As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the US Open, we look back at the 50 champions who have left an indelible mark on this inimitable event.
During his storied run to the US Open semis in 1991, when, as a supposedly geriatric 39-year-old birthday boy, he stormed back to defeat Aaron Krickstein, 3-6, 7-6, 1-6, 6-3, 7-6, in a fourth-round thriller that would become airtime-filling, rain-delay fodder for decades to come, Jimmy Connors bellowed, “This is what they paid for! This is what they want!”
Of course, the fiery Connors had long been providing fans with their money’s worth in Flushing Meadows, where the Belleville Basher won five men’s singles titles, an Open-era record equaled only by the likes of Pete Sampras and Roger Federer.
Connors, raised along the Mississippi River and first introduced to the sport by his mother and grandmother, won three of the four majors in 1974, his first US Open title coming in the final year the tournament was played on grass. Ironically, it was another 39-year-old – Ken Rosewall – that Connors, then 22, would overwhelm, 6-1, 6-0, 6-1, in the most lopsided final in US Open history. He would add titles in ’76 and ’78, both coming against Bjorn Borg, and would reach five straight Open finals between ’74 and ’78.
Connors returned to the winner’s circle for back-to-back titles in 1982 and 1983, each coming at Ivan Lendl’s expense. In doing so, he became the first male player to win five US Open trophies in 59 years, dating back to Bill Tilden’s six titles from 1920-25.
“When I walked out of here, I left DNA out there on that court,” reflected Connors, a 1998 International Tennis Hall of Fame inductee. “I say that with pride. In walking away, in not playing here anymore, it was the toughest thing I ever did. I made my reputation here. No, I didn't make my reputation – this place made my reputation. I just happened to be along for the ride and part of it. I was able to just give everything that I ever had every time I walked out there.”
Connors, who registered eight Grand Slam titles overall, still sits atop the Open-era honor roll when it comes to career titles (109). He is fourth all-time with 268 weeks at No. 1, a ranking he first attained at the age of 21. He was also a doubles winner at the US Open, taking the title in 1975 with Ilie Nastase.
Connors is the only player to win US Open singles titles on three different surfaces. He won twice at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills – on grass in 1974 and on clay (Har-Tru) in 1976 – before capturing his third championship on hard courts in Flushing Meadows in 1978.
50 Fact: Connors’ victory at the 1974 US Open made him only the second man in the Open era to win three majors in a calendar year.