Margaret Court at 24 Grand Slam titles.
Svetlana Kuznetsova (2004)
The Russian teenager was considered such a prodigy that Martina Navratilova offered her services as a mentor, even playing doubles with her for the 2003 season. In only her 10th main draw appearance at a major, Kuznetsova took advantage of an upset-filled draw to reach the semifinals, then showed her mettle with back-to-back wins over Lindsay Davenport and Elena Dementieva to clinch the title.
Kuznetsova went on to win one more major, at Roland Garros in 2010, and also finished runner-up at the 2007 US Open, but has struggled at the final Grand Slam of the season in recent years.
Kim Clijsters (2005)
After losing in her first four Grand Slam finals, many questioned whether the affable Belgian had the mental toughness to get over the final hurdle. She did the hard work in 2005 by scoring back-to-back victories over Venus Williams and Maria Sharapova to move into another final, but it was an error-ridden day from Mary Pierce that practically gifted Clijsters her maiden Slam. Clijsters would later go on to win three more Grand Slam titles as a mother, including consecutive US Open triumphs in 2009 and 2010.
Samantha Stosur (2011)
Armed with a heavy kick serve and topspin forehand, the Australian had garnered a reputation for being a nightmare to play at her best and prone to nerves when expectations were placed on her. Stosur was allowed to fly under the radar and assume the underdog role with how her draw played out, enabling her to bring out her A-game. She routed World No. 2 Vera Zvonareva in the quarterfinals and played the best match of her career to convincingly defeat Serena in the championship match.
Although Stosur remains a staple player on tour, she hasn’t reached another major final since then and has gone 5-5 at the US Open in her last five appearances.
Flavia Pennetta (2015)
The graceful Italian had always excelled at the US Open, with five of her six Grand Slam quarterfinal appearances coming in New York. Her run to the title wasn’t exactly smooth at first, with Pennetta being pushed to three sets against Jarmila Gajdosova and Petra Cetkovska. However, she kept improving with each match, eventually landing back-to-back wins against Petra Kvitova and Simona Halep to set up the first all-Italian Grand Slam final against Roberta Vinci.
After she beat Vinci for the title and threw her racquet in the air in sheer joy, Pennetta delivered the ultimate mic drop during her victory speech and announced that she had played her final Grand Slam match. Less than two months later, she retired at the WTA Finals in Singapore.
Sloane Stephens (2017)
In August 2017, the former Top 15 player was ranked No. 957 after sitting out for 12 months due to a foot injury that required surgery. She was barely able to walk four months earlier, but a promising run during the US Open Series propelled a truly unthinkable run to her first major title.
Two points from defeat in her semifinal against Venus Williams, Stephens found a new gear to pick up the win and then dominated Madison Keys in an all-American final. Her first Grand Slam title defense ended with a quarterfinal finish this year, but an outstanding 2018 season seems to indicate that Stephens won’t be a one-Slam wonder.