By Arthur Ashe, September 10, 1991

When I see a match score such as 6-2, 6-4, 6-0, my first reaction is usually this: the winner broke serve twice in the first set, the loser regained his composure in the second set, and either the winner blew him away in the third set or the loser gave up But Jim Courier, loser to Stefan Edberg in the U.S. Open men’s singles final, is not a quitter. Never has been. He just never got the ball past the mid-court stripe. Edberg’s full-court pressure was relentless, precise and effective. The new Open champion has the best volley, best overhead smash and best backhand in the game. His strategy on all surfaces is centered on getting to the net as soon as possible. Thus he takes advantage of any opening to approach the front court. During normal baseline exchanges, Courier can expect his opponents to trade ground strokes with him until a shot lands short in the service court. But for 2 hours 2 minutes Sunday, Courier had to try more passing shots than ground strokes.

Edberg had been in the so-called “zone” (when an athlete can do no wrong) since the fourth round, when he dispatched Michael Chang in straight sets. In this mind-set, he believed he could do anything at any time. He tried shots that usually qualify as risky, and they worked.
Edberg started the match serving down the middle to crowd Courier. Several serves were so well-placed that Courier’s return was more self-defense than forehand or backhand. Courier tried moving his return position up, back, to the left, to the right. Nothing worked. There was one opening at 4-4, 15-30, Edberg serving in the second set. Called for a first-serve foot-fault, Edberg spun in a second serve to Courier’s two-handed backhand, which he nailed cross-court. From knee-high level, Edberg deftly side-spun a backhand volley just inside Courier’s forehand sideline for a clean winner. Courier just smiled the smile of resignation.
On the next point, Edberg was again called for a first-serve foot-fault. Again, he won the point at the net on the second volley. It was Courier’s last stand. He didn’t win another game.

Still, Courier has had a phenomenal year. He is reigning French Open champion and is one of two U.S. men who can presently win major championships on any surface. Andre Agassi is the other one who can, but hasn’t as yet. Although Agassi has garnered more headlines, Courier may well be the anchor in the Davis Cup semifinal against Germany in Kansas City later this month.
That match is on slow clay, so Courier will have to switch surfaces within 10 days. Germany’s Boris Becker, former world No. 1, has announced he is not playing because of a strained right thigh muscle. Agassi was on the squad that beat Australia in last year’s finals, but obviously is not in good form now. Courier will land in Kansas City next week as the No. 1 U.S. player.
Two other results of this year’s U.S. Open: Edberg will enjoy what could be a lengthy period as the best player on the planet and Jimmy Connors will bask in new-found respectability.

In 1991, two teenage terrors, Monica Seles and Jennifer Capriati, exchanged bullets in an epic semifinal match at the US Open that altered the direction of women’s tennis.
Legendary tennis commentator Bud Collins described that match, which Seles won in a third-set tiebreaker, as “artillery bombardment.” For the New York Times, it was:

a slugfest conducted by a pair of teenagers whose strokes defied age, gender and the legal speed limit


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Jimmy Connors, 1991 US Open

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.”

Jimmy-Connors 1991 US Open Tennis

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.”
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