Over the years, the US Open has played host to some of the most dramatic, gripping and downright exhausting matches in tennis history. From the Borg-McEnroe epics in the early 1980s to Jimmy Connors’ unlikely semi-final run as a 39-year-old veteran, New York has been the scene of many heroic performances.
Here are three legendary US Open matches that left the players involved – and the watching fans – utterly drained…
This encounter might not have been of the highest quality from beginning to end, but it was certainly jam-packed with drama, breathtaking rallies and incredible fighting spirit. Stefan Edberg, attempting to defend his US Open title from the previous year, found his pinpoint serves and volleys returned time and again by the tireless American retriever Michael Chang in a rematch of the 1989 French Open final.
The Swede had endured five-set battles with both Richard Krajicek and Ivan Lendl on his way to the last four, and when his clash with Chang went the distance, he looked to be on the verge of collapse. Chang moved ahead in the decider and had points for a double break, but Edberg, his legs weary and his armour dented, produced some of his best tennis at the crucial moments.
He eventually emerged a 6-7, 7-5, 7-6, 5-7, 6-4 winner after five hours, 26 minutes – it remains the longest singles match in US Open history. Two days later, Edberg beat a young Pete Sampras to hoist a Grand Slam trophy for the final time in his illustrious career.
Novak Djokovic’s 2011 season was already the stuff of tennis folklore by the time he took on Roger Federer for a place in that year’s US Open showpiece. The Serb had begun the year with a 41-match winning streak, and looked invincible until Federer derailed the Djokovic juggernaut at the French Open.
In New York, the Swiss appeared to be on the verge of another meaningful victory. Playing the slick, sublime tennis that some had claimed would be no match for Djokovic’s iron-willed combat, he charged to a two set lead. Although the younger man rallied to force a decider and bring the spellbound spectators to their feet, Federer had the match in his grasp at 5-3, 40-15.
But another momentum flip was still to come. Djokovic, returning a deep Federer serve, went for broke, unleashing a brutal cross-court forehand that landed just inside the line. Possibly the most audacious shot of his career, it whipped the New York crowd into a frenzy and rattled the usually unshakeable Federer. The Swiss never recovered, and Djokovic won four games on the trot to complete an unforgettable 6-7, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 7-5 triumph. He went on to beat Rafael Nadal in the final for his third Grand Slam title of 2011.
Andy Murray might be one of the hottest favourites at the 2013 US Open, but the man who entered Arthur Ashe stadium 12 months ago wasn’t yet a fully paid-up member of the elite. Although he came into the men’s final with Novak Djokovic as the Olympic champion, there was no escaping his dire record in Grand Slam finals: on four occasions, he had come up short, and the most recent, the Wimbledon 2012 loss to Roger Federer, had left him visibly scarred.
Yet despite the unfavourable track record and difficult, blustery conditions, Murray got off to a flyer in the 2012 US Open showpiece. He sneaked a knife-edge opening set tie-break 12-10 on his fifth set point, and held on to take the second after Djokovic bravely erased a 0-4 deficit. Murray had never won a Grand Slam, but he had never held such a commanding two-set lead, and his frazzled but raucous fans were starting to believe.
Enter Djokovic, the resolute, indefatigable brawler. The Serb dug in, broke Murray’s serve twice, and closed out the third set with an authoritative smash. He established a comfortable 3-1 lead in the fourth and eventually took that too, giving the match a very different feel as both men rearmed for a fifth set. The pair had ignored the wind, the heat and the enormity of the occasion to produce stunningly athletic tennis, but British hearts sank as a physically spent Murray began shouting “jelly” after a series of depleting 30-shot rallies.
It was then that we saw a new Andy Murray, a man determined not to pick up second prize yet again. He hit his forehand more aggressively than ever to secure a vital break in the opening game of the fifth set, and then held serve convincingly. Djokovic broke back, but even his body was feeling the strain, and he required treatment on his aching groin. A flurry of unforced errors from the defending champion helped Murray move ahead 5-2, and when Djokovic hit a return long in the next game, Murray had done it. It had taken four hours, 54 minutes, endless scrambling and all the fight he could muster, but he had finally broken free of the “nearly man” tag.