Tennis - Most Famous US Open Matches of the Millennium
The US Open has produced some of the most memorable matches in tennis history. But what is it that makes a great game?
Is it an epic duel between two players at the top of their game, or a David versus Goliath battle against the odds? Is it a nail-biting fight to the finish, or a daring fightback by a player who looked over-and-out?
Whatever it is that defines greatness, these matches had it all.
Del Potro v Federer - 2009
It was one of the truly outstanding sporting spectacles in US Open history. This was the 20-year-old upstart from Argentina coming back from a set and a set point down against the five-time consecutive champion.
This was the first time that the king of Flushing Meadows had lost a US Open game since 2002, when his opponent had been playing junior tennis.
The scene was the Arthur Ashe Stadium. The 23,000 tennis fans inside the cavernous centrepiece of the National Tennis Center had gathered assuming they were there to witness Roger Federer overcome Juan Martin del Potro and achieve a sixth title in a row to equal a record set in the 1920s.
His opponent had set tongues wagging by destroying six-time Grand Slam winner Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals but as soon as the match got underway, it seemed clear that Del Potro was completely overawed by the occasion. The watching John McEnroe would famously remark that the Argentinian kid was clearly “freaking out”.
Then something happened. As he produced a slightly wayward serve for the second set, Federer began to mutter about the Hawkeye technology which called his ball out.
Suddenly, Del Potro began smashing the ball back just as he had earlier in the tournament. Losing the tie-breaker, after being a point from winning the set, Roger Federer had let his opponent see that he wasn’t invincible after all.
Normal service was resumed in the third as Federer overcame stutters in his service game but once Del Potro won the fourth in a tie-breaker, the boy from the provinces of Buenos Aires clinched the deciding set 6-4 to earn a famous victory.
Williams v Capriati - 2004
Four questionable calls which cost the best player on the night a place in the final, a two-hour grovelling phone call from the US Open chief executive to apologise to the beaten semi-finalist, and the installation of the unfortunate umpire into the tennis hall of infamy.
That was the immediate upshot of the penultimate round of the 2004 US Open, but the after-effects were far more significant.
As the world reacted with dismay at the elimination of Serena Williams at the hands of Jennifer Capriati, tennis chiefs finally concluded that video technology was needed to avoid any embarrassing repeat.
The global TV audience had rubbed its eyes and adjusted their sets, unable to understand what was going on. As Williams thrashed a succession of glorious serves and returns past Capriati, the woman in the umpire’s chair kept calling them out.
Serena’s grace was to her credit. As she became increasingly exasperated, and her dream of making a third US Open final drifted away, Williams approached the umpire to wag her finger and utter “no, no, no”.
But no one had words for what came next. A beautiful Serena backhander landed inside the line and was called in by the line judge. Umpire Mariana Alves then stunned the world by overruling the judge to declare the ball had been out.
Bad calls had been part of the game since tennis was invented, but the public simply would not stand for any more of this. Two years later, after extensive testing, Hawkeye became a part of the US Open.
The computer system has rendered the ugly exchanges between player and umpire a thing of the past, but it took perhaps the ugliest sequence of miss-calls in tennis history to achieve it.
Nadal v Djokovic - 2010
This was the match that wrote a thousand headlines and still had pundits grasping for more superlatives. It was the evening in which Rafael Nadal wrote his name into the big chapter of sporting history entitled “tennis greats”.
The term “Grand Slam” was originally coined to describe the feat of winning all four major tennis championships. Nadal became the youngest man of the modern era to complete a career grand slam with victory over Novak Djokovic at the 2010 US Open. The 24-year-old Spaniard also became only the seventh man to win all four majors.
The final had every element of dramatic theatre known to the gods of sport. Thunder, lightning, rain-soaked delays, smashed rackets, tears, and moreover, sheer pulsating tennis filled with depth and quality.
Djokovic began the game looking a little weary after a marathon session against Roger Federer in the semis but soon got back into his stride, taking the second set in a tie-breaker after being edged out in the first.
Nadal snatched the third, but Djokovic didn’t begin to fade until the fourth as his Spanish opponent sent him scampering back and forth, back and forth across the baseline. Nadal’s historic accomplishment had been embellished by the fighting qualities of his opponent, as all great victories are.