#8 Discovering a Future Champion


My dad likes to go to the outer courts to watch the lesser known players and more competitive matches and often he discovers some future superstars. At Wimbledon 2014 he saw Nick Kyrgios save 9 match points against Gasquet, days before Kyrgios went on to beat Nadal!

He also remembers seeing Jelena Jankovic beat Nicole Vaidisova just 1 year before Jankovic made the US Open final.

This is his memory of a specific player from a match in 2005:

It is early afternoon, the sun at its peak and the heat oppressive. The side courts with name players are packed; no chance of getting any seat, much less one with some shade. I head to the far courts where one never knows what you will find, usually 2 unknowns battling it out. Luckily I find a seat for a men’s single match between 2 players I had not heard of. One player was extremely fit and quick around the court. The other was a bit stockier and slower but was an amazing shot maker. Each was a great retriever resulting in long, exciting rallies and after 2 sets the match was tied. I decided to see what else was going on and wandered around the grounds, side courts, food court, the Grandstand, catching snippets of various matches, trying to survive the crowds. By this time it was much later, I had been in the hot sun watching various matches all day and was getting ready to leave. Heading toward the exit, I took a quick glance at the main scoreboard over the fountain area and noticed that match on court 15 was still going on, now tied at 2 sets each! Hot and tired as I was, I raced back to catch the end. By now the viewing area was packed, spectators squeezed in, shoulder-to-shoulder.  

The final set was intense, exciting. These 2 competitors gave their all and the crowd was into it, encouraging each competitor with loud cheers. To my surprise, the stocky/less fit player survived the marathon. Truly, one of the more competitive and exciting matches I have seen in person.

Who would have ever thought that 11 years later that same player would be raising the US Open Men’s Singles Champion trophy? Congrats, Stan Wawrinka!

#6 The Birth of Hawkeye

Jennifer Capriati def Serena Williams 2-6 6-4 6-4 Quarterfinals 9/7/04

These two women had played each other several times in recent years and this was their third grand slam quarterfinal in 2004. Being a huge Capriati fan, I was at the match. Their matches were often extremely competitive with 10 out of the 16 times they played being three sets. The first two sets of their US Open quarterfinal progressed in typical fashion 2-6, 6-4 with “the two refusing to give in, bringing out the best in each other” as described by the NY Times.  

At the start of the third set the umpire, Mariana Alves, overruled a call that the linesperson had said was in.  Serena believed the ball to be in and the TV replays confirmed this.  It was clearly a mistake for Alves to overrule the linesperson but unfortunately bad calls and incorrect overrules were part of the game of tennis. Serena protested but at this time there was nothing a player could do about a bad call.  The match continued and Capriati was up 5-4 with a chance to serve it out. Several more bad line calls took place but without TV replay no one in the stadium realized, not that anything could have been done about it. Capriati won the game and the match and it turned out to be the first and last time I got to see her win a late round, competitive match at the US Open. US Open officials removed Alves from officiating further matches at that year's tournament and apologized to Williams.

18 months later, Hawk-eye challenges were introduced to the sport and this match is credited with the creation of the technology so a situation like this would not happen again.

#5 Heartbroken Again

Justine Henin def Jennifer Capriati 4-6 7-5 7-6   Semifinals 9/5/03

A year before the Jennifer Capriati/Serena Williams match described previously, Capriati made it to the US Open semis for the first time since 1991. The 2003 US Open was one of the rainiest in history- in fact I recall spending much of that Labor Day weekend sitting under the overhang in Ashe stadium staring at a rain-drenched court. Random memory- Roger Federer actually came out on the court during the rain delay and hit some balls into the limited crowd that was sitting there. He had just won his 1st Wimbledon title but he had nowhere near the level of recognition as today. Looking back now, I really wish I had caught one of those balls!

Anyway, due to all the rain delays the women’s semifinals were postponed to Friday night. It worked out great for me because I could get to see Capriati’s match without having to take the day off work. Apparently it was also ideal scheduling for Beyonce and Jay-Z since they were at the match too!

The match started off well, with Capriati winning the first set 6-4. One more set, I thought to myself and soon Capriati had a lead in the 2nd set 5 games to 2. She had two opportunities to serve for the match and 10 times was just two points away from the victory. Somehow Henin fought back and took the set 7-5.  Despite the gut-wrenching agony in watching all these missed opportunities for Capriati, I reminded myself that the match wasn’t over and they would play a third set.

This match turned into a war of attrition. According to Sports Illustrated, Capriati and Henin played “a thrill-a-minute match of ‘Can you top this?’ filled with brilliant shot-making and a tournament's worth of theatrics.” It went to a third set tie-break, the most nerve-wracking situation for tennis fans. It felt like a repeat of Capriati’s ’91 match against Seles (which appears later on this countdown and was 12 years earlier almost to the day). I thought this cannot be happening twice- she has to win this time. Unfortunately, it was not to be and even though Capriati was just two points away for the 11th time, Henin won the tie-break, the set and the match at 12:27 am the next morning. They had played over 3 hours with each woman winning exactly 127 points.  As Capriati put it in her interview, "When I came off the court, I felt the whole world was coming down on me, and that my heart was being ripped out. It hurts." Yep, that pretty much summed it up.

Less than 24 hours after this intense physical match, Henin beat Clijsters in the Final, 7-5 6-1. It was Henin’s first and only US Open trophy.

#1 Victory

Federer def Murray  6-2, 7-5, 6-2  US Open Championship 9/8/08

It had been a tough year for Roger Federer and his millions of fans. Despite suffering from mono, Federer had reached the semis of the Australian Open (losing to Djokovic) and the final of the French Open (winning only 4 games against Nadal). A month later at Wimbledon, Federer and Nadal played a historic match with the 5 time consecutive champion suffering a heart-breaking loss and surrendering his #1 ranking. Many in the media had written him off but Roger was far from done.

After a nerve-wracking match against Andreev in the 4th round that went 5 sets, Federer beat Muller and Djokovic to reach the final against Andy Murray. Murray was having a very successful summer, winning a 5 set match over Gasquet at Wimbledon and beating Nadal in the US Open semifinals. In fact, Murray had also beaten Federer the last 2 times they played, however these were not grand slams.

Due to rain delays from hurricane Hannah, the final was postponed to Monday afternoon. Fortunately, I was able to leave work early and I headed out to the Open feeling hopeful but nervous. The match had some nerve-wracking moments but Federer was dominant, winning in straight sets!

Just seeing Roger’s reaction to winning the tournament showed how much this meant to him and the fact that now the media would have to stop proclaiming his swift demise. The trophy ceremony was fantastic but I was so busy taking pictures that I didn’t realize that some of the fans had crowded down by the court waiting for Roger to finish his interviews so they could get his autograph. I figured it was too late since if you’ve ever been to the Open, you know how time consuming it is to maneuver through the levels of Ashe stadium. As I was kicking myself for waiting so long, I noticed that Roger was still on the court, giving interviews to various press outlets. I think he was just so happy that he wouldn’t say no to any journalist. At this point I figured, what the hell and I headed down courtside and tried to get as close as possible to the front. There were already hundreds of people clamoring for an autograph. I somehow squeezed through the crowd holding my US Open ’08 hat, hoping that I could reach far enough so that Roger would be able to sign it. Fortunately, he signed autographs for quite a while, again I think because he was just so ecstatic to have won. By some miracle, he autographed my hat! I could not believe my luck! What a prized possession to treasure forever. I headed out of the stadium unable to contain my excitement and the next day I came into work, wearing my cap for everyone to see. I wouldn’t even let anyone touch it. My co-workers thought it was ridiculous but I didn’t care. Federer had won his 5th US Open in a row and I had the honor of getting his autograph right afterwards. My favorite US Open memory and something I will never forget.  

Hope you enjoyed my top 10 US Open match memories! For travel packages, fan plans and insider tips, click here

#4 Only in New York

Andre Agassi def James Blake 3-6, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3, 7-6 Quarterfinals 9/7/05

I have been to many exciting night session matches at the Open but this one was unforgettable.  I can’t remember the specifics about why I ended up going to the Open this night but I’m sure glad I did. The night began with a competitive women’s match in which Elena Dementieva beat Lindsay Davenport, 6-1 3-6 7-6.

As a result, the much-anticipated Agassi/Blake match didn’t start until about 10:15pm. Blake started out on fire, demolishing the ball and playing at a superior level.  Agassi was struggling and soon he found himself down two sets to none. At this point some people decided to go home since it was getting pretty late for a Wednesday night and it looked like a quick straight sets Blake victory. In fact, Agassi was 0 for 13 when losing the first two sets at the Open so things weren’t looking good. I crept down to the Loge section and sat in a random seat, hoping that the rightful ticketholders were gone for good. From my new seat, I had an amazing view right above the baseline and a bit to the right of the famous J-Block which is what James Blake’s supporters were known as.

Blake wasn’t able to maintain his spectacular level of play from the 1st two sets and Agassi fought back winning the 3rd and 4th. It was on to a 5th and deciding set and the crowd was going crazy. The majority of the crowd was pulling for Agassi as he was one of tennis’ most popular stars and also because at 35 years old he was nearing the end of his career. Even though Agassi was the crowd favorite, the US Open fans had a lot of respect for Blake who had suffered a terrible illness the year before and had worked very hard to get back to winning form on the tennis tour. I really liked both players so I was a bit conflicted with whom to root for but I found myself pulling a bit more for Agassi.

In the fifth set, Blake got the first service break and had the chance to serve for the match at 5-4. Fans were at the edge of their seats practically jumping up and screaming after every point. The atmosphere was electric. Somehow with the help of the fans, Agassi broke back just as he was on the verge of losing the entire match. Every point was so crucial that during play it was incredibly tense but after each point the crowd was insane. It became 6 all which meant that the match would be decided by a tie-break. Blake led 3-0 in the tie-break but Agassi continued fighting for every point with the help of the crowd. Blake then advanced to a 5-4 lead with two serves on his racquet. With a forehand return winner and a Blake error, the score was now favoring Agassi 6-5 giving him match point. Blake saved Agassi's first match point with a forehand winner. At 6-6 Agassi had one of his most amazing points drawing Blake in with a drop shot and then ripping a backhand down the line for a winner. On match point #2 Agassi nailed a forehand winner on a Blake second serve and after almost three hours he emerged victorious.

Blake had many opportunities but in the end it seemed like the crowd willed the win for Agassi. In an on- court interview after the match Agassi said, "It's 1:15 in the morning and for 20,000 people to still be here, I wasn't the winner, tennis was."

This match is considered by many to be one of the most exciting in the history of the US Open. A lot of comparisons were made between this and the famous 1991 Jimmy Conners/Aaron Krickstein match. It was similar in that it featured two Americans, one of whom was an aging superstar who found themselves on the verge of defeat only to turn the match around with the support of the crowd.

This was a classic night match, one that could only happen at the US Open.  You can see/hear how rowdy the crowd was especially towards the end of the match; I have never experienced anything like this since!

#2 Match That Changed Women's Tennis

Monica Seles def Jennifer Capriati 6-3 3-6 7-6   Semifinals 9/6/91

My first time at the Open and it turned out to be a day that neither I nor the tennis world would ever forget.

Through work connections, my dad got corporate tickets to the women’s semifinals on Friday 9/6/91.  I remember watching the Capriati/Sabatini quarterfinal match on television and when Capriati beat the defending champion I jumped up and down so excited that I would get to see my favorite player live. Capriati had beaten Seles 4–6, 6–1, 7–6 in a tournament a few weeks earlier, winning a close match in a third set tie-break. I was hoping she could do it again today.

What a match this turned out to be. It was described by a NY Times writer at the time as "a slugfest conducted by a pair of teenagers whose strokes defied age, gender and the legal speed limit.” It was “a ferocious affair in which neither player showed an interest in hitting anything except high-stakes winners.” Legendary tennis commentator Bud Collins described it as "artillery bombardment."

Late into the afternoon, Capriati and Seles pounded the ball in a closely contested match with Capriati twice having the opportunity to serve it out. Instead, it went to a deciding set tie-break, one of the most nerve-wracking parts of the sport of tennis in that the match is won or lost by literally just one or two points. This time Seles was the winner to my utter devastation.

Nowadays, tennis experts consider this match to have ushered in the beginning of the power era, altering the direction of women’s tennis and changing it into what it is today. Had I known this at the time it might have made Capriati’s loss a big easier to take but I was in tears the whole way home. The loss hit Capriati hard too, she struggled with her tennis and other personal problems but she returned to the tour several years later and won the 2001 Australian Open, her first Grand Slam. She added to her resume with the French Open 2001 and Australian Open 2002 but unfortunately never made it past the US Open semis after being just two points away in two different matches.

Despite my unhappiness with the outcome, looking back I am so fortunate to have been able to witness this moment in tennis history in person. I can’t believe it’s been 27 years since then!

#9 End of an Era

Benjamin Becker def Andre Agassi 7-5 6-7 6-4 7-5 3rd Round 9/3/06

The big story at the Open this year was that it was Agassi’s final tournament and he would be retiring afterwards.  His 2nd round against Baghdatis turned out to be an epic match. I had just returned from Europe and was still jet lagged so I went to sleep with Agassi up 2 sets and when I woke up I was shocked that it had taken him 5 sets to get the win, ending after 1am the next morning.

In agonizing back pain, Agassi came out to play his 3rd round match against Benjamin Becker. It was the Sunday of Labor Day weekend so of course I was at the Open and I certainly wouldn’t have missed being in Ashe stadium.  The stadium was packed since everyone wanted to see what was potentially Agassi’s last match. Becker won in four sets and Agassi’s professional tennis career was over. The atmosphere in the stadium was amazing. The crowd gave Agassi a four minute standing ovation and he made an emotional speech thanking his fans. As reported by the NY Times, “‘The scoreboard said I lost today,’ Agassi told the crowd. ‘But what the scoreboard doesn’t say is what it is I have found. Over the last 21 years, I have found loyalty. You have pulled for me on the court and also in life. I found inspiration. You have willed me to succeed, sometimes even in my lowest moments. And I’ve found generosity. You have given me your shoulders to stand on to reach for my dreams, dreams I could never have reached without you. Over the last 21 years, I have found you, and I will take you and the memory of you with me for the rest of my life.’”

On September 10, Federer continued his dominant year winning his 3rd US Open trophy in a row and his 3rd grand slam of the year. With Sampras having retired four years earlier, the Sampras-Agassi era was officially over and the Federer-Nadal one was just heating up.

The next day, Monday September 11, I started my new job.

#3 The Greatest Of All Time’s Greatest Shot

Roger Federer def Novak Djokovic 7-6 7-5 7-5 Semifinals 9/13/09

A legendary, famous shot in tennis history is Roger Federer’s tweener winner in the semifinals of the US Open 2009. I was there in person to witness this incredible, jaw-dropping moment!

Men’s semifinal day is one of the most intense, exciting days at the open. You are usually guaranteed to see some really amazing tennis by the top players. It was two and a half hours into the 2nd semifinal match between Federer and Djokovic. Federer was up 7-6 7-5 6-5 Love-30 with Djokovic serving. It had been a close, very competitive match and I was stressing the whole time. The famous point started out with a few baseline rallies and then Djokovic hit a drop shot that sent Federer running up towards the net. He got there in time and hit it back to Djokovic who then lobbed it over Federer’s head. Anyone else would have viewed this as a lost cause or maybe run but not got there in time. Federer ran back to the baseline and since his back was turned to the court, the only option was the between the legs shot.  In such an awkward position, Federer hit the most amazing winner right past Djokovic, landing in the far corner of the court.  If you have ever picked up a racquet, you know how unbelievably difficult something like this is. Just hitting a passing winner when you are facing the court is not always that easy. My description cannot due this amazing shot justice, it is better to just watch it.

Since then this famous shot has occasionally been copied and imitated but none can compare to the original.  It was just so unexpected and incredible that I could not believe my eyes. They replayed it on the large screen above Ashe stadium and the crowd went crazy! The best is seeing everyone’s reaction’s from Federer’s celebratory jump, to his dad’s excitement, the crowd’s standing ovation and Djokovic’s stunned smirk.

As my tennis partner who was at the match with me put it, Roger Federer is from somewhere called planet Tennis. No normal human can do what he does on the tennis court. With the tweener winner giving Federer match point, there was no question that he would win the next point and the match, advancing to his 6th consecutive US Open final.

#10 Comeback

Monica Seles def. Ruxandra Dragomir 6-3 6-1  1st Round 8/28/95

After the horrific stabbing in April 1993, Monica Seles returned to the tour a few weeks prior to the Open in August 1995. For her first match back at the US Open since she won the title in 1992, Seles was given the honor of playing the first night match on Day 1 of the tournament. Although not initially one of my favorites, I had become a big Seles fan and she, Graf and Capriati were the players I liked best at this time.

My dad and I had tickets to the day session but to my disappointment, the Seles match was at night and we didn’t have tickets for that session. The idea of being there at the Open but not getting to see the one match I was really interested in was so disappointing.  This was back in the good old days before the massive Arthur Ashe Stadium was built. At that time, the US Open was a more relaxed atmosphere with much less crowds. I talked my dad into hanging around after the last day session match in the stadium and trying to see if we could grab some random seats and stay long enough to see the match. We decided to give it a shot and hung around the stadium way before the night session was supposed to start. It was so early that we got to see Seles practicing before the match which was really cool. It was amazing to see her comeback at the Open practically before anyone else. Once the match started, we were able to find seats and I’m so glad we stayed. The crowd was extremely supportive of Seles and she quickly dispatched her first round opponent, losing only four games.

Seles would go on to reach the final, losing to Steffi Graf. However, it was great to see her back on tour and definitely ranks as one of my top US Open memories all these years later.

#7 See You In A Few Hours

See You In A Few Hours! 9/3-9/4/08

The Tues & Wed night sessions during the 2nd week are a great time to go to the Open because you get to see both a women’s and men’s quarterfinal match. For the Wed night session in 2008, I had plans with two of my co-workers to go to the Open. Neither was particularly into tennis but they still were looking forward to it and we headed out to Queens in time for the 7pm night match start time. However, the day session ran extremely late since the 3rd match in Ashe (Murray vs Del Potro) lasted almost four hours ending around 7:40pm.

At this point, the night session ticketholders were already outside the stadium ready to be let in. We were trapped in this chaotic scene for what seems like an eternity as the day session ticket holders all had to filter out and 23,000 night session attendees had to go through the turnstiles.

The first match was delayed a bit because the day/night crowd switchover was taking so long and it finally began about an hour later, around 8:40pm. This had to have been one of the latest match start times for a US Open night session. The first quarterfinal match was between Serena and Venus Williams and it was extremely close. The match went on for almost two and a half hours with Serena finally prevailing 7-6, 7-6. By this time it was after 11pm and the men’s match had yet to start. It was definitely going to be a late night at the Open!

The men’s match didn’t even start until 11:30pm. Fish won the first set 6-3 which was a big shock since Nadal, the Wimbledon champion, was the heavy favorite. Even though it was late, seeing Nadal lose the first set ensured that many people stayed in case there was going to be a major upset. However, as it got later, and Nadal easily won the 2nd set 6-1, more and more fans left and we were free to leave our upper promenade level seats to move down closer. This is why I love the late night matches- the corporate crowd usually leaves and the die-hard tennis fans are left to occupy their better seats. I was totally into it, not sure about my co-workers but we stayed until the bitter end, 2:11am on 9/4. This was the third latest finish in US Open history after #2 El Aynauoui/Ferreira at 2:14am and #1 Pernfors/Wilander at 2:26am (also 2014's Raonic/Nishikori). We all had at least an hour commute back home and would not be going to sleep before 3:30am. Not much time before having to be back in the office at 9am that day. As we parted ways we said goodnight, see you in a few hours!