It is difficult to define a “choke job” in tennis: It can be as short as a double fault or as long as several years of consecutive losses.
A dropped set can be a choke, but so can half a decade of finals appearances without a win.
Even be a champion caught on a bad day—outplayed by an unseeded opponent can be labeled a choker.
Either way, it’s a regret, a collapse, a failure.
They certainly are not tennis’ finest moments, but they are some of the most well-remembered.
Regardless of whether these players ultimately end up as Hall of Fame champions or in obscurity, here are the top 10 US Open choke jobs in the Open era.
Evonne Goolagong was a legend on the tennis court throughout the 1970’s but entering the 1975 Open, she was 0-2 in US Open finals. In the previous two years, she lost to her country mate Margaret Court and American Billie Jean King, respectively.
In this third chance at a title, she again made it to the final. Her opponent was young American upstart Chris Evert, then the world No. 1 player.
Goolagong took the first set 7-5, and it appeared as if this might be the year she would break the losing streak; however, Evert got the best of her, winning the three-setter 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, to claim her first of four consecutive Open titles.
In 1976, Goolagong had a second chance against Evert again in the final, but (not surprisingly) she lost.
Though Goolagong may not have “choked” in each of these matches specifically, she does have a choke-worthy stat on her record: four consecutive US Open finals, four consecutive losses.
In 1981, Martina Navratilova had a huge year: becoming an American citizen and finally embraced by the American fans.
Fittingly, that year she made it to her first US Open final, facing Tracy Austin, who in the year before became the youngest US Open champion at age 16.
Navratilova got out to an early lead, winning the first set 6-1. But that’s about all Austin would let her get away with, taking the second set in a tiebreaker.
In the third set, Navratilova was able to fight back a bit, erasing Austin’s three match points at 6-5, forcing the match to another tiebreaker—the first time a US Open final would be decided by a tiebreak.
But in the tiebreak, Navratilova choked in the worst way: double-faulting to give the match, and the title, to Austin.
Unfortunately, 1981 would not be the only time Navratilova choked during the US Open.
In 1989, she faced Steffi Graf in the final, the third time in two years the players would face off in a Grand Slam final.
Earlier that year, Graf defeated Navratilova in the Wimbledon final 6-2, 6-7, 6-1; the year before, Graf also took the Wimbledon title from Navratilova, fighting back for a 5-7, 6-2, 6-1 victory.
This time, signs pointed toward a different result as Martina jumped out to an early 6-3, 4-2 lead in the Open final. With that score, all bets were on the veteran to cruise to the title.
But Navratilova went into total cruise-control from that point, and Graf again took advantage. Steffi fought back to win the second set 7-5.
Navratilova all but folded in the third set, and Graf took her second US Open title 3-6, 7-5, 6-1.
In 1997, Pete Sampras choked in his fourth round match, if only because he didn’t play Sampras-level tennis.
Up against Petr Korda, Sampras did not put up his usual fight. Korda also gave Sampras a run for his money in that year’s Wimbledon, but this second time Korda prevailed.
The two players split the first four sets in closely contested play, 6-7, 7-5, 7-6, 3-6. Nevertheless, in the fifth set, it appeared as if Sampras found the champion-level play expected of an 11-time Slam winner, jumping out to a 3-0 lead in the fifth set.
However, Sampras couldn’t finish the job and Korda fought back, resulting in a fifth set tiebreak. Sampras never found his game again, double faulting to give Korda a 6-2 lead in the tiebreak and ultimately giving away the match.
The normally unshakable Sampras admitted after the match that he was not his usual aggressive self, noting in more eloquent terms that he choked: “I didn’t put the clamps down when I had him down.”
Martina Hingis ultimately lost a thrilling final to Lindsay Davenport in the 1998 Open but she would not have even reached the final if it wasn’t for an unfortunate choke by her semifinal opponent, Jana Novotna.
The two traded the first two sets, with Novotna prevailing in the first 6-3, and Hingis answering back with a 6-1 second set. However, in the third set, Novotna got out to an early 4-1 lead and looked to be in control of the match.
In the sixth game of the final set, with Novotna only six points away from the win, her momentum completely disappeared and her game collapsed.
Novotna committed 20 unforced errors in the third set—the last one causing match point for Hingis—and only won four of the last 22 points in the match.
Hingis moved on to the final, winning the last set 6-4.
Ironically, Hingis paired with Novotna to win the US Open doubles title that year.
It is difficult when a rivalry is more beloved than it is hotly contested, as is the case with the Williams sisters.
As fans, we long for a matchup between the siblings, but our loyalties are torn for whom to cheer.
Similarly, it is difficult to call any match between the sisters a “choke job,” but the 2008 quarterfinal comes close.
Earlier that year, the sisters met in the Wimbledon final, with Venus winning 7-5, 6-4. In the US Open, the draw had them in the same quarter, and Serena, seeded 4th, met seventh-seeded Venus in the
Serena won the match with two tiebreaks, 7-6(6), 7-6(7), but the tiebreaks do not tell the whole story. In each set, Venus led 5-3, but could not convert any of the 10 set point chances she had. Serena saved 2 set points in the first set, and 8 in the second set.
It can go both ways: either Serena prevailed or Venus choked. It guess it depends which sister you favor on any given day.
This match is significant, not only because Ivanovic choked during the match, but this loss marked the beginning of a career collapse by the former #1 player that she continues to struggle with two years later.
In 2008, however, Ivanovic was the #1 player in the world, and this was her US Open to lose.
Unfortunately, she did not even make it to the first weekend, going down to Julie Coin (in her first Grand Slam appearance) in the second round, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3.
In the fifth game of the third set, Ivanovic was up 40-0 on Coin’s serve, but Coin saved all of the break points to win the game, and from then the momentum shifted in Coin's favor.
But this small collapse pales in comparison to the chokehold it has subsequently had on Ivanovic's career.
Melanie Oudin had a miracle run to the quarterfinals at the US Open last year and any one of her wins could be considered “chokes” from other players’ perspectives, but her third-round opponent, Maria Sharapova is the most choke-worthy contender.
After taking the first set 6-3, Maria Sharapova couldn’t find her serve, or even the court.
She ultimately committed 21 double faults and 63 unforced errors, conceding the last two sets (6-4, 7-5) to the then-17-year-old Oudin. The score is certainly closer than Sharapova’s poor play demonstrated: she gave up eight service breaks to Oudin.
Oudin might have had some beginner’s luck, but she would not have gotten there without Sharapova’s barely-there performance.
Hopefully, Zvonareva is not thinking of last year’s result when preparing for the final weekend of this year’s Open.
Zvonareva, seeded seventh last year, lost to 10th seed Flavia Pennetta in the fourth round, 3-6, 7-6, 6-0.
After taking the first set off Pennetta, Zvonareva failed to win the second set tiebreak to take the match, and that is when she unleashed her temper.
She might not have choked per se, but she was certainly angry enough to choke someone; angry that the tape bandaging her knee was too tight, Bepa demanded scissors to cut them from the chair umpire, but was denied. Then, she began ripping bandages from her knee on court and after losing a service game to fall behind 0-3, sat down and began banging on her knee—the subsequent tantrum included yelling at a ballgirl and swearing in Russian and English.
It was certainly not the most discreet choke job we have seen at the Open, that is for sure.
Pennetta had the last word: she bageled Vepa in the final set to finish the job.
This match is a choke in that no one saw it coming—everyone knew this was going to be Federer’s sixth consecutive Open title.
Everyone except Juan Martin del Potro.
Federer did have a shaky 2008, including an early exist at the Beijing Olympics, but he came back in 2009 with a thrilling Wimbledon win over Roddick and was playing lights-out tennis at last year’s US Open.
Federer’s final against del Potro did not lack for drama, including several arguments over challenged points, and it was the first five set final in 10 years at the Open.
Federer was able to take the first and third sets easily, 6-3 and 6-4 respectively, while del Potro had to win the second and fourth sets in tiebreaks.
Federer argued with the chair umpire several times during the match, including on a crucial point in the fourth set tiebreak, a point he lost.
Ultimately, this may have caused his collapse in the fifth set, losing serve twice and double-faulting in the last game to give del Potro match point.
Final score of the 4 hour 6 minute match: 3-6, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2.