The list of those who have finished first at the US Open reads like a “Who’s Who” of the game’s all-time greats. There’s a reason for that—the US Open is, without doubt, one of tennis’ toughest titles. You need to withstand a lot if you’re going to stand alone at the end of the Flushing fortnight. You need to give it everything you’ve got—and then find just a little bit more.
Indeed, the Open has allowed many of the game’s greatest champions to define their greatness; it was here that they earned the credentials that elevated them to the company of the elite. Conversely, there are others who, despite obvious greatness, were never able to string together seven matches over the course of two weeks in New York. They each are champions, without a doubt, but they each are champions with one New York-sized hole on their otherwise glittering resumes. In this installment of “Best of 3,” we take a look at three remarkable champions who never were able to make their mark at the US Open.
The epitome of cool, Sweden’s Bjorn Borg (pictured above) never warmed to the US Open. An 11-time Grand Slam singles champion with a lifetime match record of 606-123, Borg won five consecutive Wimbledon titles from 1976 to 1980, and captured the French Open six times, including four in a row from 1978 to 1981. Borg played in the US Open 10 times – alas, none of them perfect. His 40-9 career mark at the Open is an impressive one, but he never could triumph in a second-Sunday showing. He reached four finals, losing to Jimmy Connors in 1974 and 1976 and to John McEnroe in 1980 and 1981. After the 1981 final, Borg left the court before the post-match ceremony and never played in another Grand Slam event.
Standing just 5-foot-6, Australia’s Evonne Goolagong was a tall talent, a keen competitor blessed with superior shot-making skills and lightning speed who could cover the court like an electric blanket, chasing down balls and painting lines with staggering precision. The woman from Down Under came out on top seven times at a Slam, with four Australian singles crowns, two wins at Roland Garros and one Wimbledon championship. She was an equally fine doubles player, with six major women’s doubles titles and one mixed championship. But none of that Grand Slam hardware came from the US Open, where, from 1973 to 1976, she became the only woman in the history of the tournament to lose four consecutive finals – first to Margaret Court, then to Billie Jean King, then two in a row to Chris Evert. Goolagong was 26-6 all-time at the Open, part of a career Grand Slam singles mark of 133-29.
No, Jim Courier has never won the US Open. That comes as a surprise to many people, if only because it seems only logical that Courier, a longtime U.S. Davis Cup stalwart and now captain of the U.S. Davis Cup squad, would have triumphed at a place and on a court that so perfectly suited his personality and his playing style. But the brilliant baseliner, who never played at less than all-out, was never able to go the distance at his home Slam. Courier owns two Aussie Open titles and two French Open titles and established an impressive 118-28 mark at the Slams, including a 24-10 record at Flushing Meadows, but he only reached the Flushing final once, losing in 1991 to Sweden’s Stefan Edberg. Twice more, Courier reached the US Open semis. In 1992, he beat John McEnroe and Andre Agassi back-to-back before falling to Pete Sampras, who took Courier out again in the penultimate round in 1995. That would be as close as the American would ever again come to capturing the US Open crown.