Pete Sampras, 1990 US Open

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

“I remember watching Lendl in all those Open finals,” Sampras said. “I was eleven when he played his first one, and everyone was against him. So I rooted for him.”

Six years later, when Lendl was No.1 in the world and Sampras was a brand-new seventeen-year-old pro, Lendl invited him during the week of the Masters. Lendl likes to have young players work with him. They are eager, attentive, and challenging. Sampras didn’t disappoint Lendl and Lendl didn’t disappoint Sampras.

“He taught me what it means to really be a pro,” he said. “There were times I hated him because he made me ride the bike or run until I was about to drop, but I learned from him. He also told me over and over to worry about one thing in tennis: the Grand Slams. He said he wished he had learned that when he was younger.”

As much as he respected Lendl, Sampras had a quiet belief he could beat him. Everyone in tennis knew that the Wimbledon loss had damaged Lendl’s psyche. The hunger to win every single match and every single tournament wasn’t there anymore. He had played in only one tournament prior to the Open and had lost his first match – to Malivai Washington – in New Haven.

Sampras has watch him play Michael Stich in the second round. Stich was a tall, twenty-one-year old German who was quietly moving up the computer. But he certainly wasn’t a match for Lendl on hard court. And yet, Stich kept Lendl on court for four difficult sets.

“It wasn’t like the difference was huge,” Sampras said. “The guy was still great. but he wasn’t quite at the same level as I remembered in the past.”

Sampras was hyper the day of the match, wandering from the locker room to the players lounge to the training room and back to the players’ lounge. Lendl sat quietly in the locker room with Tony Roche, waiting to play. Remarkably he had been to eight straight Open finals. This was not new to him.

The match was a roller coaster ride. Sampras, coming up with huge serves at all the key moments, won the first two sets. But Lendl didn’t roll over at this stage of his career, not in a Grand Slam. He came back to win the next two sets. Sampras felt tired, frustrated. Lendl seemed to be getting stronger. But, down 0-4 in the fourth, Sampras found a second wind. He came all the way back to trail 5-4 and even two break points to get to 5-5. Lendl saved those and served out the set, but Sampras felt as if he was in the match again.

Lendl, having come back to even the match, felt pretty good about his chances, too. But, serving at 1-2, he got into trouble – with his thirteenth double fault. Sampras had returned so well that Lendl felt he had to make his second serves almost perfect and, as a result, had missed a few. Lendl saved that break point and had two game points of his own. Sampras kept coming, though. He got to break point again and bombed a crosscourt forehand that Lendl couldn’t touch. Lendl swiped his racquet angrily at the ground. He was down 3-1 and knew that breaking Sampras again would be difficult.

Sampras was trying hard to stay in the present.

“I just had this feeling I was going to win the match, that it was meant to be,” he said. “I really felt that way. But I didn’t want to think about any of that before it was over.”

He had one scary moment when Lendl had a break point with Sampras up 4-2. Sampras took a deep breath and served a clean winner. He followed that with an ace – his twenty-third of the match – and closed the game with another service winner. With a chance to get back into the match, Lendl hadn’t put a ball in play for three straight points. The look on his face told the story. Six points later, it was over. Sampras hit one more solid backhand. Lendl chased it down and threw up a weak lob. As Sampras watched it float toward him, he felt chills run through his body. “Just hit the ball,” he told himself. He did, cleanly, and his arms were in the air in triumph.

It was another four-hour marathon and another stunning upset. Sampras was the young American most fans hadn’t heard of, but they knew who he was now.

Like it or not, Sampras’ life had just changed for ever. He was no longer a prospect or a rising young American. He was now a star, a just-turned-nineteen US Open semifinalist – one who had beaten Ivan Lendl to get there.

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

Arthur Ashe Kids Day

Serena, Rafa, Roger, Novak, they all took part to the traditional charity event that mix tennis and entertainement, and judging by their big smiles, they had a great time:

Youngers cheer; oldsters chatter

Arthur Ashe Kids' Day

Arthur Ashe Kids' Day
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