The 128th U.S. Open begins Monday, Aug. 31, 2009. Like the defending champions before them, Roger Federer and Serena Williams hope to defend their turf. However, history shows it can be difficult to do.
The underdogs are always lurking just around the corner seeking their defining moment. Let's take a look back at some of the tournament's greatest upsets, when the hopes of champions were crumbled.
In 1933, Ellsworth Vines was the U.S. Championship's defending champion; but Jack Crawford had the juice. He entered the tournament with three major titles in hand, a first.
The twenty-five year old stole Wimbledon from Vines that year, taking advantage of his weak backhand. Vines had one last chance to secure a major for the year. Ultimately, neither man prevailed at the Championship.
Unseeded Bitsy Grant defeated first-seed defending champion Vines, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3, in the fourth round. And Fred Perry took the tournament, stopping Crawford from a sweep of the majors.
Having acquired his second Grand Slam, Rod Laver was the man in 1969. By the next year, Lady Luck abandoned him. He came to the Open major-less.
His Wimbleton 31-win streak was broken by Roger Taylor; and tournament financial complications kept him out of the French Open.
Nineteenth-seed Dennis Ralston solidified the major shutout by knocking first- seed defending champion out of the Open 7-6, 7-5, 5-7, 4-6, 6-3.
Ralston didn't last either. Ken Rosewall claimed the title.
Ilie Nastase was playing high-quality tennis leading up to the 1973 U.S. Open. He was a fixture atop the money earning list. He dominated the French Open, finishing without losing a set.
Defending champion Nastase entered the Open co-seeded number one with Stan Smith. An unranked Andy Pattison defeated him in the second round, 6-7, 2-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-4.
John Newcombe won the tournament.
Billie Jean King entered the 1973 U.S. Open favored to win. The first-seeded defending champion had two consecutive win under her belt. She was a shoe-in for a third consecutive victory.
In the third round, non-seeded Julie Heldman foiled King's plans. Heldman was winning 3-6, 6-4, 4-2. Then, citing fatigue, King retired in the final set, trailing 1-4.
Margaret Smith Court was the tournament's winner.
Billie Jean King made history later that year defeating Bobby Riggs in the Battle of the Sexes.
Mats Wilander was on a roll in 1988. He captured three majors—the Australian, French and U.S. Opens.
His mojo was zapped in by 1989. Defending champion Wilander, seeded fifth, had his title defense hopes crushed by eighteen year old, ninety-first seed Pete Sampras in the Open's second round, 5-7, 6-3, 1-6, 6-1, 6-4.
This was just the beginning for the upstart Sampras.
Boris Becker took the title.
Pete Sampras seemed invincible in 1994. He finished 1993 with two majors—Wimbledon and the U.S. Open then captured the 1994 Australian Open.
The French Open eluded him. Undaunted, Sampras picked up his game and defended his Wimbledon title.
However, injury reared its ugly head. The defending champion, seeded first, entered the U.S. Open at less than his full potential. He battled courageously and advanced to the fourth round.
He couldn't hold on. Twenty-third seed Jaime Yzaga defeated Sampras, 3-6, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6, 7-5.
Andre Agassi won the tournament.
After losing his U.S. Open title in 1994, Pete Sampras won back-to-back titles in 1995 and 1996. He was back in winning form in 1997 with wins at the Australian Open and Wimbledon.
The first seed defending champion was highly favored to repeat at the Open. It was not to be.
In a hard fought battle, 15th seed Petr Korda knocked Sampras out in the fourth round, 6-7, 7-5, 7-6, 3-6, 7-6.
In the end, Patrick Rafter claimed the title.
At the 1999 U.S. Open, fourth seeder Patrick Rafter was the two-time defending champion. He was defeated by the twenty-sixth seed Cedric Pioline, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5, 1-0.
A shoulder injury forced the defending champion to retire in the first round.
Andre Agassi captured his second U.S. Open title.
Defending champion Andre Agassi was the first seed of the 2000 U.S. Open. He faced twenty-sixth seed Arnaud Clement in the second round of the tournament.
The match proved to be payback for Clement who choked when he met Agassi in the 1999 French Open.
Clement defeated Agassi, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4.
Marat Safin won the title.
It's easy to get wrapped up in rankings and the hype of the defending champions and to forget that anything can happen. The possibilities are the best part of watching sports.
Both Federer and Williams are favored to repeat. But they better not get comfortable. The underdog can and, if the champion isn't careful, will steal the show.