Since the dawn of tennis’ Open Era in 1968 — with the legendary Arthur Ashe winning the first men’s U.S. Open that September — Queens has attracted the finest professionals in the world.
Whether at its original home — the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills — or its current one at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, the last 50 years of U.S. Open tennis have produced some of the most memorable moments in the sport’s history. Who could forget 2001, when Serena and Venus Williams met for the first time in a Grand Slam final, or 2009’s stunning upset of the great Roger Federer by Juan Martin del Potro?
While all who’ve victory in that time have left their mark, a select few stand out as the greatest to compete in New York. Here’s a look at the best of the best singles champions.
Pete Sampras: One of only two men to reach the final eight times, Sampras announced himself as a force with an upset of future rival Andre Agassi in 1990, claiming the first of his 14 Grand Slam titles at age 19. By the time he walked away from tennis after winning the 2002 U.S. Open against Agassi, most considered him to be the greatest ever.
Jimmy Connors: The only man to win the U.S. Open at both host sites, Connors went 5-2 in the singles final in Queens between 1974 and 1983. Perhaps his most memorable run came in 1991, when he won a 4-hour, 41-minute marathon match on his 39th birthday en route to an unlikely semifinals berth.
Roger Federer: Like Sampras and Connors, Federer is a five-time tournament champion. Unlike them, he won all of his in consecutive years before being usurped by de Potro. He’s also in pursuit of a men’s record sixth title this year, entering as the No. 2 ranked player in the world.
John McEnroe: Alongside the U.S. Open itself, nothing in the sport is more New York than the brash McEnroe. The Queens native, who honed his skills at the Douglaston Club, won his hometown Grand Slam four times in six years and twice topped rival Bjorn Borg in the final.
Chris Evert: Nobody — man or woman — has had a 10-year run on the hard courts of Queens quite like Evert’s. From 1975 through 1984, she won the U.S. Open six times — including four in a row — and missed the final just once — a 1981 semifinals defeat to rival Martina Navratilova.
Serena Williams: This year’s No. 17 seed can surpass Evert for most U.S. Open titles. As it stands, her 6-2 finals record is perhaps the most impressive among her peers. The fact that she won her first title at 17 in 1999 and her most recent one four years ago at age 32 is equally impressive.
Martina Navratilova: Navratilova owned Wimbledon, but she was excellent in Flushing, too. She won singles four times in five years, also reaching the final another four times. Plus, the greatest doubles player of the open era won nine titles in New York over a 14-year stretch.
Steffi Graf: Only Evert and Williams have won more frequently at Flushing Meadows than Graf, who reigned five times between 1988 and 1996 and was runner-up three times. The German great’s 1988 title capped a year in which she won all four majors and Olympic gold, a feat known as the Golden Slam which no other person has duplicated before or since.