US Open: Memorable matches
With the US Open now just days away, I've taken a look back at some of the matches I remember most from the tournament in days gone by.
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Flushing Meadows has provided some great memories over the years. Hopefully I recall some of them for you but if you do have any others to add, you can let me know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or you can send your thoughts via Twitter to @NetTalkTennis.
Any way, here are my memorable matches:
Novak Djokovic beat Rafael Nadal, 6-2 6-4 6-7 6-1, final, 2011
We don't have to go back far for the first match to make this list. 2011 was the year of Djokovic and he underlined it with a mesmerising display in yet another Monday final in New York. The fact there were some empty seats due to the postponement from the scheduled Sunday finish was bordering on criminal, for the tennis served up by the world's top two players was sensational. Rallies of more than 30 shots were in evidence as the sport's two best retrievers showed what they were capable of. Djokovic won six straight games to take the opening set and when he went 2-0 up it appeared victory was surely his. Nadal is a player always up for a five-set war though and when Djokovic failed to serve out the third set, he pounced in the tie-break to grab a lifeline. With an ailing Djokovic needing treatment on his back, all of a sudden his opponent looked the favourite but instead he hit the wall as fans witnessed the rare sight of the Spaniard showing signs of fatigue. This time Djokovic took his chance.
Justine Henin-Hardenne beat Jennifer Capriati 4-6 7-5 7-6, semi-final, 2003
A match memorable for its tightness but most of all the fact that the victor ended up on a drip, such were her levels of dehydration. Capriati served for the match twice and on numerous occasions was just two points from victory. Yet a place in the final of her home Grand Slam would continue to elude her. Indeed she would never play in the US Open final. The reason on this occasion was Henin's dogged determination. Despite her cramping body, the Belgian simply refused to wilt. She had shown what she was all about at the French Open earlier that season and she would make it two Slams in 2003 with her mammoth effort in New York. This was the year that shaped her career; some would say this match did. There were serious concerns that the Belgian would not be able to play the final which began less than 20 hours after this contest finished. Criticism of the schedule naturally followed. Ten years on and finally organisers have added a day's rest between the semis and final.
Novak Djokovic beat Roger Federer, 6-7 4-6 6-3 6-2 7-5, semi-final, 2011
The match of that return. Federer, the only man to have beaten Djokovic in a completed match that season at the time, played superbly for two sets but then went off the boil as his Serbian foe quickly got back into match. A fifth set ensued and Federer rediscovered his form. Moving to match point at 5-3 40-15, Federer made a first serve only to see a sensational forehand return fly back past him, landing just inside the sideline. Having gone for broke, Djokovic raised his hands above his head to milk the applause and smiled wryly. A second match point was duly saved - just as it had been 12 months previously at the very same stage - and a mentally shot Federer did not win another game.
Stefan Edberg beat Michael Chang, 6-7 7-5 7-6 5-7 6-4, semi-final, 1992
At five hours and 26 minutes, this remains the longest match in US Open history and what a cracker it was. Not necessarily for the quality of the tennis - it was an error-filled match, as shown by Edberg's double-fault tally of 18 - but it had drama in bucket-loads with the gripped Flushing Meadows fans, not to mention UK TV viewers, rarely knowing which way this one would turn next. Given Edberg's serve-volley game was employed, the fact this match lasted as long as it did is perhaps the most remarkable aspect. But the Swede, who would go on to defend the title he had won 12 months previous, was prepared to trade from the baseline with the run-all-day American whenever necessary. Edberg showed great mental fortitude to come back from a break down in the final set to triumph. He returned the next day to beat Pete Sampras in the final.
Pete Sampras beat Andre Agassi, 6-3 6-4 5-7 6-4, final, 2002
Without a tournament victory in two years, Sampras, winner of 13 Grand Slam titles, had reached the point where he simply wasn't expected to challenge for the top prizes. An ignominious defeat to George Bastl at his second home of Wimbledon a few weeks earlier had appeared to signal the beginning of the end for 'Pistol Pete'. However, everything fell into place at the US Open. Briton Greg Rusedski actually helped, riling Sampras with some pre-match comments. He duly paid the price as Sampras got his feared serve firing to win a tight contest in the third round. As the confidence began to flow, Sampras pressed on, arriving at the final to face old rival Agassi. The two thirty-somethings produced a classic match of enthralling tennis. Sampras' serve looked impregnable in the early stages but Agassi found a way into the match in the third set and put Sampras under constant pressure with some fantastic returns in the fourth. However, as in his heyday, Sampras was able to fend off the break points with unreturnable serves as he edged through the set to claim his 14th major. It was to prove the final match of Sampras' career.
Jennifer Capriati beat Serena Williams, 2-6 6-4 6-4, quarter-final, 2004
Few matches can boast as great a legacy as this one. Some dreadful line calls which went against Williams in the final set - including a particular howler of an overrule by umpire Mariana Alves - proved costly for her title hopes but helped usher in the computerised Hawk-eye system. US Open officials were forced to apologise to Williams, although tournament director Jim Curley said such errors were "part of the game". Not for long. The Hawk-eye technology was already in development but such was the controversy surrounding such a high-profile match between two American greats that the authorities almost had to introduce it. Capriati was the beneficiary on this occasion - although a fat lot of good it did her. For the second year in a row, she would lose her semi-final in a final-set tie-break. She would never get to play in her home Grand Slam final.
Roger Federer beat Lleyton Hewitt, 6-0 7-6 6-0, final, 2004
Not here for its competitive nature, this match makes the list as it was one of the greatest performances you could ever wish to see in a Grand Slam final. Having taken over at the top of the game earlier that year, Federer demolished a former world number one in ruthless fashion. To win two bagel sets in a major final is virtually unheard of, but so hot was Federer on this day that he left Hewitt beaten, battered and bewildered. At least the second set was competitive, but that's clutching at straws.
Kim Clijsters beat Serena Williams, 6-4 7-5, semi-final, 2009
Clijsters' US Open run of 2009 is the stuff of legend. Playing just the third tournament of her comeback following the birth of her daughter, the Belgian, who needed a wild card just to play in the event, stormed through to the latter stages. A previous-round victory over Serena's sister Venus saw her produce some superb tennis but many expected the younger sibling to prove too tough a nut to crack in the last four. How wrong they were. Using the stunning off-forehand to full effect, Clijsters rattled her American opponent and the match exploded as it reached a climax. Called for a second-serve foot fault which brought up match point for Clijsters, Williams unleashed a verbal tirade against the line judge. A threat to 'kill' the official is disputed but whatever was said, a code violation followed, resulting in the loss of a point - the match was Clijsters'.
Pete Sampras beat Alex Corretja, 7-6 5-7 5-7 6-4 7-6, quarter-final, 1996
Sampras is best remembered for his stunning serve but to those who saw this match, his fighting spirit will live long in the memory. His inspired Spanish foe had not been supposed to push him so hard but in the end it needed a great final-set fightback - and then some - for Sampras to come through. The match moved into a fifth hour in the final-set tie-break at which point the home-crowd favourite literally vomited onto the court. Yet somehow he was able to survive, winning the breaker 9-7. The title would follow a few days later.
Jimmy Connors beat Aaron Krickstein 3-6 7-6 1-6 6-3 7-6, 4th rd, 1991
Veteran Connors proved the story of the 1991 tournament, reaching the semi-finals, but this is the match everyone talks about. Celebrating his 39th birthday, Connors came back from the brink against a player 15 years his junior. The five-time champion - his first title was won in 1974 - came from two sets to one down to level the match but looked down and out when he fell 5-2 behind in the decider. However, roared on by a typically vociferous New York crowd, Connors somehow summoned his famous fighting spirit to survive in a final-set tie-break. Despite the match lasting four hours and 41 minutes, Connors was still able to win his following match but a dream final appearance proved beyond him as Jim Courier halted his amazing run in the last four.