Andre Agassi, 1990 US Open

From Hard courts: real life on the professional tennis tours, by John Feinstein:

Two men took center stage during the first week of the Open. Andre Agassi was expected to win his matches and move on to the second week, and he did – but not without a fire storm of controversy. No one knew what to expect from John McEnroe – controversial or otherwise – and what he did produce was entirely unexpected.

But not quite as unexpected as the performance Agassi put on during his second-round match, against Petr Korda. Agassi had gone home after Indianapolis to rest (and get stronger) prior to the Open, and he showed up for his first-round match, against Grant Connell, in a new outfit that looked like something designed to glow in the dark. It was some sort of lime-green, black-and-white concoction, with a shirt that hung down long in the back but was cut short in the front. Agassi had insisted that it be designed this way so his stomach would be revealed for all to see every time he hit a forehand.

Basking in the attention given his new clothes, Agassi seemed to be well past the funk he had been in during August. But Korda was not the easiest of second-round matches. No one on the tour could figure him out. He was Czech, left-handed, and, according to everyone, nuts. He could be brilliant, as against Brad Gilbert in Davis Cup when he had wiped him out in three sets, or awful, depending on his mood. He had gotten as high as twenty-second on the computer but had slipped back to thirty-third after a mediocre summer.

The match was at night – the USTA making sure TV got its Agassi fix – and was taut and tense for two sets. Agassi won the first, but late in the second he exploded in a manner that brought back memories of McEnroe at his worst.
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1978 US Open

1978 was the first year the US Open was played at the National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows after having been organized at the West Side Tennis Club venue in Forest Hill since 1915. It was also the first time the tournament was played on hard courts: it was originally played on grass until Forest Hills switched to Har-Tru clay courts in 1975. Jimmy Connors is the only player to have won the US Open on all three surfaces.

Extract from Inside tennis – a season on the pro tour by Peter Bodo and June Harrison:

By late August, summer weighs heavily on the city of New York; each day seems like one long tepid breath drawn until dusk, then exhaled slowly through the night. The US Open is about to begin.

The USTA National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadow, Queens, has been completed just in time to host the tournament that will henceforth call it home. A boardwalk leads from the subway to the new facility, which is adjacent to Shea Stadium, the sprawling home of the New York Mets and Jets. This boardwalk crosses over a subway yard, where hundreds of cars sit idle, covered with graffiti. The walk is lined with flags: American flags. Over seventy of them, counting those on top of the new Louis Armstrong Stadium. There isn’t a foreign standard in sight, because the USTA is bullish on the American role in international tennis.

The Americans leaped on the treadmill of professionalism faster than their international counterparts. As part of its massive attempt to popularize the sport, the USTA abandoned the West Side Tennis Club in nearby Forest Hills, a site redolent of tradition and all the genteel qualities associated with tennis. Although the stadium at Forest Hills held 13,500, the USTA deemed it to small. The hordes that descended on the 10.5 acres of the West Side Tennis Club created impossibly crowded conditions. Besides, parking facilities were inadequate, and this meant a great deal to some people. When the club rejected expansion proposals in 1977, USTA president Slew Hester decided to move the tournament to a newer, bigger home.

Louis Armstrong Stadium, the centerpiece of the National Tennis Center, is a bowl of epic proportions; its sheer sides give over 20,000 spectators a dizzying view of the main court. But the finest court at the site is in the grandstand, which nestles against one side of the stadium in much the same way that the Number One Court nestles against the Centre Court at Wimbledon. Sunken about ten feet below ground level, the court is surrounded on three sides by seats for about 6,000 spectators, who lean in over the players like aficionados around a bullring.
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Monica Seles and Martina Navratilova, 1991 US Open final

From Monica Seles’ autobiography, Getting a grip:

I love the US Open. The New York fans can’t be beat and no other Grand Slam gets as rowdy. At Wimbledon there is total silence, but at the US Open fans will scream your name in the middle of a serve. I thrive on that kind of energy. The flow of tennis was back in my life and I jumped out of bed every morning with a newfound motivation. Tennis was what I wanted to do. It was the only thing I wanted to do.

I got to the semi without any problem, where I met Jennifer for another long, drawn-out three-set match? They were becoming our trademark. We were both power players and we shared the same hatred of losing. It was just a matter of who hated it more on any given match day. Back and forth we went, both of us hugging the baseline, each of us putting her entire body into pushing the ball’s power to another level. Just when I thought she couldn’t hit it any harder, she did. And I’d answer her right back. Some of the points seemed endless, and I could tell from the astonished gasps from the spectators that this wasn’t like most matches. We were playing a new kind of tennis and the crowd loved it.

We each took a set 6-3 and each went into the third determined to come out as the victor. The fans were on the edge of their seats and yelling for Jennifer, America’s tennis sweetheart, as loudly as they could. But I was in the zone. Don’t let this get away from you. Stay in control. Jennifer served for the match two times but couldn’t capitalize on it. I was ready to pounce. I won the next two games and we were tied 6-6 in the third set of a US Open semifinal. The pressure was cranked up. It was time for a tiebreaker and the race to reach the lucky number seven was on. THe match could have gone either way. It went mine. I held my serve and raced to reach seven points. The crowd went crazy and Jennifer looked crushed. It had been an intense battle of wills and we were both used up. I don’t know that I could’ve played another point. It was time to go back to the hotel and rest for my final against Martina.

I chose a pink and white Fila ensemble for the big day – tame by US Open standards. It is the most lenient of the Grand Slams when it comes to the players’ outfits. Some of Andre Agassi’s craziest getups were debuted there. My hair was growing at a torturously slow pace, so I piled on the hairspray, hoping it wouldn’t double in size once I started running and sweating all over the court. I was focused on tennis, but I was still a girl and I didn’t want to look ugly out there.

The first set felt like a continuation of my last set against Jennifer. We traded points back and forth until we were tied 6-6. I had to stop myself from obsessing on being the first to get to seven. Instead I played my dad’s voice in my head: Play every point as it comes. It was just what I needed to hear: I won the tiebreaker 7-1. My quick tiebreaking victory did a number on Martina‘s confidence, even though we’d been tied at 6-6, and I took the second set 6-1.

Here’s a quick breakdown of how you can fall apart the moment you lose one game: if you don’t have games on your side, you don’t have momentum. If you don’t have momentum on your side, you’ve got to dig deep to come up with some confidence. If you can’t find the confidence, fake it. If you can’t fake it, it’s over.

My victory in New York gave me my fourth Grand Slam, my third that year. I was so thrilled after the last point that I forgot about looking cool and I pranced around the court like a pony.

Also read:
1991 US Open: Seles and Capriati introduce power in women’s tennis
Australian Open 1991: Monica Seles defeats Jana Novotna
Optima Open 2015: Seles, Clijsters, McEnroe and Bahrami

Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras, 1995 US Open

From Sampras‘ autobiography ” A champion’s mind”:

My third consecutive Wimbledon title was quickly overshadowed in 1995 by Andre’s amazing resurgence, which picked up steam during the hard-court season. I was just another of his many victims as he went on a twenty-match summer tear that stunned all of tennis. Andre beat me in the Canadian Open as he went on a four-tournament run to enter the US Open as the favorite. But that also put him under a lot of pressure. If he lost to me, all twenty-five of the matches he had won over the summer went right into the toilet, and the fact that he was number one went into the wastebasket. Andre, like me, played for the big moments and the big tournaments more than for the numbers and rankings.

So that created pressure, and I also felt that Andre knew I would be very tough at Flushing Meadows. I had the game, I had the motivation, I had the experience. I had everything needed to spoil his magical run. I was confident, despite Andre’s superb level of play. The situation made great fodder for the press. But for me the bottom line was that I enjoyed playing Andre. Good as he was and no matter what the score on a given day might be, he didn’t really move me far out of my comfort zone if I was on the top of my game.

We marched to the final to a drumbeat of inevitability and media hype. The weather on the day of the final was tricky, although you may not have known it if you were just watching, or even sitting in Louis Armstrong Stadium. It was a little breezy, and we started off feeling each other out, a little like two heavyweight fighters. I could sense that this was a huge occasion because the a-list celebrities had come out: John F Kennedy Jr as there, so was Arnold Schwarzenegger and a host of of others.

Andre and I jabbed at each other and built a feeling for the ball, game after game; both of us knew that as the set went on, one or the other would have an opportunity. At 5-4 set point to me, we had a nineteen-stroke rally, much of it forehand to forehand, that I remember as if it had just happened yesterday. It was one of the most important and significant points I ever played, and I won it with a sharply angled backhand winner.

Andre had maneuvered me into playing the kind of point that was his bread and butter, and I had not just escaped the trap to win the point; it won me the set. It was like a right hook that staggers a fighter. In tennis, a moment like that can cost you a lot more than the game. I think it probably cost Andre the next set, because I more o less cruised through it without being pushed, or feeling like I was being punished, physically. I won that second set 6-3.

With two sets in hand, my confidence soared. I had a commanding lead and just pulling even would cost Andre a lot. Still, I expected Andre to win his rounds as I would win mine. He played well to win the third set, but it took a lot out of him, and he still had a long way to go just to get on even footing. I had to be careful, though: if I went down a break in the fourth, it would be like an IV drip for Andre’s flagging spirits; he would instantly revive and get a massive surge of adrenaline and confidence. I had to dial it up, but still play “within myself.”

For me, dialing it up always started with improving the quality of my serve, either speed- or placementwise. One of the best things about winning your service points quickly is that you’re in an out of your service game in the blink of an eye, and you can then focus and take even more chances on breaking serve. Conversely, your opponent feels pressure; he’s so busy trying to hold serve that he barely has time to think of breaking you. Ts can be a big factor late in a set, and it always makes life tougher for a player whose own serve isn’t a huge weapon.

Andre and I played close through most of the fourth set, but I was serving aces and held the eleventh game with ease. I sensed that the pressure might be getting to Andre, and got the key break for 6-5, after which I served out the match.

The win opened the floodgates for me in a number of ways. It was my seventh major, and it launched me on a run that would earn me six more majors in the next four years. The match also had a devastating effect on Andre. It put me up 9-8 in our rivalry, but more important it impacted Andre so badly that he soon fell off the radar – he admitted much later that it took him two years to recover from that devastating loss. It was too bad, because the match also certified my rivalry with Andre; nobody could push me and force me to play my best tennis the way Andre could. And nobody could call our rivalry hype cooked up by Nike anymore – it was the real deal, even though it was put on hold.

Andre Agassi and Roger Federer, 2005 US Open final

From Andre Agassi’s autobiography, Open:

Driving to the stadium with Gil, I’m quiet. I know I have no chance. I’m ancient, I’ve played three five-setters in a row. Let’s be real. My only hope is if it goes three or four sets. If it’s a fast match, where conditioning doesn’t come into play, I might get lucky.

Federer comes into the court looking like Cary Grant. I almost wonder if he’s going to play in an ascot and a smoking jacket. He’s permanently smooth, I’m constantly rattled, even when serving at 40-15. He’s also dangerous from so many different parts of the court, there’s nowhere to hide. Federer wins the first set. I go into frantic mode, do anything I can to knock him off balance. I get up a break in the second. I break again and win the set. I think to myself: Mr Grant might just have a problem today.

In the third set, I break him and go up 4-2. I’m serving with a breeze at my back, and Federer is shanking balls. I’m about to go up 5-2, and for a fleeting moment, he and I both think something remarkable is about to happen here. We lock eyes. We share a moment. Then, at 30-love, I hit a kick serve ti his backhand, he takes a swing, shanks it. The ball sounds sick as it leaves his racket, like one of my deliberate misfires as a kid. But this sick, ugly misfire somehow wobbles over the net and lands in. Winner. He breaks me, and we’re back on serve.
In the tiebreak, he goes to a place that I don’t recognize. He finds a gear that other players simply don’t have. he wins 7-1.

Now the shit is rolling downhill and doesn’t stop. My quads are screaming. My back is closing the store for the night. My decisions become poor. I’m reminded how slight the margin can be on a tennis court, how narrow the space between greatness and mediocrity, fame and anonymity, happiness and despair. We were playing a tight match. We were dead even. Now, due to a tiebreak that made my jaw drop with admiration, the rout is on.

Walking to the net, I’m certain that I’ve lost to the better man, the Everest of the next generation. I pity the young players who will have to contend with him. I feel for the man who is fated to play Agassi to his Sampras. Though I don’t mention Pete by name, I have him uppermost in my mind when I tell reporters: it’s real simple. Most people have weaknesses. Federer has none.