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Best of 3: Lefties at the US Open

By Jackie Finn
Wednesday, June 08, 2016

It’s not always easy being left-handed. Spiral notebooks, scissors and even the subway turnstiles in New York City are built for ease of use for those with a dominant right hand. Lefties are even disadvantaged in some sports: Polo can only be played right-handed, and lefties are limited to only a few positions on the baseball diamond.

But tennis is a special type of game and the tennis court is a place where many lefties shine the brightest of all. The US Open has seen its fair share of crafty lefties rise to top on the final weekend, first at Forest Hills and later in Flushing Meadows. In this week’s Best of 3, we take a look at some of the best players to cover the US Open courts with a prevailing left hand.

Rod Laver

Known as the "Rocket,” this Australian legend stands above many of the giants of the game on any surface despite standing merely 5-foot-8. For many, his most distinctive feature was his left forearm, which was so muscular that it looked almost comical.

He was a masterful serve-and-volley player, with deft touch around the net combined with a powerful serve and topspin ground strokes. His game was made for the grass courts at Forest Hills and his style of play was the inspiration of many – including another renowned lefty, John McEnroe.

Laver is the only man to win the calendar Grand Slam twice, first in 1962 as an amateur and then in 1969 as a professional. And both times the crowning match was played at the US Open.

His first U.S. title came in 1962, when he beat fellow Aussie Roy Emerson, 6-2, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4. It was the second of three consecutive men’s singles finals for Laver. In 1969, Laver had to wait an extra two days because of rain for his date with history when he defeated another Australian left-hander Tony Roche on a Tuesday final, 7-9, 6-1, 6-3, 6-2. The match was not without its drama; after dropping the first set, and with the court still wet from more rain, Laver asked the chair umpire if he could switch from sneakers to spikes for better movement on the court. The rest is history.

Statistically, Laver can be found at the top of many US Open records. He was the top seed at the Open five times, had an overall win percentage of 81.5% and his seven year gap between men’s titles is second longest in tournament history.

John McEnroe

“Local boy makes good” was John McEnroe's US Open story. The fiery left-hander was born in Douglaston, Queens, just a few miles from Flushing Meadows, and he grew up watching his favorites play at Forest Hills. When it came his turn to play, the temperamental genius with a racquet put together a magical run of four singles titles and four doubles titles starting in 1979.

McEnroe won three consecutive men's crowns, 1979-81, and added his last title in 1984. His three-peat included two of the game's finest matches, finals victories over his historic rival, the stoic Swede Bjorn Borg.

In 1980, McEnroe and Borg waged an epic 4-hour, 13-minute battle. After grabbing the opening two sets, McEnroe had to regroup in the fifth in order to hold off Borg 7-6, 6-1, 6-7, 5-7, 6-4; the 55 games in the final is still a tournament mark. A year later, the pair met again in the final. Borg took the opening set before McEnroe roared back to win the next three for a 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 6-4 victory.

In 1984, McEnroe claimed his fourth and last US Open men's title by beating Ivan Lendl in straight sets.

McEnroe's mastery stretched to the doubles court as well, where his uncanny mixture of power and touch made him one of the greatest doubles players of all-time. With longtime partner Peter Fleming, McEnroe claimed the doubles title in 1979, 81 and 83. Six years later, he paired with Australian left-hander Mark Woodforde to win his last Open crown.

Martina Navratilova

It is hard to know where to start when it comes to discussing the career of Martina Navratilova at the US Open. She is not only the best women's left-hander ever to play at the Open; she might arguably be the best women's player of all-time.

Despite the subjective nature of those claims, her Open era record of 16 US Open titles certainly stamps her as the Open’s most versatile performer. Her titles include four in singles (1983-84, 86-87), fourth all-time in the Open era, and she was a tournament finalist in 1981, 85, 89 and 91. She won nine Open women's doubles titles, best in the Open era and third all-time, including four doubles crowns with her longtime partner Pam Shriver (1983-84, 86-87).

Navratilova also won three mixed doubles titles, in 1985, 1987 and 2006, tied for most in the Open era. Her last victory with partner Bob Bryan came just months shy of her 50th birthday, making her the oldest women's Open champion in tournament history.

Perhaps most noteworthy is that Navratilova’s career spanned four decades – beginning in the 1970s. Navratilova holds a tournament record of 21 singles appearances and a total of 106 singles matches played.

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