The Best Moments from the US Open Tennis Championships Over the Years

From Arthur Ashe's historic win to Kim Clijsters' adorable parenting moment, here are some of the best moments to take place at the US Open

The US Open has long been a venue for awe and excitement. Tennis legends from across the world have come to the Arthur Ashe Stadium courts and given us some of the most astonishing moments in the history of the sport. From whirlwind victory laps to stunning upsets, check out some of the most best moments from the US Open.

Related: The Food Lovers' Guide to Eating and Drinking Well at the 2023 US Open

Arthur Ashe Becomes the First Black Man to Win the US Open

<p>Walter Kelleher/NY Daily News Archive via Getty</p> Arthur Ashe holds trophy after defeating Tom Okker

Walter Kelleher/NY Daily News Archive via Getty

Arthur Ashe holds trophy after defeating Tom Okker

Prior to 1968, only professional players could play in the US Open. However, the year ushered in what is known as the Open Era, in which amateurs and professionals could play against each other.

Delivering a stunning win that year was amateur player (and No. 5 seed) Arthur Ashe, who defeated Amsterdam's Tom Okker in five sets. The 25-year-old Virginia native was serving in the army at the time he played and actually had to request time off from West Point in order to compete, per a video from the US Open.

Though he took a place in history as the first Black man to win the prestigious tennis tournament, his win was marred by some bureaucracy. Because he was an amateur player, Ashe couldn't cash in on the $14,000 cash prize being offered, reports the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Instead, he was "paid per diem as a member of the Davis Cup Team" and the prize money went to Okker.

The Ilie Nastase vs. John McEnroe Near-Riot of 1979

<p>Bettmann Archive</p> Tennis official reprimands Nastase while John McEnroe (background) watches on

Bettmann Archive

Tennis official reprimands Nastase while John McEnroe (background) watches on

It's no secret that John McEnroe was as impassioned a tennis player as he was great, but he actually wasn't the troublemaker when a riot nearly broke out during his matchup with Romania's Ille Nastase.

According to the New York Times, the meeting was a pairing of the "original bad boys" of tennis, with both parties' reputations for being, shall we say, spirited preceding them. Still, it was Nastase's antics that wound up causing a "match default, reinstatement, expulsion of a chair umpire and fan behavior that bordered on riotous," reported the Times.

The then 30-year-old Nastase flicked off a net-cord judge's hat, was confrontational with the umpire and took his time strolling to the baseline as part of his charade. After being penalized and disqualified for his actions, the crowd began jeering and wouldn't calm down for nearly 20 minutes. The presiding umpire was replaced and Nastase reinstated into the game. He went on to lose the match to the 20-year-old.

“I was tired,” Nastase, told the New York Times in 2019. “I was 33 already and not playing much anymore. He was 20. I had to pull out all the tricks.”

Tracy Austin Is the Youngest Person to Win the US Open in 1979

<p>Art SEITZ/Gamma-Rapho via Getty</p> Tracy Austin becomes the youngest person to win the U.S. Open

Art SEITZ/Gamma-Rapho via Getty

Tracy Austin becomes the youngest person to win the U.S. Open

Over the years, the US Open has seen a lot of young talent touch down; Roger Federer made his debut at only 19 years old, while Venus and Serena Williams were both 17. However, the youngest person to ever take home the coveted first-place trophy was Tracy Austin, who won in 1979 at only 16 years old, beating out that year's favorite to win, Chris Evert.

"I look back at pictures and obviously it's me, but it feels like so long ago," she reflected on WFAN in 2017. "I was 16 and so naive. Going against Chris Evert who had won it four or five times already, I would have been overwhelmed if I knew what a big deal it really was."

She continued, "I went in there just thinking 'What am I going to have to do to beat Chris today?' —not how it was going to change my life."

Steffi Graf Wins the Grand Slam in 1988

<p>Bettmann Archive</p> Steffi Graff holds her trophy

Bettmann Archive

Steffi Graff holds her trophy

Steffi Graf had a stellar 1988. At only 19 years old, the German tennis legend not only got the Grand Slam when she won the US Open that September, but by the end of the year, she would walk away with the Golden Slam, after winning the Olympic gold medal for her country at the Seoul Olympics.

To this day, she remains the only tennis player in history — male or female — to complete the feat.

Venus & Serena Williams Face-Off in the Finals in 2001

<p>Matthew Stockman/Allsport</p> Venus and Serena Williams at the 2001 U.S. Open

Matthew Stockman/Allsport

Venus and Serena Williams at the 2001 U.S. Open

The 2001 US Open women's singles finals was a benchmark event, not only because it was the first time in 117 years that sisters had faced off, but the matchup had garnered so much fare around it, it became the first US Open women's singles final tournament to get a primetime slot.

Venus beat her little sister 6-2, 6-4 to take the first-place prize for the second consecutive year.

The USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center Opens

<p>Ezra Shaw/Getty</p> Billie Jean King and USTA President Franklin Johnson pose with her plaque

Ezra Shaw/Getty

Billie Jean King and USTA President Franklin Johnson pose with her plaque

Perhaps no one has done more to advance the game of tennis and women's sports in general, than Bille Jean King. In 1973, she famously took down Bobby Riggs in the Battle of the Sexes, which was a huge leap in the crusade for women getting equal pay in sports. "I thought it would set us back 50 years if I didn't win that match," she said, per ESPN. "It would ruin the women's tour and affect all women's self-esteem."

When she retired from tennis in 1984, she had 39 titles to her name with 12 singles titles, 16 women's doubles titles and 11 mixed doubles titles.

For her efforts, the tennis community immortalized her legacy by renaming the USTA National Tennis Center to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, making her the first woman to have a major sports venue named after her.

Andre Agassi's Tearful Retirement

<p>Ezra Shaw/Getty </p> Andre Agassi retires

Ezra Shaw/Getty

Andre Agassi retires

Many men and women have been known to cry on the center court of the Arthur Ashe Stadium and in 2006, it was Andre Agassi.

With an ankle injury and back issues hindering him from playing his best, Agassi shed heartfelt tears as he was forced to retire from the game he had dominated for the better part of two decades. After falling 7-5, 6-7, 6-4, 7-5 to Benjamin Becker, Agassi gave one of the most emotional speeches ever delivered in the tournament.

"The scoreboard said I lost today, but what the scoreboard doesn't say is what it is I have found," the then 36-year-old said through tears. "Over the last 21 years, I have found loyalty, you have pulled for me on the court, and also in life. I've found inspiration, you've willed me to succeed, sometimes in my lowest moments and I've found generosity."

He continued to address the cheering crowd, saying, "You've given me your shoulders to stand on, to reach for my dreams — dreams I could've never reached without you. Over the last 21 years, I have found you and I will take you and the memory of being with you for the rest of my life. Thank you. "

Roger Federer Snags His Fifth Consecutive US Open Trophy

<p>Rob Tringali/Sportschrome/Getty</p> Roger Federer kisses his trophy

Rob Tringali/Sportschrome/Getty

Roger Federer kisses his trophy

The road leading up to the 2008 finals was a tough one for Roger Federer. He had contracted mononucleosis, which slowed his game and saw him lose to archnemesis, Rafael Nadal in both the French Open and Wimbledon that year.

Going into the finals that year, odds may have been slightly stacked against him, but the Switzerland native proved to be the GOAT his fans believed he was. Federer defeated a young Andy Murray (who was appearing in his first Grand Slam final) 6-2, 7-5, 6-2 and set a record by snagging his fifth consecutive US Open trophy.

Del Potro's Shocking Victory Over Roger Federer

<p>EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP via Getty</p> Juan Martin del Potro holds trophy after defeating Roger Federer


Juan Martin del Potro holds trophy after defeating Roger Federer

It seemed the 2009 finals were an easy open road for Federer to take home his sixth US Open title, but 20-year-old Juan Martin del Potro wasn't having it. Going into the match, the towering Argentine had a 0-6 record against Roger Federer and had already lost to him thrice that same year, per the US Open official website.

Not letting the odds get him down, del Potro clinched on, fought and managed to push the reigning champ to five sets. The 20-year-old first-time Grand Slam finalist shocked the world when he beat the indomitable Swiss 3–6, 7–6, 4–6, 7–6, 6–2.

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Kim Clijsters Brings Her Adorable Daughter to the Court

<p>Julian Finney/Getty</p> Kim Clijsters with daughter Jada

Julian Finney/Getty

Kim Clijsters with daughter Jada

On the women's court the same year, Kim Clijsters gave us what's possibly the most adorable moment in US Open history.

In 2007, the then-23-year-old tennis champ stepped away from the game in order to concentrate a bit more on her family. She came back to the game of tennis in 2009 after having welcomed her first child in 2008. Coming into the US Open finals against Caroline Wozniacki, Clijsters was a wild card pick, having played only two tournaments up till then. She won 7-5, 6-3.

During the trophy presentation, Clijsters' daughter, 18-month-old Jada, ran down to the court and marveled at Mama's trophy. The moment naturally tugged at all the spectators' hearts.

“It’s the greatest feeling in the world being a mother,” the Clijsters said while accepting her trophy, per the US Open. “This is something in my wildest dreams I could never have imagined happening.”

According to the official US Open website, the win secured the Belgium native as the first wild card and the first unseeded player to win a US Open women’s singles title in the Open Era; she became the first mother to win the US Open since Margaret Court did so in 1973 and she was the first mom to take a Grand Slam singles title in almost three decades.

Rafael Nadal Completes Career Grand Slam

<p>Matthew Stockman/Getty</p> Rafael Nadal takes a bite at his trophy

Matthew Stockman/Getty

Rafael Nadal takes a bite at his trophy

At only 24 years old, Rafael Nadal completed a feat most players only dream of accomplishing — winning all four majors in the tournament. By the time he walked away from the center court in 2010, the legendarily swift Spaniard had a Wimbledon title, Australian Open title, French Open title and the US Open title to wrap up what's known as a Career Grand Slam.

According to Tennis Majors, Nadal "was the youngest player in the Open Era to achieve that feat, and he was only the third player — after Andre Agassi and Roger Federer — to triumph in four Grand Slams on four different surfaces."

Novak Djokovic's Major Comeback in the 2011 Semifinals

<p>Mike Powell /Sports Illustrated via Getty </p> Novak Djokovic celebrates after beating Federer

Mike Powell /Sports Illustrated via Getty

Novak Djokovic celebrates after beating Federer

The following year, the odds once again seemed to be in Roger Federer's favor as spectators and fans wished for the Swiss legend to finally snag that elusive sixth trophy. Unfortunately, a tenacious Novak Djokovic stood in the way.

After being down two sets, the Serbian not only managed to turn his game around and give a better performance, but he went on to win the entire match, besting Federer 6-7, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 7-5. He would move on to the finals, where he beat defending champ Rafael Nadal to win the entire tournament.

The US Open trophy would be Djokovic's third major tournament trophy that year, as he won the Wimbledon and Australian Open prizes too.

Serena Williams Wins Her Sixth US Open Trophy

<p>STAN HONDA/AFP via Getty </p> Serena Williams smiling


Serena Williams smiling

In the 2014 finals, Serena Williams went up against one of her closest friends, Caroline Wozniacki. And while that may be a challenge for some, Williams did what she had to do and brought her fiery A-game. She ousted the Danish supernova 6–3, 6–3 to clench her sixth US Open trophy, tying Chris Evert's record.

Serena Williams Ends Her 25-Year Long Career

<p>Al Bello/Getty </p> Serena Williams waves to the crowd after playing her last match at the U.S. Open

Al Bello/Getty

Serena Williams waves to the crowd after playing her last match at the U.S. Open

All eyes were on Serena Williams when she walked into the Billie Jean King National Center for Tennis to face off against Ajla Tomljanovic on Sept. 2, 2022. An injured Williams was reportedly considering retirement, and fans hoped she could close out her storied career on a high note — but Tomljanovic ultimately took the "W," beating Serena 7-5, 6-7, 6-1.

At the end of the match, the 23-time Grand Slam winner gave an emotional farewell speech to the game. "I just thank everyone that's here, that's been on my side for so many years. Decades! Literally decades," she said. "But it all started with my parents and they deserve everything so I'm really grateful for them."

She also gave a shout-out to her big sister, saying, "I wouldn't be Serena if there wasn't Venus. So, thank you, Venus. She's the only reason Serena Williams ever existed."

The tennis champ has clarified that she's "not retired" but for the time being is "evolving away from tennis" and towards other pursuits at the moment, including expanding her family: The tennis icon just became a mom of two after welcoming her second daughter, Adira River Ohanian.

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