Excerpt of Top 100 greatest days in New York City sports by Stuart Miller:
Jimmy Connors won five U.S. Opens on three different surfaces at two different places, yet he’s best remembered for a tournament in which he didn’t even reach the finals. That 1991 performance was the third and final act for Connors, who had won as the brash bully of the 1970s and as the curmudgeonly craftsman of the 1980s. This time Connors, seemingly washed up, transformed himself into a feel-good story for a society built on both a Peter Pan complex and the worship of true grit. This aging inspiration captivated even the most casual sports fans, attaining a new level of celebrity and forging an unforgettable legacy with his classic American blend of tenacity and showmanship.
That tournament, Connors said later, was “the most memorable 11 days of my career. Better than the titles.”
And he gave his growing legion of fans not one but three classic matches.
So which is your favorite? Bet you can’t choose just one.
You could select the first-round comeback against Patrick McEnroe on August 27.
Because it seemed incredible that Connors was even there. His iron man records—109 pro titles, 159 straight weeks at number one, 12 straight Open semifinals, and 16 straight years in the top 10—were in the past. Connors had played and lost three matches in 1990 before submitting to wrist surgery. He’d plummeted to 936th in the world, defaulted at the French Open in 1991 owing to a cranky back—the defining symbol of old age—and lost in the third round of Wimbledon; he was ranked just 174th by Open time and needed a wild-card berth just to gain entrance to his “home court.”
Because he beat a McEnroe. Sure, Patrick, ranked just 35th, lacked the skill and artistic temperament of his famous older brother, but he was an Australian Open semifinalist and had beaten Boris Becker that summer.
Because this was the first time we saw Connors’s vibrant Estusa racket flashing through the night, proclaiming the return of the king.
Because he overcame the greatest deficit of all, dropping the first two sets to the steady McEnroe 6–4, 7–6, then falling behind 0–3 in the third. Connors was limping (an act, perhaps, lulling his prey or laying groundwork for an alibi), and the stadium was emptying, everyone writing Connors off. By the next game there’d be perhaps 6,000 loyalists from the original sellout crowd. According to Joel Drucker’s biography-memoir Jimmy Connors Saved My Life, even Connors’s staunchest supporter, his mother and first teacher Gloria, turned away from the television.
Then, at 0–40, one mistake from oblivion, Connors finally turned it on. And once he did, McEnroe could not finish off tennis’s Rasputin, who drew his lifeblood from the screaming, stomping, bowing fans that remained. Connors held, saved two more break points at 2–3, won five of six games for the third set, then snared the fourth set 6–2 and finished McEnroe off 6–4 in the fifth. The 4-hour-18-minute epic ended at 1:35 a.m. “The crowd won it for me,” Connors said. “The crowd was an awful heavy burden for Patrick.”
From John McEnroe‘s autobiography, Serious:
Borg and I split the first two sets, and he was ahead 4-2 in the third. He had broken me twice, and was serving to go up 5-2, but I hit two great topspin-lob winners over his head in that game, and after the second one I could have sworn I saw the air go out of him.
From there on in, it looked as if Bjorn was doing something I had never seen from him before: throwing in the towel. After having been down 2-4 in the third, I wound up winning that set 6-4 and cruising through the fourth, 6-2. In the last set, it looked to me as though he was barely trying.
“There are times – usually in exhibitions, but sometimes even in big tournaments – when you feel so bad physically or mentally that you’re simply not able to go all-out. It’s a tricky situation. You don’t want to lose by just missing every ball, so you hit a shot and leave a part of the court open.
At that point, your body language clearly says “I’m not going to cover that – just hit it there, it’ll be a winner, and the people will think, “Look, he was too good”. That’s what happened with Sampras when he played Lleyton Hewitt in the final of the 2001 Open: Pete had just run out of gas – he looked as if he had glue on his feet.
And that’s what happened with Borg in 81 – except that it did’t look physical to me.”
Austin wins the match, and Navratilova wins the heart
Excerpts of The 100 greatest days in New York sports by Stuart Miller
“At Wimbledon, the French and Australian Opens, there can be no final set tiebreaker, but at the US Open it’s do-or-die. And in 1981 Tracy Austin and Martina Navratilova squared off in the first final set tiebreaker.
Austin had won the Open at 16 in 1979, but in 1981 she’d been sidelined by sciatic nerve injuries. Navratilova had won Wimbledon twice and the Australian Open in 1981 but was still an erratic, emotionally vulnerable player.
She’d been an American citizen that summer, endured tabloid stories about her sexuality, finally subdued rival and top seed Chris Evert in the semis, and was desperately eager to win.
Navratilova seemed to have the trophy in her grip after grabbing the first set 6-1. But Austin, noted for her steely determination and concentration, began grinding away. Navratilova’s aggressiveness and gambling proved her undoing as she blew several break points with unforced errors – she’d make 43 to Austin 17 by day end.
Austin snuck off with the second set 7-6, 7-4 in the tiebreaker.
The third set was equally tight. Down 6-5, Navratilova committed 8 unforced errors and double faulted twice, but saved 3 match points to force another tiebreak. Then Austin showed her greatness, switching suddenly from hitting short to Navratilova’s backhand to slamming balls deep to her fierce forehand. This bold move rattled Navratilova, who fell behind 6-1, then double faulted.”
Excerpts of The 100 greatest days in New York sports by Stuart Miller
“She turned head because she was a pretty, young thing, but she captivated everyone because of her gutsy play and icy determination.
Chris Evert was not the first teen prodigy, but in an era filled with veterans like Billie Jean King and Margaret Court, along with one-handed backhands, serve and volley tactics, and uncertainty about the viability of the women’s tour, Evert revolutionized the women’s game.
On September 4, 1971, in her first Open at Forest Hills, this 16 years old perky blonde with a 12 tournaments, 44 match winning streak landed on the stadium court for her second round match against fourth seed Mary Ann Eisel.
Her wins had largely been against lesser lights or on clay, which favored her relentless baseline game. But on grass against one of the surface’s top players, she was unable to simply grind down her opponent. And so, Evert, an amateur who had taken 2 weeks off from high school in Fort Lauderdale for this tournament, seemed headed for home.
She lost a close first set 6-4 and trailed 6-5 in the second when Eisel stockpiled 3 match points. As television announcers Bud Collins and Jack Kramer gave her a warm ‘nice try kid’ sendoff, Evert suddenly showed Forest Hills and a national television audience that she had the makings of a champion.
On Eisel’s first effort, Evert set the tone, whistling a big backhand service return down the line. Then on a second serve, Evert mashed a crosscourt forehand passing shot. Evert easily captured the tiebreaker then crushed her demoralized foe 6-1 in the third set.
King who’d come over to watch the rookie, was impressed by how she handled the pressure, saying later:
A star was born in my eyes that match
1. buy a metrocard and take n°7 train to get to the USTA Billie Jean King Center.
2. enter by the South Gate: the morning lines at the East Gate, right off the subway/LIRR, are the longest and slowest. Walk around the crowd and to the South Gate, which is directly in front of the Unisphere.
3. pack a bag: a see through bag is your best bet for fast cleaning security. Don’t forget your sunscreen, your sunglasses and a water bottle. There’s plenty of fountains to fill up your bottle.
4. buy a 3$ drawsheet with the matches schedule.
5. leave the US Open grounds to eat: it’s less crowded and cheaper.
6. scour the practice courts: you may watch your favorite player hit
balls for an hour.
7. watch some juniors matches: those kids are perhaps the next Rafael Nadal or Serena Williams.
8. watch some double matches: the matches are fast paced and you will finally see some serve and volley game!
9. attend a night session: the atmosphere is incredible and even sometimes electric.
10. US Open for free: check out the Qualifying Tournament and the Open Practice Day.
Enjoy your day at the US Open!
Here’s a quick visitor’s guide if you plan to attend this year’s US Open.
Arthur Ashe Kids Day kicks off the 2011 US Open by bringing the sports and entertainment worlds together for a full day tennis and music festival for children and family, including interactive games, musical entertainment and free tennis clinics. The ground open at 9:30 am on Saturday, August 27. Admission is free for the interactive games and clinics with top pros. Special tennis and music shows inside Arthur Ashe Stadium do require tickets.
This year’s lineup will feature defending champions Rafael Nadal and Kim Clijsters, world No.1 ranked Novak Djokovic, 2003 US Open Champion Andy Roddick but also actor Bradley Cooper, basketball player Carmelo Anthony and singer Cody Simpson.