PLAYERS WHO HAVE GONE BACK-TO-BACK-TO-BACK AT THE US OPEN
Oct 3 10 min read11:37 am
In the 138th edition since its inception, the US Open has rebuilt the Louis Armstrong stadium, introduced Hawk-Eye on every court and has a serve clock installed to make the proceedings more interesting. Being the last slam of the year, the US Open is one of the most challenging slams to win considering that the players’ fitness is often tested at the tail of the season. Winning the US Open once is an achievement, twice is incredible while three in row is a feat achieved to a select few of the all-time greats of the game. Ever since the Open Era started in 1968, only five players (from both men’s and women’s category) have managed to achieve the three-peat. Two of the five players have taken the count beyond three in a row. Let us us see chronologically, the players who won a hat-trick of US Open titles.
After completing the Channel Slam in 1974, Chris Evert successfully defended her title at Roland Garros in 1975. The same year, the US Open shifted its surface from grass to clay. Billie Jean King did not return to defend her title and Evert headed in as the top seed. From 1971 to 1974, Evert reached four semi-finals in a row at the US Open but was unable to proceed any further. However, in 1975, she defeated Martina Navratilova in straight sets in the semi-final to set up a finale clash against Evonne Goolagong Cawley. In her maiden US Open final, Evert dropped the first set 7-5. But the American shifted gears and won the next two sets to defeat her Australian opponent 5-7 6-4 6-2. This was Evert’s fourth grand slam title and her first one at the US Open.
The following year, Evert won the Wimbledon title and was looking to back it up with a successful title defense at the US Open. Seeded third, Martina Navratilova crashed out in the opening round to compatriot Janet Newberry, thereby clearing the draw for Evert and Goolagong Cawley. The duo yet again reached the final for the second year in a row. This time, a dominant Evert dropped only three games to clinch her second US Open title in a row. 1977 saw Evert not participating at the French and the Australian Open. She came back to Wimbledon for her title defense but lost to Virginia Wade in the semis. Both Evert and Navratilova were deficient of a slam up until the 1977 US Open. Yet, Evert managed the top seeding while Navratilova was seeded second at the US Open. Both players reached the semi-finals without dropping a set. But in a twist, Australia’s Wendy Turnbull who was seeded 12th, defeated Navratilova after dropping the first set. Evert was into the final after defeating Betty Stove. That year, Evert recorded five bagel sets and was a heavy favourite for the title. She justified her No.1 ranking and won in straight sets against Turnbull to become the first player (both men and women) in the Open Era to win three US Open titles in a row. It was also the last year the US Open was played on clay. The following year, it permanently shifted its surface to hard. Evert was untouched even despite the change in turf and she captured a fourth consecutive US Open title, defeating Pam Shriver in the final.
In the mid-70s, Bjorn Borg had taken tennis to a whole new level, which forced his competitors to improve if they wanted to have a shot at defeating him. It was Jimmy Connors who posed as the biggest and earliest threat to Borg’s reign. From 1974 until 1878, Connors reached five consecutive US Open finals, winning three. In 1979, Connors walked in as the defending champion and second seed whereas Borg gained the top seed after winning Wimbledon earlier that year. John McEnroe was slowly making his way up the rankings and gaining a reputation on the tour s a player to watch out for. Seeded third, he was given a walkover in the third round (against John Lloyd) and a mid-match retirement from Eddie Dibbs propelled him into the semis to face Connors. Connors was looking forward to enter his sixth consecutive US Open final. However, McEnroe defeated his compatriot 6-3 6-3 7-5 to enter his first US Open final and have a shot at his first ever grand slam title. McEnroe emerged triumphant in the final after he defeated Vitas Gerulaitis in straight sets.
The following year in one of the most historic Wimbledon finals of the 20th century, Borg defeated second seed McEnroe to clinch his fourth Wimbledon title in a row. They would meet again at the US Open final that year and this time McEnroe avenged his Wimbledon defeat, ousting Borg in five sets. It was the time in the Open Era that a US Open men’s title had been successfully defended . McEnroe was in full flight in the 1981 edition of Wimbledon, defeating Borg in the final. As the two-time defending champion and the top seed, McEnroe had a huge task at hand with the likes of Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl and Bjorn Borg in the draw. This was Borg’s last year in tennis and the Swede went on to reach the final, dropping only two sets en route. McEnroe, on the other hand, faced a few more obstacles, dropping four sets to reach the final. Borg took the opening set in the final 6-4 and it appeared that Ice Borg would make it a nostalgic victory to win in his final slam appearance. However, McEnroe fought back and took the next three sets 6-2 6-4 6-3 to win his third consecutive US Open title. He became the first man in the Open Era to achieve this feat.
After McEnroe completed his triple crown at the US Open, Jimmy Connors roared back into the circuit to win back to back slams at the US Open in 1982 and 1983. In both finals he defeated Ivan Lendl in four sets. Seeded second, Lendl yet again reached the US Open final in 1984. However, he came up short at the final hurdle once more, with McEnroe winning his fourth title at his home slam. The following year, Lendl and McEnroe would reach the final yet again. This time around, Lendl defeated McEnroe to win the first of his three US Open titles. The Czech would reach the US Open final for the fifth year in a row in 1986 and would be victorious for the second consecutive time after defeating countryman Miloslav Mecir in straight sets.
In 1987, Lendl was the top seed at the US Open yet again. By 1987, Swedish tennis was on the rise, with Mats Wilander and Stefan Edberg desperate to carry forward Borg’s legacy. Lendl was, however, looking in fine shape not dropping a set until he reached his sixth consecutive US Open final. Mats Wilander took the first set against Lendl in the final in a tiebreaker that saw the Czech failing to win a single point. Lendl flicked the switch in the second set, taking it 6-0 to steal the momentum. He continued his rhythm forward into the match and took the next two sets to win his third and final US Open title. Lendl would go on to reach the finals for two more years in a row but would lose to Boris Becker and Mats Wilander.
After winning his maiden slam in 2003 at Wimbledon, Roger Federer started becoming a threat for veterans like Andre Agassi, Lleyton Hewitt and Andy Roddick. The Swiss won the Australian Open and Wimbledon titles in 2004 and was a strong contender for the US Open title that year. As the defending champion and second seed, Andy Roddick fell to Joachim Johansson in the quarter-finals. Fourth seed Lleyton Hewitt reached the final to face Federer. Federer won the match in dominant fashion, defeating the Australian 6-0 7-6 6-0 to win his maiden US Open title. The following year, Federer and Nadal were the top two seeds at Flushing Meadows. Nadal lost in the third round to James Blake. Blake lost to Agassi in the quarter-finals and the latter would go on to face defending champion Roger Federer in the final. Agassi had won the US Open twice before but to win it for the third time as a 35-year-old against a fearless Federer was a difficult task. The Swiss Maestro won the match in four sets to successfully defend his title.
The following year, Federer and Nadal were yet again the top two seeds. The rivalry of the two heavyweights of the game was showcased in the earlier held slam that year where Nadal won against Federer at the final of Roland Garros whereas Federer won against Nadal in the Wimbledon final. Nadal’s run at the US Open was halted in the quarter-finals by Mikhail Youzhny. Federer would face ninth seeded Andy Roddick in the final. In doing so, Federer became the sixth man in the history of tennis to reach the finals of all four grand slams in a calendar year. He defeated Roddick in four sets to win his third US Open title in a row. The current World No. 2 would go on to win the titles at US Open in 2007 and 2008, before his amazing run at Flushing Meadows came to an end in the 2009 final against Juan Martin del Potro.
Before 2012, Serena Williams was a 13-time grand slam champion. At the 2011 US Open she lost to Samantha Stosur in the final. The following year, Serena would reach the final for the sixth time in her career. Earlier that season, she had won the Wimbledon title by defeating Agnieszka Radwanska in the final. At the US Open final, she faced top seed Victoria Azarenka. The match went to a deciding set, which Serena took 7-5 to clinch her fourth US Open title. In 2013, Serena ascended as the top seed whereas Azarenka was placed second. Both players would contest the final for a second year in a row. This was the first occasion since 2002 that the finalists of the previous year would contest the finals for a second consecutive year. Once again, Williams would win in three sets to earn her fifth US Open title but the first instance to win back-to-back US Open titles.
Azarenka slipped in the rankings and as a result in 2014, she was seeded 16th. Petra Kvitova, who won her second Wimbledon title that year was seeded third whereas 2014 French Open runner-up Simona Halep was seeded second. Both Kvitova and Halep lost in the third round and it was 10th seed Caroline Wozniacki who made it to the final to face Serena Williams. This was Serena’s fourth consecutive appearance at a US Open final. She defeated Wozniacki 6-3 6-3 to win her third consecutive US Open title and her 18th Grand Slam title. Not only did Williams not drop a set; she didn’t drop more than three games in a single set. Williams also equalled Evert’s tally of six US Open titles.
Williams won the Australian Open, Roland Garros and Wimbledon titles in 2015. She was a heavy favourite for the calendar slam that year but Roberta Vinci created a massive upset in the semi-finals at the US Open to prevent Serena from completing a calendar slam.