Over the years, the US Open has played host to innumerable memorable night matches, but some of the most special moments have come from those that finish after midnight.
The US Open is not the only tennis tournament in the world to feature night matches, but when the clock approaches 12:00 in New York, the atmosphere is unlike that of any other sporting event. At Flushing Meadows, it doesn’t matter if a match lasts until the early hours of the morning; the only thing that matters to the city’s raucous fans is that they are able to see a show.
This week, Best of 3 is taking a look at three of the most memorable matches ever to finish after midnight at the US Open:
Jimmy Connors v. Patrick McEnroe – 1991
A Connors and McEnroe match at the US Open always promised something special. This one delivered – but with a slight twist. The McEnroe in this epic was Patrick, the younger brother of John.
And it was Patrick who quickly grabbed command of the opening-round match, taking the first two sets against the five-time US Open Champion Connors, who five days shy of his 39th birthday entered the 1991 tournament as a wild card with a world ranking of No. 174 – and who, by all early accounts, looked like he was on his way to a quick exit.
McEnroe, 25, was on cruise control, leading 3-0 in the third set with Connors serving down love-40. But somehow the veteran managed to turn the match on its head, conjuring up some nighttime magic on tennis’ biggest stage to engineer one of the most dramatic comebacks in Open history.
At 1:35 a.m., Connors emerged victorious by a score of 4-6, 6-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-4, after four hours and 25 minutes on court.
The miraculous comeback was the launching pad for his legendary run to the semifinals, where Connors would eventually fall to Jim Courier.
Justine Henin- Hardenne v. Jennifer Capriati – 2003
Waiting in the final for the winner of this semifinal was Belgian Kim Clijsters, who had already beaten American Lindsay Davenport early in the evening. It would be a little bit of a wait for Justin Henin-Hardenne and Jennifer Capriati before one of them could secure the other spot.
In a match that lasted three hours and three minutes, ending at 12:27 a.m., a Belgian once again defeated a home favorite when Henin-Hardenne finished off Capriati, 4-6, 7-5, 7-6, in a match for the ages.
Capriati had multiple chances to close out the match and book her first trip to a US Open final, serving for the match in both the second and third sets and coming within two points of victory a total of 11 separate times.
But Henin-Hardenne prevailed, fighting off cramps to finish off with the victory in not only one of the greatest night matches, but one of the most memorable in US Open history. In the next match, Henin-Hardenne beat her compatriot for her first of two Open crowns.
Andre Agassi v. James Blake – 2005
In an all-American quarterfinal match under the lights of Arthur Ashe stadium, 35-year-old veteran Andre Agassi faced off against young gun James Blake, nearly 10 years Agassi's junior.
Blake raced out to a two-sets-to-none lead, overwhelming the two-time champion with a dazzling array of shot-making and speed on the court. But Agassi, playing in his 20th consecutive Open, clawed his way back into the match, taking the next two sets to set up a fifth and final set. Again Blake appeared to have the edge, serving for the match at 5-4, only to be denied by vintage Agassi ground strokes and service returns. The tiebreak was a nail-biter, with Agassi coming out on top, 8-6, to win, 3-6, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3, 7-6.
The match, which began at 10:16 p.m. and lasted nearly three hours, is considered by many to be one of the most exciting in the history of the US Open, with Agassi famously stating in his post-match interview: “1:15 in the morning … 20,000 people still here. I wasn’t the winner; tennis was.”
Although the fans did not know it at the time, Agassi was playing in his second-to-last US Open. He would go on to reach the final, and, at the age of 35, become the oldest player to compete for the men’s singles title in Flushing Meadows since 39-year-old Ken Rosewall in 1979.