Tags: Andy Roddick, Elena Dementieva, Friday 10 to 1, Jennifer Capriati, Juan Martin del Potro, justine henin, Kim Clijsters, Lleyton Hewitt, Martina Hingis, Novak Djokovic, Pat Rafter, Pete Sampras, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Sam Stosur, US Open, Venus Williams
There’s something about the US Open that lends itself to classic matches. Perhaps it’s the hard courts, with the true bounce giving players great conditions on which to ply their craft. Or the quickness of the courts, lending themselves to dashing displays of all-court tennis. Perhaps it’s the fans, whose intensity regularly turn seemingly routine matches into entertainment and historical icons.
Maybe it’s a combination of all three, and more. Whatever the reason, the US Open has given us some mighty memorable encounters. And what’s more, they’re improving as time goes on, with some of the best matches coming in the past five to 10 years.
10. Pat Rafter d Pete Sampras – 1998 semifinals
Rafter’s 6-7(8) 6-4 2-6 6-4 6-3 victory over world No.1 Sampras pitted two athletic first-strike players against one another, and between whom there was not a lot of love lost. Just a month earlier in Cincinnati Sampras had termed the difference between he and Rafter as being “about 10 Grand Slams”, adding spice to this New York contest. Despite Sampras sustaining an injury late in the third, it didn’t stop Rafter unleashing his extraordinary net skills to reach his second straight US Open final.
9. Venus Williams d Martina Hingis – 2000 semifinals
The Hingis-Williams rivalry ignited massive interest in the women’s game in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and nowhere was it at its peak more than at the 2000 US Open. Hingis has won their battle at the same stage of the 1999 event in three thrilling sets, before Wimbledon turned the tables with a three-set victory in the 2000 Wimbledon quarters. But the standard went up a notch in this match, as the pair captivated the crowd with exceptional rallies and an exciting contrast of styles. Twelve years on, you’d be hard-pressed to find a WTA match to rival the level of this classic contest, which Williams ultimately won 4-6 6-3 7-5.
8. Lleyton Hewitt d Andy Roddick – 2001 quarterfinals
A feature night match. An American in action. Two young, brash, up-and-comers on the tour, the future of men’s tennis. And a match for the ages. Hewitt and Roddick fought tooth-and-nail for five thrilling sets on Arthur Ashe stadium, the Aussie’s gritty counterpunching the defence against Roddick’s attacking mentality, anchored by a monstrous serve and forehand. While highlights are hard to come by, what can be viewed is Roddick’s meltdown over a line-call deep in the fifth set, adding to the drama of an already incredible match. Hewitt prevailed 6-7(5) 6-3 6-4 3-6 6-4.
7. Justine Henin d Jennifer Capriati – 2003 semifinals
This match is frequently included on Greatest Of All Time Lists, a stunning and gritty comeback from Henin in both the second and third sets and the ferocity of the hitting from both women creating a match to be remembered for years to come. The Belgian was stricken with cramps late in the third but Capriati could not finish her off, and Henin recorded a famous 4-6 7-5 7-6(4) win after more than three punishing hours on Arthur Ashe Stadium.
6. Kim Clijsters d Venus Williams – 2005 quarterfinals
The athleticism and power-hitting displayed by Clijsters and Williams in this match makes for one of the greatest women’s contests in recent memory – the only reason it is perhaps not rated higher was the fact that Williams faded in the final set to hand Clijsters a 4-6 7-5 6-1 win. Some of the rallies were simply incredible, as was Clijsters court coverage, both exemplified in the point beginning at the 7:13 mark of the highlights. It was a monumental win for Clijsters – her first over a Williams sister at a Grand Slam. She went on to win the tournament, her first major title after four finals’ appearances.
5. Justine Henin d Venus Williams – 2007 semifinals
Two years later, Williams succumbed to another Belgian, this time in the form of Justine Henin. Henin’s 7-6(2) 6-4 win featured some of the best tennis the women’s game has ever seen, especially the amazing point that unfolded beginning at the 2:35 mark of the highlights. It was incredible to see Henin at the height of her powers, matching it – and often out-doing – her bigger, stronger rival in the power stakes from the back of the court. She became one of the few people to defeat the Williams sisters at the same event (having beaten Serena in the quarters). Henin went on to win the tournament.
4. Juan Martin del Potro d Roger Federer – 2009 final
This match was incredible for several reasons. First, it featured the devastating backcourt power of the towering del Potro. Second, it was with disbelief that everyone watched a young upstart (not named Nadal) take it to the champion Swiss in such a high-stakes match. And thirdly, it was the first US Open men’s decider to extend to five sets since 1999. Del Potro pulled off one of tennis’s biggest upsets to defeat Federer 3-6 7-6(5) 4-6 7-6(4) 6-2.
3. Sam Stosur d Elena Dementieva – 2010 fourth round
Many people cite Stosur’s epic wins over Nadia Petrova and Maria Kirilenko at the 2011 US Open, and even her finals’ defeat of Serena Williams that year, as some of the more memorable matches in the tournament’s history. But the previous year, her late-night 6-3 2-6 7-6(2) win over Dementieva arguably surpassed all of those in quality and drama. The second point of the highlights is a ripper, ended with a scorching Stosur forehand. The pair traded blows like that for the whole match, with those that stayed until the end (beyond 1:30 am) treated to a classic. Stosur saved four match points en route to a fabulous win.
2. Novak Djokovic d Roger Federer – 2011 semifinals
The pair played out a similarly-stunning semifinal in 2010, where Djokovic saved two match points to edge Federer in five sets. Yet we give the nod to their 2011 bout because, eerily, the same thing happened. Djokovic saved two match points to again win in five, but this time, he saved them when receiving Federer’s serve, the first with an incredible go-for-broke forehand that is still talked about as one of tennis’s finest-ever winners. A match of sublime shotmaking between two of the best, Djokovic’s comeback finished in a 6-7(7) 4-6 6-3 6-2 7-5 victory, and was kick-started by THAT forehand – watch from 8:13 of the Part 2 highlights for the return that flipped the match on its head. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EXNc_iMkSIY
1. Novak Djokovic d Rafael Nadal – 2011 final
The Serb wasn’t done after his five-set defeat of Federer in the semis that year, returning even more energised for the final against Nadal and along with the Spaniard playing out some of the most exciting and physically brutal rallies the sport has ever seen. Despite thinking that you’d seen the one of the best points in history, another would follow shortly after that would have you re-evaluating your earlier opinion. And this went on for four-plus hours – below is one of the more incredible highlight reels you will find. Djokovic needed treatment on his back early in the fourth, but instead of hampering the quality of his tennis, it forced him to go for broke to keep points short – and it paid off. He won 6-2 6-4 6-7(3) 6-1.