Last year, the U.S. Open celebrated its 50th anniversary. This year brings notable anniversaries for some of the tournament’s most memorable matches and most famous champions. Most significant is the 50th anniversary of Rod Laver’s second Grand Slam in 1969. He is only man to accomplish the feat twice, and no man has completed a Grand Slam since.
But there are other anniversaries, too. Here are excerpts from The Times’ coverage of some of those matches.
50 Years Ago
Rod Laver captures a Grand Slam again.
Rod Laver achieved the second grand slam of his tennis career yesterday.
With all the competitive trademarks of the true champion, the 31-year-old king of the court overcame Tony Roche, his 24-year-old Australian countryman, 7-9, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2, in the final of the United States Open championship at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, Queens.
With the $16,000 first prize, the richest singles payoff in the sport, Laver lifted his professional earnings this year to a record $106,000. He also entered the record books as the only player to have achieved two sweeps of the Australian, French, British and American championships, the international events that make up the grand slam.
Don Budge registered the first slam in 1938. Laver completed his initial sweep in 1962, but as an amateur and with such established pros as Richard (Pancho) Gonzales, Ken Rosewall, Lew Hoad and Tony Trabert ineligible for the competition. That situation has changed with the approval of open tournaments.
“Tenniswise, winning this slam was a lot tougher because of all the good players,” the modest, freckle-faced redhead said.
“Pressurewise, I don’t think it was any tougher, There’s always pressure when you’re playing for something over nine months.” — NEIL AMDUR
40 Years Ago
Youth reigns at the 1979 Open.
In the International Year of the Child, youth had the final say at the United States Open tennis championships with straight‐set victories by Tracy Austin and John McEnroe.
The 16‐year‐old Miss Austin became the youngest women’s champion in the tournament’s history with her 6‐4, 6‐3 triumph and ended Chris Evert Lloyd’s four‐year reign that had spanned 31 consecutive match victories.
Then the 20‐year‐old McEnroe became the youngest men’s champion in 31 years by defeating his New York rival, Vitas Gerulaitis, 7‐5, 6‐3, 6-3.
The achievements of Miss Austin and McEnroe, before a sellout crowd of 18,288 at the National Tennis Center, spoke as much for the future of the sport in the United States as for the tone of the two‐week tournament. It was a tumultuous fortnight that demanded talent and temperament. Although different as individuals, McEnroe and Miss Austin shared the champion’s instinct for survival.
During the tournament, both had delicate moments that could have turned into disaster. McEnroe survived a chaotic singles match with Ilie Nastase and a semifinal encounter with Jimmy Connors, the defending champion. Miss Austin was at 5‐6, 15‐30 in the third set against Kathy Jordan in the round of 16 and beat the second‐seeded Martina Navratilova, 7‐5, 7‐5, in the semifinals. — NEIL AMDUR
25 Years Ago
Andre Agassi wins his first U.S. Open.
With the sunshine blazing off his three earrings and his opponent in abject surrender to his three-set manifesto, Andre Agassi, unseeded but far from unsung, brought his remedial United States Open run to a crashing crescendo by trouncing Michael Stich of Germany, 6-1, 7-6 (7-5), 7-5.
“I can’t believe it’s all over,” said the 24-year-old Las Vegan of what he called a two-week “moment of belief” where he put his ranking and reputation on the line and put his game back together with a combination of talent, discipline, aggression and street smarts supplied by his newest coach, Brad Gilbert.
“You can’t play strong and be mentally weak; you have to put it all together or else it’s like hitting the green and not sinking the putts,” said Agassi, whose former tendency toward impatience and self-criticism left him prone to error in both sports.
Agassi entered this Grand Slam ranked 20th and conspicuously absent from Grand Slam finales since his 1992 sleeper run at Wimbledon.
He exited it with a top-10 ranking, No. 9 to be precise, and the distinction of becoming the first unseeded man in the Open’s 114-year history to dispose of five seeded players en route to becoming the first nonseeded man to win since Fred Stolle in 1966. Agassi, the man so often criticized for having more style than substance, put on the most calculated, concentrated and mistake-free performance of his life over the past two weeks. — ROBIN FINN
20 Years Ago
Serena Williams claims her first major title.
Using her racquet like a stun gun to pound and paralyze her savvy opponent, the No. 1-ranked Martina Hingis, into submission yesterday, Serena Williams, the 17-year-old follow-up act to her big-sister phenom, Venus, captured the women’s championship at the United States Open in her first appearance in a Grand Slam final.
Williams’s breakthrough, coupled with the advance of Andre Agassi and Todd Martin to the men’s final, guaranteed the century’s final Open a patriotic denouement, its first American-born champions since Jimmy Connors and Chris Evert prevailed in 1982.
‘’Oh, my God, I won, oh my God,’‘ the jubilant Williams mouthed, clasping both hands to her thumping heart, after Hingis motored a double-handed backhand out of bounds on Williams’s third match point. That sealed a 6-3, 7-6 (7-4) upset for the youngest of the five Williams sisters, the one who calls herself the family extrovert. The victory moved Williams, who dethroned the Open’s defending champion, Lindsay Davenport, in the semifinals, to a career-best fourth in the computer ranking, just behind her celebrated sibling, Venus, who has yet to win a Grand Slam title.
“It’s really amazing; I was always the one who said, ‘I want to win the U.S. Open,’ and Venus, she always wanted Wimbledon,” said Williams, who fielded a congratulatory call from President Clinton and his daughter, Chelsea. Williams said they talked tennis, not politics. “I’m not into politics,” she said.
The fifth-youngest champion in Open history, Serena Williams became the first African-American woman to reign supreme on a Grand Slam stage since Althea Gibson, who counted the 1957 and 1958 Opens among her five Grand Slam crowns, became the first black woman to claim a major title in 1956. — ROBIN FINN
10 Years Ago
Juan Martín del Potro upsets Roger Federer.
The saga of Roger Federer’s most compelling Grand Slam season produced a surprise ending, when he was caught from behind by Juan Martín del Potro, the huge-hitting 20-year-old Argentine, in the United States Open final.
Del Potro’s 3-6, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2 upset put an end to the No. 1-seeded Federer’s extended run of invincibility at the Open, depriving him of a sixth consecutive singles title and halting the major momentum he had acquired by winning the French Open and Wimbledon.
Del Potro’s victory — the first by an Argentine man in New York since Guillermo Vilas won in 1977 — required 4 hours 6 minutes, and it left him flat on his back and crying (Federer-style) with delight as soon as the Swiss champion’s last shot, a lunging one-handed backhand, had landed long.
At 6 feet 6 inches and with his long arms extended on the blue surface, del Potro took up plenty of space as he lay stretched out in the backcourt, just as he had covered plenty of ground in the late stages of this epic match, which featured baseline power in abundance. It was the first Open final in a decade to stretch to five sets.
“To win in five against Federer makes it even more special,” said the sixth-seeded del Potro of his first Grand Slam singles title. “Of course I knew it was going to be very difficult, and in a way, it makes it better that it was difficult.” — CHRISTOPHER CLAREY