The Best Players Never to Win the U.S. Open
Bjorn Borg did not like the United States Open. He didn’t like the rambunctious New Yorkers, the nighttime lights — all the stuff his archrivals Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe reveled in.
Connors bested him at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills on clay in the semifinals in 1975, in the finals in 1976 and in the finals in 1978 at the National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows.
In 1979, Borg was seeded first but lost under the lights to the big server Roscoe Tanner in the quarterfinals.
By 1980, however, Borg had won three straight French Open and Wimbledon crowns. He was ready. This time, he publicly declared, he would slay the dragon that was the U.S. Open.
He made it to the final where he lost the first two sets to McEnroe, then won the next two sets.
As darkness fell, McEnroe was on the ropes, but Borg wilted once again, losing three of the final four games to fall, 6-4.
Borg reached the finals again in 1981 and again lost to McEnroe. He never played in another Grand Slam event.
Fourteen men have won at least five Open-era Grand Slam singles titles. All but Borg won the U.S. Open at least once. Here are other top players in the Open’s almost-but-never club.
1. Jim Courier, winner of the 1991 French Open, beat the U.S. Open’s defending champion Pete Sampras in straight sets in the quarterfinals.
Then he crushed the crowd favorite, 39-year-old Jimmy Connors in the semifinals. But Courier ran out of steam against Stefan Edberg in the finals — winning just six games.
Courier won three more Grand Slam singles titles, reached two more finals over the next two years and was ranked No. 1 in the world, but in Queens he’d never again get past the semifinals.
2. Michael Chang’s 34 titles and 662 match wins each rank third among players who never won the U.S. Open.
Chang reached the finals in 1996 but was overmatched against Sampras. But his greatest opportunity may have come in 1992.
Against Edberg in the semifinals, Chang forced a fifth set then seized a 3-0, 15-40 lead, but he lost, 6-4. The marathon heart breaker lasted a record 5 hours and 26 minutes.
Michael Chang stretches to return the ball to Stefan Edberg in the first set of the semifinals at the 1992 Open. Edberg went on to win.CreditRichard Drew/Associated Press
3. From the summer of 1977 through the fall of 1979, Vitas Gerulaitis reached at least the semifinals in six of the eight Grand Slam events he played, winning once.
In 1979 that run was endangered in Queens, when he dropped the first two sets against Tanner and was broken to start the third.
But Gerulaitis rallied to win that set and the following two, stunning Tanner. In the finals, he fell short against McEnroe, who won his first of three straight U.S. Open crowns.
Gerulaitis enjoyed a final flash of greatness in 1981, reaching the semifinals where he lost to McEnroe yet again.
4. Jan Kodes did not win nearly as many matches or titles as Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Goran Ivanisevic or Thomas Muster, but he makes this list for two reasons: he captured three Grand Slam singles titles versus two for Kafelnikov and one each for the other two, and he outperformed them in New York City.
Muster never reached the semifinals and Ivanisevic did just once and Kafelnikov twice.
In 1971, Kodes beat both the top-seed John Newcombe and the third-seed Arthur Ashe before losing to Stan Smith in the finals. In the 1973 finals, he pushed Newcombe to five sets, coming within one set of being disqualified from this list.
1. Evonne Goolagong Cawley is nearly Borg’s equal on the women’s side: She captured 68 Open era titles (sixth most) and reached 18 Grand Slam finals (fifth most), winning seven of them.
But in New York she always fell just short. Starting in 1973, she reached four straight finals, losing in three sets each time to Margaret Court, Billie Jean King and Chris Evert before breaking the pattern in 1976 by falling to Evert in straight sets.
Evonne Goolagong Cawley lost to Chris Evert at the Open in 1975. In her career, she reached four straight finals, also losing to Margaret Court and Billie Jean King.
2. The 1991 semifinals showcased the future of women’s tennis as two teens, Monica Seles and Jennifer Capriati, demonstrated untrammeled aggression and power.
Seles, on her way to a third Grand Slam singles title that year, prevailed in the third set tiebreaker.
She became a superstar while Capriati derailed personally and professionally, not reaching another Slam semifinal until 2000.
In the new millennium, however, Capriati won three Grand Slam singles titles and reached 10 semifinals, including three in New York.
One of the more difficult losses came in the 2003 U.S. Open when Capriati was down 4-1 to Justine Henin-Hardenne in the first set, then rallied to win it.
But despite jumping out to early leads in the next two sets, she ended up losing the match in a tiebreaker.
Monica Seles, left, and Jennifer Capriati at the Pathmark Tennis Classic in Mahwah, N.J., in 1991. Capriati never won at the U.S. Open.CreditMarilynn K. Yee/The New York Times
3. In 2006, Amélie Mauresmo regained the No. 1 ranking, won the Australian Open and Wimbledon.
But she injured her groin at Wimbledon and came to Queens the top seed but not a sure thing. In her second U.S. Open semifinals, Mauresmo faced the 19-year-old Maria Sharapova, who had never beaten her.
If she won, she’d face Henin-Hardenne, whom she had beaten to win her first two Slams. But when it mattered most Mauresmo was shaky and sloppy, losing 6-0, 4-6, 6-0.
4. Even in her best years, when Mary Pierce won the Australian and the French Opens, she never made it past Flushing’s fourth round. But in 2005, at the tail end of her career, Pierce made her stand.
Coming off a finals appearance at Roland Garros and a quarterfinals appearance at Wimbledon, the 30-year-old was seeded just 12th in New York. She played giant killer, upsetting Henin-Hardenne, Mauresmo, and Elena Dementieva to reach her first final, where she faced Kim Clijsters.
Just a few months later Pierce would beat Clijsters on hard courts at the year-end WTA Championships, but at the National Tennis Center she went quietly that day, 6-3, 6-1.