Roger Federer and the 15 Greatest Men's U.S. Open Tennis Champions of All Time
The U.S. Open is one of the oldest tennis championships in the world and has produced a plethora of champions in its rich and glorious history.
Ever since the first tournament was held back in 1881, the tournament has evolved from a competition only for the elite to one which is contested by more than 600 athletes from around the world.
The U.S. Open has been played on all three surfaces—grass, clay and hard—since its inception.
All three surfaces have had the honor of being graced by players who have written their name on the pantheon of the game.
As we gear up for the fourth and final Grand Slam of the year, here is a list of 15 champions who have set the bar for the rest:
15. Ken Rosewall
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Ken Rosewall was one of the cleanest strikers of the ball the world has ever seen.
Ironically known as "Muscles" during his playing days due to his lack of them, Rosewall was a powerful force in men's tennis (despite his frail build).
Rosewall's strongest shot was his sliced backhand, which defined brilliance and is generally considered one of the best backhands of all time.
Rosewall's tennis career spanned over three decades between the Amateur and Open eras.
The Australian turned professional in 1956—the year he won his first U.S. Open as a 21-year-old.
Rosewall captured major titles in his teens, his twenties and his thirties—a feat matched only by Pete Sampras in the men’s game. He won 12 Grand Slam singles titles in total, including two U.S. Open titles.
The gap between his two U.S. Open triumphs is a whopping 14 years, with the second coming in 1970 when Rosewall was 35.
Rosewall was inducted into the U.S. Open Court of Champions last year. This is a league of extraordinary sportsmen and the tournament's all-time greatest players who have helped make the U.S. Open one of the world's top sporting events.
14. Don Budge
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Don Budge was a California-born tennis great who has the distinction of being the first player to win the Grand Slam of tennis—winning all four majors in a calendar year.
Only one other man has achieved this feat to date—Rod Laver.
Budge had an all-around game with a powerful serve, strong and accurate ground-strokes and thundering volleys. He also had one of the best backhands in the history of the game.
Budge dominated the game during the 1930s and won two back-to-back U.S. Open championships in 1937 and 1938. Soon after, he turned professional.
Budge was inducted into the U.S. Open Court of Champions in 2006.
13. Andre Agassi
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Andre Agassi was one of the most charismatic and flamboyant tennis players of his time and is credited for reviving American tennis in the early 1990s.
After his first Grand Slam breakthrough in 1992, when he won Wimbledon as a 22-year-old, Agassi became the first man to win the U.S. Open as an unseeded player in 1994, when he beat Michael Stich in the final.
He had to come over an epic fourth-round five-set match against compatriot Michael Chang to get there.
Agassi soon became the first player to win the four Grand Slams on all three surfaces and completed the Golden Slam when he won the gold in the Olympic games in 1996.
Agassi's second and last U.S. Open triumph came in 1999, when he came back from a two-sets-to-one deficit to beat Todd Martin in the final.
He ended the year as the World No. 1, ending Sampras's record of six consecutive year-ending top rankings (1993–1998).
This would also remain the only time the American ended the year on top of the rankings.
Toward the end of his career, Agassi's game was hampered by severe back injuries, and he played through the pain during his last tournament—the 2006 U.S. Open—with anti-inflammatory injections after every match.
Agassi bid an emotional and memorable farewell to his 21-year playing career after losing to Benjamin Becker in the third round of the tournament and was subject to a four-minute-long standing ovation at the end of the match.
His speech at the end of the match remains etched in the memories of the thousands of fans present at the stadium that day and millions of tennis fans across the world.
12. Jack Kramer
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Jack Kramer is widely regarded as the most influential player in the history of the game and is credited to ushering in the era of professional tennis.
After winning two back-to-back post-war U.S. Open championships in 1946-47, Kramer decided to turn professional due to lack of money on the amateur tour.
Kramer was one of the stalwarts behind the promotion of the professional tennis tours. He was relentless in his pursuit of Open tennis between amateur and professional players and was rewarded for his efforts by the establishment of the Open era in 1968.
Kramer was one of the best serve-and-volley players the world has ever seen. He relied on his powerful serve and forehand, and got to the net frequently, even on his second serve.
Kramer was inducted into the Court of Champions in 2004. He died, aged 88, in September, 2009.
11. Malcolm Whitman
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Malcolm Whitman was a 6'2" American tennis player who won the U.S. Open championship three years in a row from 1898 to 1900.
He also played in the inaugural American Davis Cup team and was unbeaten in the 1900 and 1902 Challenge Rounds against Great Britain.
Whitman was an aggressive serve-and-volley player who used his height to take control of the net.
10. Fred Perry
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Fred Perry was a multiple-title-winning tennis and table tennis player from Stockport, England.
He was the first player ever to win a Career Grand Slam and he did so at the age of 26.
Perry won eight Grand Slam titles in his career, including a hat-trick of Wimbledon titles and three U.S. Open titles between 1933 and 1936. He was World No. 1 for four years.
Following his U.S. Open triumph in 1936, in which he beat Don Budge in the final in five sets, Perry turned professional. He was hugely criticized in England for his switch, which resulted in him shifting base to the United States soon after.
Perry went on to draw huge crowds in America to watch him play a series of matches against Ellsworth Vines and Bill Tilden.
Despite Perry being the last British player to win a Grand Slam at the 1936 U.S. Open, he was not given due recognition by the tennis authorities in Britain until his twilight years.
In 1984, a bronze statue of Perry was erected at Wimbledon to mark the 50th anniversary of his first singles Grand Slam title.
9. Ivan Lendl
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Ivan Lendl is a former World No. 1 who was one of the most dominant players in the late '80s and early '90s.
He held the top rank for 270 weeks—a record which was finally broken by Pete Sampras, and then by Roger Federer.
Lendl won eight Grand Slam singles titles in his career, including a hat-trick of U.S. Open triumphs from 1985-1987.
The Czech-American was also a U.S. Open finalist for eight consecutive years—a record he shares with Bill Tilden.
Lendl was popular for his powerful ground-strokes, which relied on his heavy top-spin forehand that he used to dictate play.
He relied on his strength and his running forehand, which he could hit both cross-court and down the line, with a huge amount of top-spin.
Lendl was inducted into the Court of Champions in 2005.
8. Robert Wrenn
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Bob Wrenn was the first left-hander to win the U.S. Open championship, when he won it in 1893.
The man from Illinois was to win the title three more times in his career between 1894 and 1897. He lost out to Fred Hovey in the final in 1895.
Wrenn was a versatile athlete and played football and baseball as well.
He was known to move swiftly around the court and loved using the lob to get out of trouble.
Wrenn was part of the American Davis Cup team in 1903 and later became the president of the United States Tennis Association (USTA) from 1912-1915.
7. John McEnroe
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John McEnroe was one of the most skilled and controversial players in his time and is considered one of the greats of the game.
Known for his competitiveness and ferocious temper, the American often got on the wrong side of the officials due to his lippy nature, which led to heavy fines and suspensions.
But he made up for his personal flaws with his game.
McEnroe, a left-hander, is regarded as one of the best serve-and-volley players to have graced the sport.
McEnroe’s touch on the volley was feathery, and his instincts were phenomenal.
His craftiness led him to capture four U.S. Open titles in his career.
At 20, McEnroe won the first of the four titles by beating Vitas Gerulaitis in the final, thereby becoming the youngest champion since Pancho Gonzales 31 years prior.
He repeated his feat in dramatic battles with Björn Borg—one of his greatest rivals—in 1980 and 1981. In doing so, McEnroe became the first player to win three straight U.S. Open men's singles titles since Bill Tilden.
McEnroe won at Flushing Meadows for the last time in 1984, over Lendl.
But he was defeated in the rematch 12 months later, thereby relinquishing his World No. 1 ranking, which he had held for four years, to Lendl.
McEnroe was inducted in the tournament's Court of Champions in 2004.
6. Willam Larned
Bill Larned was the top dog in American tennis for nearly two decades, starting at the dawn of the 20th century.
Raised in New Jersey, Larned attended Cornell University and gained fame when he became the first Cornellian to win the intercollegiate tennis championship—a record which stands to date.
Larned then went on to win seven U.S. Open championships between 1901 and 1911 and was a runner-up in two.
When he won the last of those championships in 1911, Larned was 38. He remains the oldest man to win the competition.
5. Richard Sears
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Richard Sears was quite the character on the tennis court.
The man from Boston sported a bespectacled, mustached look and topped it off with a necktie and cap.
At 19, while he was still a student at Harvard, Sears won the inaugural U.S. Open in 1881 and won it for seven consecutive years until 1887.
It was a remarkable feat, although the champion was guaranteed an automatic place in the next year's final in those days.
This also included an 18-match unbeaten streak, which was unchallenged until Bill Tilden came along some forty years later.
Sears was also the first 19-year-old to win the U.S. Open—slightly older than Pete Sampras when he won it in 1990.
4. Pete Sampras
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Pete Sampras is the most successful American male player in the Open era.
He is widely regarded as the greatest player of all time.
Sampras won 14 Grand Slam titles in a professional career that lasted 14 years. He occupied the World No. 1 ranking for a record six consecutive years and spent a total of 286 weeks on top—a record that is yet to be beaten.
Sampras possessed one of the most assorted arsenals in the history of the game. Being a prolific serve-and-volley player, his service-game percentage was phenomenally high.
He was known for producing aces on crucial points, even with his second serves. He had an accurate and powerful first serve, and an equally lethal second serve, which was great on disguise.
Sampras was also known to have one of the best running forehands of all time and was able to hit forehand and backhand winners from all over the court.
He was also famous for popularizing the jump-smash, which later got labelled the "slam dunk".
Sampras won five U.S. Open titles in his career—an Open-era record he shares with Jimmy Connors and Roger Federer.
He played his last professional tournament at the 2002 U.S. Open, where he beat arch-rival Andre Agassi in the final, ending a glorious and hugely successful career.
Sampras was inducted into the Court of Champions in 2008.
3. Roger Federer
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Roger Federer is, arguably, the greatest tennis player of all time.
He has won an unprecedented 16 Grand Slam titles in his 13-year professional career so far and has appeared in a record 23 major finals, of which 10 were consecutive appearances.
At the U.S. Open, Federer has written his name alongside the tournament greats.
He has won five successive titles between 2003 to 2008—an Open era record.
He has also contested in six consecutive U.S. Open finals, another Open era record, with his only loss in a final coming against Juan Martin del Potro in 2009.
Federer holds the Open-era record for the highest number of successive matches won—34.
The Swiss Maestro loves playing at Flushing Meadows and has a game well-suited to the fast, low-friction and low-bounce acrylic hard courts at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
Despite his dip in form over the last two years and his inability to reach last year's final, Federer will be a favorite to capture a record sixth U.S. Open title this year and will have vociferous support from the New York crowd.
2. Bill Tilden
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Bill Tilden, often considered one of the greatest players of all time, was an American champion and World No. 1 for seven years.
He won 14 major trophies, including 10 Grand Slams and four Pro Slams.
Tilden was the most dominating player in world tennis in the 1920s and won a record seven U.S. Open championships in that decade, along with appearing in a record ten finals.
This included records for appearing in the most successive U.S. Open finals—eight—and a record 42 successive victories at the tournament.
"Big Bill", as he was known, stood at 6'2" and was one of the most influential players in the history of the game.
He changed the image of the sport completely and inspired a lot of coaching manuals. He was a master strategist and had a full arsenal of strokes, including one of the most powerful serves at the time.
Tilden was one of the first inductees into the U.S. Open Court of Champions in 2003.
1. Jimmy Connors
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Jimmy Connors is one of the greatest and the most successful players to come out of America.
Jimbo, as he is popularly known, was the first player to be World No. 1 for more than 200 weeks and stayed on top for 268 weeks.
The 5'10" American wasn't the biggest of the lot, but he had an indomitable spirit which was backed by a solid two-handed backhand and the best service return in the game.
Connors is the only male player to have won more than 100 singles titles in his career.
This includes five U.S. Opens, which he won on three different surfaces—1974 on grass, 1976 on clay and 1978, 1982 and 1983 on hard. Connors is the only man to have achieved this feat.
Despite those victories, Connors' most memorable performance at the U.S. Open came as a 39-year-old in 1991.
No one expected him to go far in the tournament, but Connors got the crowd behind him as he dispatched his much-younger opponents one-after-the-other.
Connors gave himself a wonderful 39th birthday present in his fourth-round match against Aaron Krickstein.
He was down 2-1 in the match before equalizing. Krickstein then went 5-2 ahead in the fifth set and the writing seemed to be on the wall.
Not for Connors, it wasn't!
The crowd went ecstatic as Connors roared back and won a tiebreaker.
Connors then reached the final four after beating Paul Haarhuis in the quarterfinals.
Unfortunately, the dream came to an end in the semis as Jim Courier won in straight sets.
Even though Stefan Edberg won the tournament, the 1991 U.S. Open will always be remembered as the Connors Open.
Connors was another one of the first inductees into the Court of Champions in 2003.
Honorable Mention: Arthur Ashe
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No tennis greats list is complete without a mention of the iconic Arthur Ashe, after whom the main court at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center is named.
Ashe is known for having broken the shackles of race that had entangled the sport before his time and remains the only black man to have won the U.S. Open, Wimbledon and the Australian Open.
He won his first U.S. Open in 1968 and sent the nation into ecstasy. He also led the United States to victory for three consecutive years, between 1968 and 1970, in the Davis Cup.
Arthur Ashe was one of the greatest ambassadors for the sport and was a truly respected sportsman and human being.
Ashe passed away, aged 49, in 1993, and the USTA appropriately responded by naming its new stadium after him.
Ashe was inducted into the Court of Champions in 2009.