U.S. Open 2010: Ranking the Last 25 Men's Tennis Finals

JA AllenSenior Writer ISeptember 10, 2010

U.S. Open 2010: Ranking the Last 25 Men's Tennis Finals

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    The last 25 years of the U.S. Open have given us some very significant moments and some seismic shifts of power at the top of the men’s game.  

    Very often when a No. 1 fell at the U.S. Open, he lost his ranking. Or by winning, some pretender to the throne waiting in the wings actually made his break through at the USTA in Flushing Meadows.

    Surprisingly over the past 25 years, there have been few five-set finals––only three matches have gone the distance.  Nine finals have been extended to four while thirteen finals have been decided in straight sets. 

    That probably has much to do with the fact that the finalists must get back on court––many times less than 24 hours after often debilitating semifinal contests.  

    Many times, the combatants had nothing left in the tank for the last match. It is too bad for us all that players were not able to deliver their best tennis on the biggest tennis stage in New York during the U.S. Open finals.

    Beginning in 1985, ranking the past 25 men’s finals, the criteria will be based on the entertainment quality of the match (three sets, four sets, or five sets), plus its overall significance in the career of the players and in the U.S. Open Tournament itself.  

    All of the matches are important, regardless of their ranking, because making it to the final of the U.S. Open is very difficult. Sometimes the path making it to the final is the real story––not the final itself.  

    Keep in mind that ranking is all about perspective.  

No. 25: Lendl Defeated Mecir, 1986

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    Number 25: Ivan Lendl Defeated Miloslav Mecir In 1986

    Opposition faded in straight sets

    Normally, Mecir was the most dreaded opponent of all, especially if he faced Swedes. His patient, grinding style of play plus his consistent pinpoint accuracy drove his opponents to distraction.

    But as his career progressed, it became apparent that in the big moments, on the largest stages, the Czech could not summon up his typically exasperating game. He became overwhelmed by the moment.

    “The Cat” Mecir, usually so steady and relentless on court, faded quickly in this straight set final, giving Lendl his second consecutive U.S. Open championship 6-4, 6-2, 6-0.  

    The homesick Mecir left immediately for a flight home while Lendl was doing his own special version of “dancin’ in the streets” New York-style.  

    Lendl relished being a winner at last.

No. 24: Sampras Defeated Pioline, 1993

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    Number 24: Pete Sampras Defeated Cedric Pioline In 1993

    Opposition faded in straight sets

    In 1993, Sampras won his second U.S. Open championship, defeating Frenchman Cedric Pioline with an outcome that surprised no one.

    What had surprised those assembled in Queens was when Pioline unceremoniously dumped the No. 1 ranked player in the world at the time, Jim Courier, out in the fourth round.

    Sampras won this contest in a straightforward beat down, 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 in just a little over two hours.

    It gave Sampras his first back to back Wimbledon and U.S. Open triumphs, which are, as Sampras stated, the two most prestigious tournaments in all of tennis.  

    As a result, Sampras seized the No. 1 ranking as his own. He would hang onto it for a long, long time.

No. 23: Hewitt Defeated Sampras, 2001

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    Number 23: Lleyton Hewitt Defeated Pete Sampras In 2001

    Opposition faded in straight sets

    In 2001, Aussie and former world No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt would advance to the finals of the U.S. Open and win—defeating Pete Sampras.

    After suffering defeat at his beloved Wimbledon in the fourth round by new-comer Roger Federer of Switzerland, the best thing that Sampras did in 2001 was advance to the finals of the U.S. Open.

    In the process, Sampras had defeated Patrick Rafter, Andre Agassi, and Marat Safin—last year's champion—to become a finalist.  Unfortunately, on Sunday, Sampras had nothing left, weary and exhausted.   

    The worst thing Sampras did was play in the 2001 final against Aussie Hewitt.  

    Hewitt played a very intelligent match, making only 13 unforced errors while keeping the ball at Sampras’s feet, making him bend low and stay low trying to return the ball.

    Sampras could not seem to find his range, and mis-hit volleys and ground strokes.  

    It was Sampras’s worst defeat since 1989: 7-6, 6-1, 6-1.

    The American’s quest to win his fifth U.S. Open would have to wait another year.  

    Hewitt would make another final in 2004, but would suffer defeat at the hands of the remarkable Swiss, Roger Federer.

No. 22: Edberg Defeated Courier, 1991

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    Number 22: Stefan Edberg Defeated Jim Courier In 1991

    Opposition Faded in Three Sets

    In 1991-1992, Swede Stefan Edberg finally made it to the finals of the U.S. Open where he won in back to back years defeating Jim Courier in 1991 and Pete Sampras in 1992.  

    Edberg had never been fond of the Open, but finally found a way to win there.

    In 1991, defeating Courier—the French Open Champion—Edberg played one of the best matches of his career during the U.S. Open finals.

    The sun was brutal that day and temperatures on court were reported in the 90s. It seemed hard to move out there.

    Both of these guys were smart players, champions—winners of majors. But Courier blinked first and found himself down a break after the third game.  

    Edberg took the first set 6-2. Courier tried his best to fight back but was broken early in the second set which Edberg won 6-4. At that point, the American was totally overwhelmed and Edberg scored a bagel in the third set.  

    Courier seemed peculiarly distracted by the crowds and the noise and the periphery of the match instead of focusing in on his play—a fact Edberg exploited magnificently. Perhaps it was Edberg's play that drove Courier to distraction.  Distinctly possible that day.

No. 21: Roddick Defeated Ferrero, 2003

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    Number 21: Andy Roddick Defeated Juan Carlos Ferrero In 2003

    Opposition overcome in three straight sets

    In 2003, Andy Roddick advanced to the finals of the U.S. Open. 

    It was widely reported that the American was supposed to take over where Sampras left off, and it looked distinctly possible as Roddick defeated Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain in straight sets to claim his first U.S. Open Championship.

    America rejoiced—they had found their next champion, a kid with a big grin and an even bigger serve.

    Roddick’s serve rocketed through the air, often leaving the man on the other side of the net wondering what it would feel like to try to hit that missile back.

    Roddick finished the day with 23 aces and two double faults. Ferrero had only three break opportunities in the match but could not capitalize.  

    The American won in straight sets 6-3, 7-6, 6-3. In losing the final, Ferrero still took over the No. 1 ranking. 

    Roddick would make the finals of the Open again in 2006, but would lose to Roger Federer who captured and held the title for five consecutive years.

No. 20: Agassi Defeated Stitch, 1994

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    Number 20: Andre Agassi Defeated Michael Stitch In 1994

    Opposition overcome in three straight sets

    In 1994, American Andre Agassi won the first of his two U.S. Open championships, defeating the No. 4 seed Michael Stitch of Germany.  

    Agassi arrived at the final unseeded, using the U.S. Open to seal his redemption, his return to form. 

    He had spent much of 1993 dealing with injuries and other things that have come to light in 2010 with the release of his "tell-all" autobiography. 

    In the process, he trumped Stitch 6-1, 7-6, 7-5, holding his nerve and steeling his resolve as the match progressed.

    Under the tutelage of his new coach Brad Gilbert, Agassi seemed reborn.

    Agassi had not appeared in a slam tournament since his 1992 win at Wimbledon. Winning this title proved to be a turning point.

    Agassi won this match in a little under two hours to announce his return to competition at the highest levels of men's tennis.

No. 19: Sampras Defeated Chang, 1996

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    Number 19: Pete Sampras Defeated Michael Chang In 1996

    Opposition overcome in three straight sets

    In 1996, Sampras met fellow American Michael Chang in the finals of the U.S. Open.

    Sampras had lost his coach Tim Gullikson to brain cancer in May of that year.

    The loss affected Sampras greatly.

    Walking onto a tennis court, let alone playing tennis, reminded the American of the man who had helped him shape his game and find success.

    Still, Sampras decided to move forward and go for the win, just as Gullikson would have wanted.  

    His win over Chang was not memorable at 6-1, 6-4, 7-6, but authoritative.  

    Chang, who had won American hearts by winning the French Open at age 17 in 1989, might have secured the No. 1 ranking if he had managed to defeat Sampras.  

    But, of course, Chang did not come close during the finals of the U.S. Open in 1996,

No. 18: Safin Defeated Sampras, 2000

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    Number 18: Marat Safin Defeated Pete Sampras In 2000

    Opposition overcome in three straight sets

    In 2000, Russian Marat Safin would win his first and only U.S. Open Championship by overcoming American legend Pete Sampras in the final.  

    It would be Safin’s only appearance in a U.S. Open final and remains one of two majors won by the enigmatic Russian during his career.

    It was special for another reason—marking the descent of one champion who neared the end of his career and the ascension of another who seemed to all the tennis world to be a champion in the making. 

    Although Safin never scaled the heights that Sampras did, he won this U.S. Open crown in the year 2000 and ushered in another era whose next champion was yet to be determined.

    Marat Safin’s defeat of Sampras seemed way too easy: 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.

    The Russian’s reflexes were impeccable, his serve nonreturnable, and his net play efficient and successful. Safin absorbed and returned everything Pistol Pete threw at him that day and then some.  

    The only glimmer of nerves came in the final game when Safin had to serve it out. In the last game, finally Sampras gained a break point.

    It was very tense, but Safin restored his dominance.  The big Russian seemed stunned and dazed when he realized that he had won.

    It would be Safin's only win at the Open, but it surely remains someone’s idea of a great highlight film.

No. 17: Federer Defeated Djokovic, 2007

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    Number 17: Roger Federer Defeated Novak Djokovic In 2007

    Opposition overcome in three straight sets

    In 2007, Roger Federer defeated Novak Djokovic for his fourth consecutive final win at the U.S. Open.

    It was the “black” year. The media began designating him as “Darth Federer,” as the Swiss donned an all black ensemble for the night sessions and his championship match.

    Perhaps it was a signal of foreboding because the final took on a dark tone for the man who seemed to flourish at Flushing Meadows.

    Yes, Roger Federer won his fourth consecutive U.S. Open in straight sets against new-comer Novak Djokovic, age 20, but he seemed in trouble the whole match.

    Trailing by a break in each set, waiting for the final blow to descend, the Serbian youngster instead caved in at critical moments and let the master dominate.

    That is not to say that Federer did not play well, but he appeared nervous and uncertain at times and these doubts had not surfaced in the Federer psyche for a long time, especially not in New York, where the Swiss usually felt supremely confident, playing loose and free.

    In the first set, playing somewhat tentatively, Federer lost his serve in the 11th game. Djokovic served for the first set and was up 40-0 when the wheels came off his game. It is easy to say he choked, but perhaps that is an exaggeration.

    He did manage to lose the next five points, and eventually the game, allowing Federer to even the set.
    In the tiebreak, Federer scrambled from behind to even matters, securing the set when Djokovic double faulted to give the Swiss the first set.

    As Federer’s forehand seemed to take on an aberrant life of its own, Djokovic came back, breaking Federer’s serve in the first game of the second set.

    But the Serb could not contain his advantage and ceded the game back as Federer broke Djokovic’s serve in game seven.

    Once again, the set ended in a tiebreak after several more tense moments on the Federer serve. But this tiebreak had a different feeling as a confident Federer finally emerged, taking command of the tiebreak and set two.

    It finally became evident to the defending champion that Djokovic was not going to take advantage of his superior play and that the moment was too great for the Serb.

    Federer closed out the match in three sets, becoming the first man to win the U.S. Open and Wimbledon four years in a row.

    He also earned another record in winning four consecutive U.S. Open championships, the first man to do so since Bill Tilden in the 1920s.

No. 16: Federer Defeated Murray, 2008

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    Number 16: Roger Federer Defeated Andy Murray In 2008

    Opposition overcome in three straight sets

    In 2008, Roger Federer defeated Scotsman Andy Murray in the finals of the U.S. Open.

    The man with the soft hands and the nimble feet recorded his fifth consecutive U.S. Open Championship at the expense of Andy Murray, who had reached his first slam final by dismissing the No. 1 seed, Rafael Nadal.

    But, 2008 had not been a typical glorious year for the former No. 1. Federer fell in the finals at the French Open in straight sets to Rafael Nadal in embarrassing fashion.

    He then saw his beloved Wimbledon crown slip away, also at the hands of the surging Majorcan who replaced him as the No. 1 player in the world.

    To add insult to injury, Nadal swept the table, taking the Olympic Gold Medal in singles as well.

    The win at the U.S. Open in 2008 stopped the bleeding, applying a tourniquet to the Federer psyche.

    It also gave Federer his 13th grand slam singles title, pushing him past Roy Emerson and leaving him only one behind American great Pete Sampras.

    Murray found himself down in set one as he sent the deciding ball into the net during the sixth game allowing Federer to break going up 4-2.

    In less than half an hour, Murray was down one set to Federer.

    In the second set, the two traded breaks early. Federer’s final break of the Murray serve gave him set two. In the third set, the Scot settled into defeat and let Federer pretty much have his way.

    Murray did not rise to the grand occasion and seemed tentative at best on court, playing into Federer’s hands and becoming Federer’s fifth straight victim in the championship match.

No. 15: Sampras Defeated Agassi, 1990

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    Number 15: Pete Sampras Defeated Andre Agassi In 1990

    Opposition overcome in three straight sets

    In 1990, Pete Sampras won his first championship by defeating countryman Andre Agassi in a battle of the teenagers at the U.S. Open.

    By doing so, Sampras became the youngest man ever to win the U.S. Open at age 19 years and 28 days.

    The way Sampras achieved it was to clamp down immediately on compatriot Andre Agassi, whose serve came immediately under fire by the aggressive return game of the younger American.

    Even though Agassi produced 77 percent first-serve efficiency, Sampras swatted his serves back like he was hitting ping pong balls.

    The serve was an area of his game that Agassi would seek to improve in the coming years.

    It was a coming out party for Sampras and an absolute dismissal for Agassi in prime time, leaving the man from Las Vegas with no place to hide.

    Even Agassi’s dismantling of defending champion Boris Becker in the semifinals could not make him feel better about the magnitude of his defeat by Sampras in the final.

    Agassi was the star in the making, the one with all the flash in his lime-colored attire and his playboy lifestyle. But in New York on that Sunday, Sampras was the one who left with the crown and all the accolades.

    Pistol Pete, as he came to be known, let his racket do all of his talking as it punished Agassi with rocket serves consistently in excess of 120 mph, allowing the young man from Rancho Palos Verdes, CA, to win points on 92 percent of his first serves and supplying him with 13 aces.

    Agassi never broke the Sampras serve. In fact, Agassi only held three break points against Sampras in the entire match.

    The final score was 6-4, 6-3, 6-2, as Sampras played a dream match. This was the first slam victory for Sampras and would mark the first of his five U.S. Open titles.

    Both men would go on to reign on courts around the world for years to come but their competitive career began at this final in New York in 1990.

No. 14: Federer Defeated Hewitt, 2004

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    Number 14: Roger Federer Defeated Lleyton Hewitt In 2004

    Opposition overcome in three straight sets

    Roger Federer won the U.S. Open from 2004 through 2008, setting a male record for consecutive championships at the Open in the modern era. 

    In 2004, Federer defeated Lleyton Hewitt to take his first step.

    It wasn’t really a tennis match at all. It was something verging on perfection. Roger Federer overcame a man who never quits, Lleyton Hewitt, to win his first U.S. Open Championship 6-0, 7-6, 6-0.

    Federer dominated the first and last sets. Sandwiched in between was Hewitt’s attempt at redemption, his attempt to come back against a man playing almost flawless tennis. While Hewitt gave it his best, in the end, he had no answers.

    With the win, Federer became the only man in the history of the sport to win his first four grand slam finals and the first man since Mats Wilander in 1988 to win three majors in one calendar year.

    Hewitt came into the final at full strength, having won his last 16 matches, and he had marched into the men’s final without dropping a set. Everyone expected a tight match.

    The first set was over in 18 minutes with Federer’s forehand dominating the action while Hewitt reeled under the assault. The second set started with a break of Hewitt’s serve and many feared a rout.

    But, the Aussie never quit and he fought back hard, finally breaking back at 5-5 trying to deny Federer the second set.

    But Federer established control early in the tie break and swept away any hope Hewitt had to win the second set.

    By the time the third set came into focus, Hewitt was toast, having spent all his energies in the second.

    Federer took the third set at love. Hewitt stood racket in hand with two bagel sets against him.

    It proved to be a harbinger of the future in men's tennis.

    The Aussie himself admitted that what Federer had accomplished by winning his third slam title of the year was incredible, especially when considering the depth of talent in men’s tennis in 2004.

No. 13: Lendl Defeated McEnroe, 1985

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    Number 13: Ivan Lendl Defeated John McEnroe In 1985

    Opposition overcome in three straight sets

    1985-1987 The Ivan Lendl Years at the U.S. Open

    Ivan Lendl appeared in eight U.S. Open finals from 1982-1989, winning three in a row from 1985-1987.

    Early on, Lendl’s inability to win the title plagued him and left him with often humiliating defeats at the hands of Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe.

    The press accused Lendl of “choking” during the big moments. Lendl was tired of it.

    Finally in 1985, he defeated John McEnroe, the winner of the championship in 1984, 7-6, 6-3, 6-4.

    McEnroe had won a tough semifinal over Mats Wilander in five sets, while Lendl had managed to stifle Jimmy Connors in his semifinal in straight sets.

    In the final, the American had nothing left in the tank and he simply could not keep pace with the steady Lendl whose accuracy was not lacking on the day and whose serve remained razor-sharp.

    McEnroe would never reach another final at the U.S. Open after his defeat by Lendl in 1985.  Lendl would go on to win three consecutive U.S. Open titles.  This marked his first step into the winners circle.

    A step Lendl was delighted to take, at long last.

No. 12: Rafter Defeated Philippoussis, 1998

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    Number 12: Pat Rafter Defeated Mark Philippoussis In 1998

    Opposition Overcome in Four Sets

    In 1998, Rafter would face fellow Aussie Mark Philippoussis in the finals of the U.S. Open in order to defend his U.S. Open championship of 1987.

    The real story of this match, this tournament happened, however, before the final when Rafter was able to dismiss Pete Sampras in the semifinals in five tough sets. Rafter complained afterwards that the American showed him no respect in his victory.  

    After winning the first set, Rafter felt the blast of the Philippoussis serve in the second set where the 6’4" Aussie shot out to a 5-2 advantage before his nerves set in, reminding him of the crucial nature of the occasion.  

    Philippoussis began to throw in double faults before he finally secured the second set in wobbly fashion.

    But Philippooussis never recovered from his tremor of doubt and finally fell in four sets, 6-3, 3-6, 6-2, 6-0.

    Rafter won his second consecutive U.S. Open trophy and climbed to No. 2 in the rankings.  

    However, this would be the Aussie Rafter's last appearance in a final of the U.S. Open.

No. 11: Edberg Defeated Sampras, 1992

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    Number 11: Stefan Edberg Defeated Pete Sampras In 1992

    Opposition Overcome in Four Sets

    It did not get easier for Stefan Edberg in 1992 when he had to return to court the next day after playing semifinals on Saturday at the U.S. Open to face his next opponent, Pete Sampras.

    What a ridiculous way to schedule a tournament!  But it is what television dictates.

    Both players seemed dead on their feet as Edberg steadied his legs long enough to defeat Sampras 3-6, 6-4, 7-6, 6-2.  

    Each had labored long and hard to get to the final.  

    Edberg had played three five-set matches coming into the final, the last one on Saturday.  

    Sampras had played a stressful match late Saturday against Jim Courier, inheriting a stomach virus along the way.

    Neither man was entirely himself, but they played the final, which Edberg won, giving him back-to-back victories in New York.

    It might have been an entirely different match with another day of rest, but such is life playing at the U.S. Open.

No. 10: Rafter Defeated Rusedksi, 1997

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    Number 10: Patrick Rafter Defeated Greg Rusedksi In 1997

    Opposition Overcome in Four Sets

    In 1997, Rafter faced England’s latest hope Greg Rusedski for the championship of the U.S. Open.  

    The favorites had all faded away—Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Michael Chang, all eliminated. Left standing were serve and volley players one tier down from the top.

    Rusedksi, unseeded, suffered from a throat infection, making him uncomfortable during the match.

    Rafter, seeded No. 13, found himself up two sets to one late into the fourth set when Rudsedski served a rocket at him at 143 miles per hour. The serve briefly inhibited Rafter who was not sure he should try to return anything hit so powerfully.

    But surprisingly, Rafter hung on, reestablishing his supremacy on the court. Later, he broke the Englishman in the eleventh game and after a stunning rally at the net, the Aussie won the match 6-3, 6-2, 4-6, 7-5.

    This allowed the Aussie to rise to the No. 3 ranking.

No. 9: Federer Defeated Roddick, 2006

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    Number 9: Roger Federer Defeated Andy Roddick In 2006

    Opposition Overcome in Four Sets

    Roger Federer defeated Andy Roddick in the final of the U.S. Open in 2006, 6-2, 4-6, 7-5, 6-1.

    By winning, Roger Federer became the first man to win three Wimbledon titles and three U.S. titles consecutively in the same years. It was just one of many records the phenomenal Swiss was accumulating.

    Federer winning three U.S. Opens consecutively equaled Ivan Lendl, who was the last man to accomplish this feat, in 1987.

    His opponent in 2006 was American Andy Roddick who won this title in 2003. Once again, it was the critical third set that sealed the fate for both players, after they had each won a set.

    Roddick’s fortunes improved dramatically when he hired Jimmy Connors to become his coach earlier that year. Advancing into the finals of the U.S. Open was a giant recovery step for Roddick.

    After Federer took the first set, Roddick broke Federer immediately then used his own lethal serve to hang on and take the second set.

    Going into the third set, both players seemed to notch their game up into another gear. With break points on Federer’s serve in the fifth game, Roddick could not convert. Roddick then saved five break chances on his own serve. The set grew increasingly tense.

    Finally, the defending champion found another level and broke Roddick in game 12 to take the set. After that, the match was a mere formality as Roddick quickly folded in the fourth set.

No. 8: Becker Defeated Lendl, 1989

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    Number 8: Boris Becker Defeated Ivan Lendl In 1989

    Opposition Overcome in Four Sets

    Just as Mats Wilander began the process in 1988, Boris Becker nailed the coffin shut on Ivan Lendl’s reign of finals at the U.S. Open. 

    Throughout most of the 1980s, the tournament in New York seemed to belong to the transplanted Czech—who made it into the finals but never into the hearts of New Yorkers.

    Becker, who had long struggled to make his mark in New York, was finally allowed to shine on center court at the National Tennis Center in Queens. 

    The match seemed to balance on the big booming serves delivered by the German who never missed when it really mattered, especially in the first and fourth set tie-breaks. 

    Lendl who struggled to get himself into the fourth set tiebreak, could only stand and watch as Becker’s big serves blasted by him. 

    He remained powerless against the German that afternoon as the shadows fell across the court and the curtain came down on Lendl’s dominance of the U.S. Open. 

    Another era dimmed.  On the horizon, beginning in 2002, another one would begin.

    In 1989, Boris Becker reached his only U.S. Open final, defeating Ivan Lendl, who never again reached a U.S. Open final. 

No. 7: Sampras Defeated Agassi, 1995

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    Number 7: Pete Sampras Defeated Andre Agassi In 1995

    Opposition Overcome in Four Sets

    In 1995-1996, Sampras won back-to-back championships, defeating Agassi in 1995 and Michael Chang in 1996. 

    The men’s finals in 1995 was a jewel of a match between the top two male players in the world, each wishing to topple the other, each aching to standing alone with the trophy in hand at the end of the day. 

    Finals between Agassi and Sampras were extra special, and tennis fans knew it, regardless of their particular pick to win the match—much like today’s finals between Federer and Nadal. 

    Most of the Sampras-Agassi matches were epic, seismic contests.  

    The difference is, of course, that Sampras and Agassi were about he same age, came up together, and met each other during highs and lows in their respective careers. 

    In 1995, Sampras was ascending, and he defeated Agassi 6-4, 6-3, 4-6, 7-5 in two and a half hours. 

    The wind denied Agassi the ability to play well. Sampras was able to dominate with his serve. Ironically, later in his career, Agassi would learn to love the wind, consider it an ally in his matches.

    Sampras took a 9-8 lead in their head to head and a 4-3 edge in the their contested grand slam contests. 

    It was the rivalry for the 90s.

No. 6: Lendl Defeated Wilander, 1987

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    Number 6: Ivan Lendl Defeated Mats Wilander In 1987

    Opposition Overcome in Four Sets

    In 1987, Lendl outlasted Swede Mats Wildander in a tough four setter 6-7, 6-0, 7-6, 6-4—delayed until Monday after a long, soggy Sunday. 

    The match, with its unending backhand baseline rallies, seemed eternal to those assembled watching it.

    In fact, it lasted four hours and 47 minutes without a fifth set. It was the longest final in 107 years.

    During one point in the second and third sets, Willander lost his serve seven straight times.  Even so, Lendl still needed a tie break to win the set. 

    Their cat and mouse tactics constructing points may have been good strategy but produced rather dull tennis for the average New York fan.

    Needless to say, the pair worked hard for their money!

    The following year, Wilander would come back and defeat Lendl in a legendary five-set match and in the process steal away Lendl’s No. 1 ranking. 1987 would be Lendl's last time to be victorious in New York.

No. 5: Federer Defeated Agassi, 2005

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    Number 5: Roger Federer Defeated Andre Agassi In 2005

    Opposition Overcome in Four Sets

    In 2005, Roger Federer defeated Andre Agassi for his second consecutive U.S. Open title.

    The opponent in 2005, Andre Agassi was on the downside of his fantastic career. Agassi had defeated the Swiss easily back in 2001 at the U.S. Open, but Federer in 2005 was another matter.

    Federer won the first set 6-3, but Agassi, fearing a potential straight set loss, came back strong to take the second set 6-2.

    It was even going into the third set, where Federer found himself immediately under pressure as Agassi broke him to go up 4-2. The pro-American New York crowd went crazy, but Federer refused to fold and broke back immediately.

    Agassi poured every ounce of power and determination into the third set, but Federer held his nerve and the two decided to settle matters in a tiebreak.

    The Swiss, however, took the tiebreak without looking back, allowing Agassi only a single point. Federer then swept to the finish line, winning the match 6-3, 2-6, 7-6, 6-1.

    In his remarks after the match, Federer acknowledged the importance of the match to him—defeating Agassi in New York was a dream come true.

    At age 35, the American was the oldest finalist since 1974, when Ken Rosewall played at age 39.

    2005 marked Agassi's last final at Flushing Meadows with retirement to follow shortly.

    It remains a memorable final with two great champions battling for supremacy on the tennis court.

No. 4: Sampras Defeated Agassi, 2002

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    Number 4: Pete Sampras Defeated Andre Agassi In 2002

    Opposition Overcome in Four Sets

    The years 2000-2002 again saw Sampras in the finals of the U.S. Open. 

    But Sampras won his fifth and last U.S. Open championship in 2002, again facing the man with whom he began his era, Andre Agassi. 

    It was a fitting end for Sampras to win his last, his 14th major championship, where he began at the U.S. Open—against Andre Agassi. 

    The two were older, more settled, but no less serene as they practiced the routines that had made them both champions on the court. Sampras continued to blister and punish with his serve while Agassi paced and waited to return, his eyes riveted on the ball and racket of his opponent.

    They worried and fussed and played tennis as they did in days of yore.  

    It seemed that Agassi would win, but in the end he did not and the two hugged each other at the net as Sampras won the match 6-3, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4. 

    Sampras, glad to have won this title to silence his critics, was extremely grateful that the man across the net was his well-respected rival, Agassi. 

    They had met 34 times in their tennis lifetime with Sampras holding the edge 20-14, 4-1 in major finals.

    This would be the last slam win and the last slam appearance for Pete Sampras who would retire from tennis shortly thereafter at age 30. 

No. 3: Agassi Defeated Martin, 1999

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    Number 3: Andre Agassi Defeated Todd Martin In 1999

    Five Set Marathon Match for All the Marbles

    Agassi’s second U.S. Open championship followed five years after his first win in 1994 when he defeated countryman Todd Martin in Martin’s only appearance in a U.S. Open final.

    At the time, Agassi was 29 years of age and he knew what so many did not at that point––Agassi was just getting started and would live to play many more matches before his tennis career ended. 

    Strong, fit, and determined, Agassi hung around for five sets dueling with Martin until he finally won––6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 6-3, 6-2.

    In reaching the finals of the U.S. Open in 1999, Agassi had reached three consecutive slam finals.  He made history in 1999 by winning the French and giving himself a career grand slam. 

    This match against Martin was icing on the cake of a fabulous year for the deserving Agassi.

    In all, Agassi appeared in six finals, losing three times to Sampras and once to Roger Federer in 2005, which marked Agassi’s last appearance in a U.S. Open final.

No. 2: Wilander Defeated Lendl, 1988

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    Number 2: Mats Wilander Defeated Ivan Lendl In 1988

    Five Set Marathon Match for All the Marbles

    The U.S. Open has never been a kind place for Swedes to play. The greatest Swede of them all, Bjorn Borg, appeared in four finals, and never won one. Mats Wilander had been to the U.S. Open six successive years—1988 would mark his seventh try. 

    In 1987, Wilander had, however, made it to the finals, losing to Ivan Lendl in four long, grueling sets.

    1988 would prove to be the exception.  A Swede would finally win the U.S. Open by going through the No. 1 ranked player in the world. It had been an epic struggle.

    Finally, Wilander would put to rest the claim that he did not have the will or the desire to succeed––to become No. 1. 

    The Swede answered the call in this final in five long sets—four hours and 54 minutes—over-extending their battle in last year’s final.

    Both men rose and both fell during the course of the match, but Wilander was the one who refused to give in this time, as he broke Lendl in the first game of the fifth set and then again in the seventh game, after Lendl broke back in the game four.

    Wilander’s decision to serve and volley instead of trying to outlast Lendl from the baseline was the deciding factor in this match, because Lendl could not find his passing shots.

    Wilander won 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 and took over the No. 1 ranking, but he would not hold it long and never again made it to major final. 

    The act of winning, taking that final step was the beginning of the end for Wilander as a top-ranked player.

No. 1: Del Potro Defeated Federer, 2009

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    Number One: Juan Martin Del Potro Defeated Roger Federer In 2009

    Five Set Marathon Match for All the Marbles

    There have been finals and there have been finals, but nothing at the U.S. Open equaled this match for intensity, for swings of emotion and momentum, than last year's final between Argentine Juan Martin del Potro and the legendary champion of the U.S. Open, Roger Federer.

    In 2009, Argentine del Potro defeated Federer in the final in five mesmerizing sets.  

    Nothing lasts forever, not even for Roger Federer who seemed to own the U.S. Open Championship.

    Juan Martin del Potro had to fight for his life in this match, but he never relinquished his belief that he could defeat the man across the net, the world No. 1 Federer, even though the Swiss had not lost a match in New York for five years.

    He was in the final for the sixth consecutive year and hoping for a sixth consecutive win to tie him with Bill Tilden who accomplished this feat in the 1920s.

    Del Potro, age 20, managed to accomplish what his peers were unable to accomplish at Arthur Ashe stadium: outlast and overcome Federer in a final.

    Besides Rafael Nadal, del Potro became only the second man in history to defeat Federer in a slam final.

    Del Potro joined Guillermo Vilas as the second Argentine to win the U.S. Open title. Fittingly, Vilas was on hand to watch his compatriot win the title.

    Going into the match, Federer owned the young Argentine, having won all of their six contests. But del Potro seemed to learn from each of his losses and his confidence grew with each match.

    Several times during the match, Federer held set points and match points, but each time del Potro fought his way back, finally casting Federer in the role of the vanquished.

    In the semifinals, del Potro demolished Nadal 6-2, 6-2, 6-2—sending notice to everyone that a new star was rising. The final was an amazing match to witness as it see-sawed back and forth, as each player seemed to be shutting the other down—for a short while.

    But the last and greatest ascendancy came in the fifth set when del Potro closed the door quickly, denying Federer another opportunity to find a way to win.

    All human beings in motion must come to rest at some point in time. Federer’s reign as the U.S. Open champion was stilled for the moment. But perhaps he will find a way to win there again, if nothing else, simply out of habit.

Epilogue: Who Will Reign at the 2010 U.S. Open?

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    Julian Finney/Getty Images

    Will 2010 be another classic five-set final?  Will Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal give the world another epic to remember?

    At this point, we can only speculate about Sunday.  But we can hope that the winds will die and the sun will shine and we will be treated to another final to remember, perhaps even to supplant the current No. 1.