Tag Archives: tennis history

Hall of Fame Rings Presented to Nastase, Durr, Pietrangeli, and Clerici in Monaco

Last weekend, during one of the tennis world’s grandest annual celebrations, European royals gathered with tennis legends to celebrate the sport and honor some of its most elite players at a Hall of Fame ring presentation that was hosted during La Grande Nuit du Tennis, the gala event of the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters. Longtime tennis aficionado His Serene Highness Prince Albert II of Monaco presented Hall of Fame rings to four great tennis champions and contributors to the sport. The honored recipients were former world No. 1, Ilie Nastase of Romania; France’s beloved player Françoise “Frankie” Durr; the man heralded as the greatest Italian player of all time, Nicola Pietrangeli; and Italian tennis journalist Gianni Clerici. All four tennis legends have already been honored for their achievements and great contributions to the sport with induction to the International Tennis Hall of Fame. During this ceremony, their official Hall of Fame rings were presented as a symbol of their Hall of Fame induction and their remarkable tennis careers.

In addition to his personal interests as a player and fan, Prince Albert has a long history with the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum. In 1954, his mother, Princess Grace, participated in the ribbon cutting ceremony for the Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island in the United States. In 2004, Prince Albert traveled to Newport to serve as Master of Ceremony for the 50th anniversary celebration, which featured the Hall of Fame induction of Stefanie Graf and Stefan Edberg, and a gathering of all of the living Hall of Famers, including tennis luminaries such as Rod Laver, Virginia Wade, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, and John McEnroe, among others. Prince Albert has served on the Board of Directors for the Hall of Fame, a non-profit institution dedicated to honoring the greatest legends of tennis and preserving the history of the sport.

 Also participating in the ring presentation was International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum Chairman Christopher E. Clouser and CEO Mark L. Stenning, and Zeljko Franulovic, Director of the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters.

 “We are grateful to His Serene Highness Prince Albert II of Monaco and our colleagues at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters for partnering with us on this special occasion,” said Clouser. “It was a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the extraordinary careers of these Hall of Famers in Europe, where they have so many fans and have left such a positive impact on the sport. As Hall of Famers, Ilie, Frankie, Nicola, and Gianni are already among an elite group of athletes. We are pleased to be able to recognize their achievements once more with this special ring, which only the most successful and influential individuals in tennis will have the honor of wearing.”

 With 102 titles to his name, former world No. 1 Ilie Nastase of Romania is one of just five players in tennis history to have won more than 100 titles (57 in singles and 45 in doubles). Nastase was a world top-10 player from 1973-1978 and held the world No. 1 ranking from August 1973-June 1974. He captured seven major titles, including both singles and doubles titles at the French and US Opens, as well as a doubles title and two mixed doubles titles at Wimbledon. Nastase had a remarkable record at the year-end championships as well, winning four Masters Grand Prix year-end championship titles and seven Championship Series titles (1970-73), the precursors to the current Masters 1000. Nastase represented Romania in Davis Cup from the 1960s-1980s, leading the team to the finals three times. Widely regarded as one of the greatest tennis players of all time, Nastase was inducted to the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1991.

 As a competitor heralded for her remarkable tactical ability and ball control, Françoise Durr of France captured 26 career singles titles and 60 career doubles titles. For more than a decade in the 1960s and 1970s, she was ranked among the top-ten in the world. Durr reached a total of 27 major finals in singles, doubles and mixed and won 12 major titles. She was the 1967 Roland Garros champion, and earned all her other major titles in doubles and mixed doubles. Durr was a long-time Fed Cup player for France, representing the team for 14 years (1963-67, 1970, 1972-79) and compiling a record of 31-17. She was the captain of the French Fed Cup team from 1993 through 1996 and the co-captain of the team with fellow French tennis great Yannick Noah in 1997, when they won the competition. Durr received the WTA Tour’s Honorary Membership Award in 1988 for her contributions to the founding, development, and direction of women’s professional tennis. In April 2010, she received the medal and title of Officer of the National Order of Merit, a national honor in recognition of her contribution to sport and the advancement of women in sport. Durr was inducted to the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2003.

 Heralded as Italy’s best tennis player, Nicola Pietrangeli had a lengthy career, highlighted by capturing two Roland Garros titles (1959, 1960) and proudly representing Italy for eighteen years in Davis Cup play (1954-1969, 1971-72). During Pietrangeli’s Davis Cup career, he played a record 164 rubbers, winning 120. To this day, he holds the records for the most rubbers played and the most rubbers won. Pietrangeli helped to lead the team to the finals twice during his career (1960, 1961), both times being overcome by Australia for the title. Upon retirement, Pietrangeli became Davis Cup captain, and in 1976, under his leadership, Italy won their first ever Davis Cup title. In addition to his singles victories, Pietrangeli was a finalist at Roland Garros two other times, and he captured the doubles title at Roland Garros in 1959 and the mixed doubles title in 1958. Pietrangeli was inducted to the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1986.

 Acclaimed tennis author, columnist, and broadcaster, Gianni Clerici has covered the sport for more than 40 years. As a sports reporter, he has written over 6,000 articles, mostly about tennis. Clerici was honored as the Best Italian Sports Columnist in 1992, and Italian Playwright of the Year in 1987. His premier book is 500 Anni di Tennis, which has been translated into French, German, Japanese, Spanish, and English (as The Ultimate Tennis Book). In addition, he wrote a biography about Hall of Famer Suzanne Lenglen, which is the considered the definitive biography of the French tennis star’s life. In recognition of his immense contributions to the sport, Clerici was inducted to the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2006.

 Since 1955, 220 of the greatest champions and contributors to the sport have been inducted to the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Induction to the Hall of Fame is based on the sum of one’s achievements in tennis, and is the highest honor available in the sport. Presently, there are 85 Hall of Famers living in 16 different countries, a testament to the global reach of the game. Located in Newport, Rhode Island, the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum is a non-profit institution dedicated to preserving the history of tennis and honoring the game’s greatest heroes. In addition, the Hall of Fame provides a landmark for tennis enthusiasts, offering an extensive museum that chronicles the history of the sport and its stars, historic grass tennis courts that date back to 1880 and are open to the public, an ATP World Tour tournament and the annual Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in July, and numerous public events year-round. To learn more, visit tennisfame.com.

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Five Greatest Matches in US Open History

Sports writer and tennis enthusiast Paul Fein says that a classic tennis match is an event so momentous that the world almost stands still and watches, an episode so fascinating that we remember, even savor, it for years. The U.S. Open has treated us to several such dynamic and often career-changing duels. Let’s take a walk down Memory Lane and revisit these legendary matches.

1980 Final – John McEnroe def. Bjorn Borg 7-6, 6-1, 6-7, 5-7, 6-4

“I want to be remembered as the greatest champion ever,” declared Bjorn Borg after he out-dueled John McEnroe in the thrilling 1980 Wimbledon final. Many experts considered the 1-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7, 8-6 smorgasbord of scintillating shot-making the greatest match ever. With his fifth straight Wimbledon crown seized soon after his fifth French Open title, the stoical Swede needed two more majors, the U.S. Open and the Australian Open (then played in December), to achieve a rare Grand Slam and his “greatest ever” ambition.

 

Borg and McEnroe have been forever linked after their two 1980 epic battles at Wimbledon and the US Open.

On the opening day of the U.S. Open, defending champion McEnroe said, “I just want to win the tournament, but if I knew beforehand that I’d win, I’d rather play Borg in the final. Say 22-20 in the fifth set.” Perhaps the irascible New Yorker should have been careful what he wished for since the tireless Borg had won his last 13 five-set matches. But pundits could also favor the sinistral McEnroe because lefthanders had captured the previous six men’s singles titles, and Borg had been frustrated in his previous eight tries to win the Open, losing six times to lefties.

This time, after a disastrous second set, Borg gamely fought back by whacking five clean winners in the third set tiebreaker and then grabbing the fourth set. Could McEnroe, who had outlasted Jimmy Connors in a grueling five-set, four-hour marathon the night before, finish off the fresher Borg and avenge his Wimbledon loss?

 Neither combatant matched their sublime Wimbledon performances. But Mac attacked relentlessly and intelligently to notch the crucial service break for 4-3 with a crosscourt backhand, and then served and volleyed with near perfection to finish a stretch in which he took 17 of 20 service points. Afterward, the exhausted McEnroe confided, “I felt my body would fall off.”

With his dream of a 1980 Grand Slam dashed, Borg skipped the Australian Open, which like the U.S. Open, he would never win.

1995 Final – Steffi Graf def. Monica Seles 7-6, 0-6, 6-3

Classic matches feature a riveting rivalry, star appeal, a premier event, contrasting playing styles and personalities, competitive balance and brilliant tennis. The 1995 U.S. Open women’s final offered these dynamic elements and even more drama because of the highly unusual circumstances.

Click photo to view on website: Monica Seles had dominated the women’s game before a deranged fan stabbed her in the back during a changeover at a Hamburg tournament and kept her off the tour
for 27 months.

In May 1993, Monica Seles had won seven of the previous nine Grand Slam events and dethroned arch-rival Steffi Graf before a deranged Graf fan stabbed her in the back during a changeover at a Hamburg tournament. The once-innocent and exuberant Seles underwent 120 sessions with a psychotherapist and left the pro tour for 27 months. While Seles had finally escaped her traumatic past, star-crossed Graf was trying to forget her troubled present, namely the imprisonment of her father on tax evasion charges.

In August 1995, the hyper-competitive Seles came back with a vengeance. She routed five opponents to capture the Canadian Open, and then at the U.S. Open blitzed No. 10-ranked Anke Huber, No. 4 Jana Novotna and No. 3 Conchita Martinez. That set up the most eagerly anticipated women’s showdown since the flamboyant Suzanne Lenglen, an idol of Seles, beat Helen Wills in 1926.

The “dream final” more than lived up to those great expectations. Powered by passion and pride, the two queens fought ferociously. Graf, renowned for her potent forehand and athleticism, staved off a set point to grab the sensationally played opening set, but Seles’ double-handed groundstrokes steamrolled Graf in the second set. Graf then outplayed her exhausted archrival to finish the 7-6, 0-6, 6-3 masterpiece that Graf called “the biggest win I’ve ever achieved.” After her victory Graf burst into tears, and the tournament’s most emotional moment came when the two champions embraced at the net.

Graf’s 18th career Grand Slam singles title tied her with Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert and made her the first player—male or female—to win four singles titles at each of the four Slam tournaments, an extraordinary achievement. For Seles, simply being back, rather than winning, meant everything. She had exorcised the demons that had so long beset her and declared she was “ecstatical.”

2001 Quarters – Pete Sampras def. Andre Agassi 6-7, 7-6, 7-6, 7-6

The best men’s rivalry of the 1990s ironically showcased its best match in 2001 when all-time greats Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi were in their 30s. Before their epic, Sampras said, “Andre brings out the best in me.” Indeed, Agassi often did, especially at the U.S. Open where Sampras whipped him in the 1990, 1995 and 2002 finals.

 

Pete Sampras raises up in celebration after beating arch rival Andre Agassi in perhaps the greatest match in US Open history.

In their 32nd clash, an astonishing array of thunderous serves, dazzling returns, pinpoint passing shots, and athletic volleying, as well as fierce battling for every point, elicited roars of appreciation and several standing ovations from the electrified Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd of 22,911. All told, Sampras and Agassi belted an amazing 178 winners (out of 338 points) against only 59 unforced errors.

In the first of four tiebreakers, Sampras built a 6-3 lead but couldn’t convert three set points–thanks to an Agassi winner and two Sampras unforced errors–and eventually succumbed 9-7. Agassi, a supreme frontrunner, had amassed a 49-1 Open record after winning the first set, but Sampras regained his composure quickly.

Incredibly, neither player lost his serve during the 3-hour, 33-minute duel, so the outcome hinged on tiebreakers. Serve-volleyer Sampras constantly pressured baseliner Agassi with 137 net approaches (versus only 21 for Agassi) and captured the next two tiebreakers 7-2.

Before the fourth set tiebreaker, the crowd gave both valiant warriors a standing ovation, which Agassi later called “chilling … I’ve never experienced that.” Down 2-3 in the breaker, Sampras whacked 116 and 128 mph aces to lead 4-3, but Agassi lost the most crucial point when he blew an easy backhand to fall behind 6-3. Even though Agassi survived two championship points on Sampras’ serve, the end came at 12:14 a.m. when he netted a forehand.

“The atmosphere was phenomenal. Awesome. I thought going into the match, this could be a classic. And I think tonight it was,” Sampras said afterward. CBS analyst John McEnroe, a four-time U.S. Open titlist, raved, “It was one of the most phenomenal matches I’ve been a part of in all my years of broadcasting this great game.”

1977 Final – Guillermo Vilas def. Jimmy Connors 2-6, 6-3, 7-6, 6-0

The last U.S. Open staged at the historic West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills and on clay was the most bizarre because of all the firsts. The point penalty system and a 42-year-old transsexual, Renee Richards, made Open debuts along with an anti-apartheid demonstration and the notorious double-strung “spaghetti” racket that was soon banned. A spectator was mysteriously shot by an unknown sniper, another slashed his wrists, the women’s locker room had a bomb scare, and fans, angered by a program change, threw rubbish on the court.

 

In the last US Open played at the historic West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hill (and the last one played on clay), Guillermo Vilas defeated Jimmy Connors for his only US Open win.

Jimmy Connors, the brash rebel from the wrong side of the tracks in Belleville, Illinois, usually relished controversy and chaos. But it would prove his undoing at this Open. Guillermo Vilas ignored the distractions by talking only to his coach, Ion Tiriac, saying, “I must concentrate completely or I go crazy.”

While both were 25-year-old lefthanders, the similarity ended there. Defending champion Connors blasted flat groundstrokes, especially with his deadly two-handed backhand, contrasting sharply with the handsome Argentine’s heavy topspin style. Vilas, the introspective French Open champion who wrote poetry, had beaten 41 straight clay-court opponents, but Connors hit through the gusting winds and overpowered him 6-2 in the opening set.

After Vilas overcame 0-30 and 0-40 deficits to save his serve in the first and third games of the second set, he relaxed and began turning the match around. He shrewdly sliced backhands to exploit Connors’ vulnerability on low forehands. Showing mental toughness again in the third set, Vilas rebounded from 1-4, 30-40 and saved two set points serving at 4-5, 15-40.

When Vilas, buoyed by hundreds of boisterous Latin American supporters, took the pivotal third-set tiebreaker, Connors looked demoralized and tired. Then the muscular Vilas, renowned for his eight-hour training sessions, stepped up his attack—highlighted by dazzling backhand passing shots—and routed Connors 6-0 in the final set.

The fourth championship point ended the final controversially. The noise of the crowd drowned out the call of a linesman who seemed to hesitate at first. A confused Connors thought his forehand had been good. It wasn’t. Vilas verified the call. Infuriated, Connors skipped the awards ceremony and quickly tried to escape a berserk crowd overrunning the court. While some of Vilas’ overjoyed fans carried him on their shoulders around the arena, an angry Connors punched out a fan during his ignominious getaway.

2010 Semifinals – Novak Djokovic def. Roger Federer 5-7, 6-1, 5-7, 6-2, 7-5

Many observers believe Novak Djokovic’s Davis Cup Final heroics last December became the springboard for his phenomenal 2011. But the more likely turning point in his career can be traced to the 2010 U.S. Open. After Djokovic demolished Gael Monfils in the quarterfinals, ESPN analyst Darren Cahill commented: “Djokovic and Murray have been the two Robins to the two Batmans, Nadal and Federer. So it’s about time Novak put on his own cape and came through and won it [the Open]. He can do it. He’s playing much better. He has the belief now.”

Click photo to view on website: At last years Open, Djokovic was not afraid to trade forehands with the mighty Fed.

Djokovic would need that belief because he hadn’t beaten a top 10 player all year and The Mighty Fed had easily ousted him the past three years at Flushing Meadows. He would also need to play aggressively, particularly on crucial points, and pressure Federer’s second serve and vulnerable backhand. The 23-year-old Serb did all of that plus served better than he had all season and played superb defense. He also executed a smart but potentially dangerous tactic.

In the spectacular deciding set, Djokovic frequently traded powerful forehands mano a mano with Federer, like two heavyweight boxers, even though the 29-year-old Swiss boasts the most formidable forehand in tennis history. The highly partisan crowd cheered loudly for Federer, and it looked like the five-time U.S. and 16-time Grand Slam champion would come through for them yet again.

But Djokovic, trailing 4-5, 15-40, courageously staved off two championship points with winners—a swinging forehand volley and a rocket forehand. Then he smacked two more forehand winners to hold for 5-all. Ironically, Djokovic forced Federer into seven forehand errors in the last two games to pull off the upset.

Afterward, an ecstatic Djokovic said, “It’s one of those matches that you will remember for the rest of your life, not just because you won against one of the best players that ever played this game, but coming back from match points down and playing good tennis to win in the end. I am very proud of myself.”

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Five Greatest Matches in US Open History

Sports writer and tennis enthusiast Paul Fein says that a classic tennis match is an event so momentous that the world almost stands still and watches, an episode so fascinating that we remember, even savor, it for years. The U.S. Open has treated us to several such dynamic and often career-changing duels. Let’s take a walk down Memory Lane and revisit these legendary matches.

1980 Final – John McEnroe def. Bjorn Borg 7-6, 6-1, 6-7, 5-7, 6-4

“I want to be remembered as the greatest champion ever,” declared Bjorn Borg after he out-dueled John McEnroe in the thrilling 1980 Wimbledon final. Many experts considered the 1-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7, 8-6 smorgasbord of scintillating shot-making the greatest match ever. With his fifth straight Wimbledon crown seized soon after his fifth French Open title, the stoical Swede needed two more majors, the U.S. Open and the Australian Open (then played in December), to achieve a rare Grand Slam and his “greatest ever” ambition.

Borg and McEnroe have been forever linked after their two 1980 epic battles at Wimbledon and the US Open.

On the opening day of the U.S. Open, defending champion McEnroe said, “I just want to win the tournament, but if I knew beforehand that I’d win, I’d rather play Borg in the final. Say 22-20 in the fifth set.” Perhaps the irascible New Yorker should have been careful what he wished for since the tireless Borg had won his last 13 five-set matches. But pundits could also favor the sinistral McEnroe because lefthanders had captured the previous six men’s singles titles, and Borg had been frustrated in his previous eight tries to win the Open, losing six times to lefties.

This time, after a disastrous second set, Borg gamely fought back by whacking five clean winners in the third set tiebreaker and then grabbing the fourth set. Could McEnroe, who had outlasted Jimmy Connors in a grueling five-set, four-hour marathon the night before, finish off the fresher Borg and avenge his Wimbledon loss?

 Neither combatant matched their sublime Wimbledon performances. But Mac attacked relentlessly and intelligently to notch the crucial service break for 4-3 with a crosscourt backhand, and then served and volleyed with near perfection to finish a stretch in which he took 17 of 20 service points. Afterward, the exhausted McEnroe confided, “I felt my body would fall off.”

With his dream of a 1980 Grand Slam dashed, Borg skipped the Australian Open, which like the U.S. Open, he would never win.

1995 Final – Steffi Graf def. Monica Seles 7-6, 0-6, 6-3

Classic matches feature a riveting rivalry, star appeal, a premier event, contrasting playing styles and personalities, competitive balance and brilliant tennis. The 1995 U.S. Open women’s final offered these dynamic elements and even more drama because of the highly unusual circumstances.

Click photo to view on website: Monica Seles had dominated the women’s game before a deranged fan stabbed her in the back during a changeover at a Hamburg tournament and kept her off the tour
for 27 months.

In May 1993, Monica Seles had won seven of the previous nine Grand Slam events and dethroned arch-rival Steffi Graf before a deranged Graf fan stabbed her in the back during a changeover at a Hamburg tournament. The once-innocent and exuberant Seles underwent 120 sessions with a psychotherapist and left the pro tour for 27 months. While Seles had finally escaped her traumatic past, star-crossed Graf was trying to forget her troubled present, namely the imprisonment of her father on tax evasion charges.

In August 1995, the hyper-competitive Seles came back with a vengeance. She routed five opponents to capture the Canadian Open, and then at the U.S. Open blitzed No. 10-ranked Anke Huber, No. 4 Jana Novotna and No. 3 Conchita Martinez. That set up the most eagerly anticipated women’s showdown since the flamboyant Suzanne Lenglen, an idol of Seles, beat Helen Wills in 1926.

The “dream final” more than lived up to those great expectations. Powered by passion and pride, the two queens fought ferociously. Graf, renowned for her potent forehand and athleticism, staved off a set point to grab the sensationally played opening set, but Seles’ double-handed groundstrokes steamrolled Graf in the second set. Graf then outplayed her exhausted archrival to finish the 7-6, 0-6, 6-3 masterpiece that Graf called “the biggest win I’ve ever achieved.” After her victory Graf burst into tears, and the tournament’s most emotional moment came when the two champions embraced at the net.

Graf’s 18th career Grand Slam singles title tied her with Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert and made her the first player—male or female—to win four singles titles at each of the four Slam tournaments, an extraordinary achievement. For Seles, simply being back, rather than winning, meant everything. She had exorcised the demons that had so long beset her and declared she was “ecstatical.”

2001 Quarters – Pete Sampras def. Andre Agassi 6-7, 7-6, 7-6, 7-6

The best men’s rivalry of the 1990s ironically showcased its best match in 2001 when all-time greats Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi were in their 30s. Before their epic, Sampras said, “Andre brings out the best in me.” Indeed, Agassi often did, especially at the U.S. Open where Sampras whipped him in the 1990, 1995 and 2002 finals.

Pete Sampras raises up in celebration after beating arch rival Andre Agassi in perhaps the greatest match in US Open history.

In their 32nd clash, an astonishing array of thunderous serves, dazzling returns, pinpoint passing shots, and athletic volleying, as well as fierce battling for every point, elicited roars of appreciation and several standing ovations from the electrified Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd of 22,911. All told, Sampras and Agassi belted an amazing 178 winners (out of 338 points) against only 59 unforced errors.

In the first of four tiebreakers, Sampras built a 6-3 lead but couldn’t convert three set points–thanks to an Agassi winner and two Sampras unforced errors–and eventually succumbed 9-7. Agassi, a supreme frontrunner, had amassed a 49-1 Open record after winning the first set, but Sampras regained his composure quickly.

Incredibly, neither player lost his serve during the 3-hour, 33-minute duel, so the outcome hinged on tiebreakers. Serve-volleyer Sampras constantly pressured baseliner Agassi with 137 net approaches (versus only 21 for Agassi) and captured the next two tiebreakers 7-2.

Before the fourth set tiebreaker, the crowd gave both valiant warriors a standing ovation, which Agassi later called “chilling … I’ve never experienced that.” Down 2-3 in the breaker, Sampras whacked 116 and 128 mph aces to lead 4-3, but Agassi lost the most crucial point when he blew an easy backhand to fall behind 6-3. Even though Agassi survived two championship points on Sampras’ serve, the end came at 12:14 a.m. when he netted a forehand.

“The atmosphere was phenomenal. Awesome. I thought going into the match, this could be a classic. And I think tonight it was,” Sampras said afterward. CBS analyst John McEnroe, a four-time U.S. Open titlist, raved, “It was one of the most phenomenal matches I’ve been a part of in all my years of broadcasting this great game.”

1977 Final – Guillermo Vilas def. Jimmy Connors 2-6, 6-3, 7-6, 6-0

The last U.S. Open staged at the historic West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills and on clay was the most bizarre because of all the firsts. The point penalty system and a 42-year-old transsexual, Renee Richards, made Open debuts along with an anti-apartheid demonstration and the notorious double-strung “spaghetti” racket that was soon banned. A spectator was mysteriously shot by an unknown sniper, another slashed his wrists, the women’s locker room had a bomb scare, and fans, angered by a program change, threw rubbish on the court.

In the last US Open played at the historic West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hill (and the last one played on clay), Guillermo Vilas defeated Jimmy Connors for his only US Open win.

Jimmy Connors, the brash rebel from the wrong side of the tracks in Belleville, Illinois, usually relished controversy and chaos. But it would prove his undoing at this Open. Guillermo Vilas ignored the distractions by talking only to his coach, Ion Tiriac, saying, “I must concentrate completely or I go crazy.”

While both were 25-year-old lefthanders, the similarity ended there. Defending champion Connors blasted flat groundstrokes, especially with his deadly two-handed backhand, contrasting sharply with the handsome Argentine’s heavy topspin style. Vilas, the introspective French Open champion who wrote poetry, had beaten 41 straight clay-court opponents, but Connors hit through the gusting winds and overpowered him 6-2 in the opening set.

After Vilas overcame 0-30 and 0-40 deficits to save his serve in the first and third games of the second set, he relaxed and began turning the match around. He shrewdly sliced backhands to exploit Connors’ vulnerability on low forehands. Showing mental toughness again in the third set, Vilas rebounded from 1-4, 30-40 and saved two set points serving at 4-5, 15-40.

When Vilas, buoyed by hundreds of boisterous Latin American supporters, took the pivotal third-set tiebreaker, Connors looked demoralized and tired. Then the muscular Vilas, renowned for his eight-hour training sessions, stepped up his attack—highlighted by dazzling backhand passing shots—and routed Connors 6-0 in the final set.

The fourth championship point ended the final controversially. The noise of the crowd drowned out the call of a linesman who seemed to hesitate at first. A confused Connors thought his forehand had been good. It wasn’t. Vilas verified the call. Infuriated, Connors skipped the awards ceremony and quickly tried to escape a berserk crowd overrunning the court. While some of Vilas’ overjoyed fans carried him on their shoulders around the arena, an angry Connors punched out a fan during his ignominious getaway.

2010 Semifinals – Novak Djokovic def. Roger Federer 5-7, 6-1, 5-7, 6-2, 7-5

Many observers believe Novak Djokovic’s Davis Cup Final heroics last December became the springboard for his phenomenal 2011. But the more likely turning point in his career can be traced to the 2010 U.S. Open. After Djokovic demolished Gael Monfils in the quarterfinals, ESPN analyst Darren Cahill commented: “Djokovic and Murray have been the two Robins to the two Batmans, Nadal and Federer. So it’s about time Novak put on his own cape and came through and won it [the Open]. He can do it. He’s playing much better. He has the belief now.”

Click photo to view on website: At last years Open, Djokovic was not afraid to trade forehands with the mighty Fed.

Djokovic would need that belief because he hadn’t beaten a top 10 player all year and The Mighty Fed had easily ousted him the past three years at Flushing Meadows. He would also need to play aggressively, particularly on crucial points, and pressure Federer’s second serve and vulnerable backhand. The 23-year-old Serb did all of that plus served better than he had all season and played superb defense. He also executed a smart but potentially dangerous tactic.

In the spectacular deciding set, Djokovic frequently traded powerful forehands mano a mano with Federer, like two heavyweight boxers, even though the 29-year-old Swiss boasts the most formidable forehand in tennis history. The highly partisan crowd cheered loudly for Federer, and it looked like the five-time U.S. and 16-time Grand Slam champion would come through for them yet again.

But Djokovic, trailing 4-5, 15-40, courageously staved off two championship points with winners—a swinging forehand volley and a rocket forehand. Then he smacked two more forehand winners to hold for 5-all. Ironically, Djokovic forced Federer into seven forehand errors in the last two games to pull off the upset.

Afterward, an ecstatic Djokovic said, “It’s one of those matches that you will remember for the rest of your life, not just because you won against one of the best players that ever played this game, but coming back from match points down and playing good tennis to win in the end. I am very proud of myself.”

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