The final leg in the Grand Slam is under way at Arthur Ashe Stadium in Flushing, N.Y.
Much of the talk before and during the famed tennis tourney is as much about who isn’t there, as who is.
Three players who have won it before, including Novak Djokovic (2), Stan Wawrinka (once, defending champ) and Andy Murray (one) are all conspicuously absent due to injuries. Add to their names top players Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic, both out due to nagging injuries.
On the women’s side, only 2011 champ Samantha Stosur isn’t competing due to injury issues.
However, there are still a lot of great players due to compete, including five-time champ Roger Federer, who is a favorite to capture an unprecedented sixth U.S. Open men’s title. On the women’s side, six-time champ Serena Williams will be gunning for a record seventh championship.
Since the beginning of the Open Era, there have been many great champs at the famed tourney. Here are 16 (eight men, eight women) who we deem to be among the greatest U.S. Open players ever.
16. Monica Seles
Had she not been so famously the victim of shocking stabbing attack in 1993, who knows how great Monica Seles really could have been. To that point, the Serbian native had won nine Grand Slam events, including two U.S. Opens in back-to-back years, but was forced to miss two years after the infamous assault by a crazed Steffi Graf fan. In 1991, Seles was the second ranked player on the WTA tour and had to beat solid American players Gigi Fernandez (quarter-finals) and Jennifer Capriati (seventh ranked; semi-finals) to face world no. 6 and four-time champ Martina Navratilova in the final. Seles beat the great Navratilova in straight sets, 7-6, 6-1 to win her first U.S. Open title. Seles, ranked no. 1 in the world in 1992, added her name to the greats by defending her title successfully that year — and reach all four Grand Slam finals — beating world no. 5 Arantxa Sanchez Vicario in straight sets (6-3; 6-3).
15. Rafael Nadal
There is hope this year that greats Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer end up in at least the U.S. Open semi-finals. The two great champions have never faced each other in a U.S. Open final, despite the number of Grand Slam wins between them (15 for Nadal, 19 for Federer). Nadal was a semi-finalist in 2008 and 2009 before finally winning the U.S. Open Men’s Singles title in 2010 in a thrilling four-set victory over ATP no. 3 Novak Djokovic. In 2011, the Joker returned the favor and in 2012, Nadal was absent from the tourney. The Spaniard, ranked no. 2 in 2013, returned triumphantly, facing Djokovic in yet another thrilling final. Nadal won the first set and Djokovic the second, before Nadal put him away 6-4, 6-1 to claim his second U.S. Open title.
14. Margaret Court
Australian Margaret Court has the distinction of being the first repeat U.S. Open champ in the Open Era. The aptly named native of Perth won back-to-back titles in year two and three of the Open Era U.S. Open championships (1969 and 1970). In ’69, she had to beat inaugural Open Era title holder Virginia Wade in the semi-finals before downing American Nancy Richey in straight sets in the final (6-2, 6-2). Court and Richey squared off again in the 1970 semi-finals, with Court coming out ahead to face American Rosie Casals in the final. It was a tougher match than 1969, with Court prevailing 6-2, 2-6 and 6-1. Court missed the 1971 event and was a semi-finalist in 1972 before winning her then unprecedented third title in the Open Era. It was probably her biggest victory, as Court had to dispose of Virginia Wade in the quarter-finals, Chris Evert in the semi-finals and finally countrywoman Evonne Goolagong in the final (7-6, 5-7, 6-2).
13. Novak Djokovic
The “Joker” won’t be gunning for his third U.S. Open Men’s Singles and 13th Grand Slam title this year, as he has taken the rest of the season off to take care of a recurring elbow injury. As we detailed above Djokovic and Rafael Nadal (among other greats) have had many great battles at the U.S. Open over the years. Djokovic made his first final in 2007, losing to Roger Federer and then lost a second final to Nadal in 2010, before breaking through in 2011, beating Nadal 6-2, 6-4, 6-7, 6-1. For the next two years, Djokovic was a finalist again, losing to Andy Murray in 2012 and Nadal again in 2013. The Joker won perhaps his biggest U.S. Open title in 2015, beating Federer 6-4, 5-7, 6-4 and 6-4 in a grueling match. He nearly won a fourth last year, losing a hotly contested match to Swiss Stan Wawrinka, 7-6, 4-6, 5-7 and 3-6.
12. Kim Clijsters
When Belgian tennis star Justine Henin broke through in 2003 to win Belgium’s first ever U.S. Open singles title, it gave countrywoman Kim Clijsters a boost too. That’s because Henin beat her in straight sets, giving Clijsters something to strive for in subsequent tournaments. The Bree native missed the 2004 event, then put in the performance of a lifetime at the 2005 Open. In the quarter-finals she beat former two-time champ Venus Williams in a comeback (4-6, 7-5, 6-1), before taking down then WTA no. 1 Maria Sharapova 6-2, 6-7 6-3 in the semis. In the final, Clijsters would beat French star Mary Pierce 6-3, 6-1 to claim her first of three singles titles. After missing the next three events, Clijsters won back-to-back in 2009-10. She beat Caroline Wozniacki 7-5, 6-3 in 2009 and then Vera Zvonerava 6-2, 6-1 in 2010.
11. Andre Agassi
Few men’s tennis players in the ’90s dominated hard, clay and grass courts like Andre Agassi. He won each of the four Grand Slam titles in that decade, including the U.S. Open twice. Having just one Grand Slam to his name in 1994, Agassi won his first U.S. Open title, downing German Michael Stich in straight sets, 6-1, 7-6 and 7-5. He lost in 1995 to Pete Sampras in the final and wouldn’t make another until 1999. Agassi had a relatively easy time in the quarter-final, beating Frenchman Nicolas Escude in straight sets. In the semis, he had to storm back to clip Yevgeny Kafelnikov 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 and 6-3 to face fellow American Todd Martin in the final. It was a marathon and after three sets, Agassi was down 6-4, 6-7 and 6-7. He clawed back in spectacular fashion, winning it by scores of 6-3 and 6-2. Agassi would make two more finals in his illustrious career, losing to Pete Sampras in 2002 and Roger Federer in 2005.
10. Billie Jean King
Billie Jean King was a tennis warrior, having played in 18 U.S. Opens in her lengthy career, winning four titles (three in the Open Era and one prior). She won in 1967 and was a finalist in the first Open Era tournament, losing to Brit Virginia Wade. It wouldn’t be until 1971 that King won her second title, having to beat three straight American women, starting with Laura duPont in the quarter-finals and Chris Evert in the semis. King then took Rosemary Casals down in straight sets in the final, 6-4, 7-6. The following year, King again had to beat her 1968 conqueror, Virginia Wade, in the quarter-finals. That propelled her to the semis, where she had to beat two-time champ Margaret Court. In the finals King also beat Aussie Kerry Melville in straight sets. King won her last U.S. Open title and second last of her 12 Grand Slams in 1974, coming back to beat Evonne Goolagong 3-6, 6-3, 7-5.
9. Ivan Lendl
Between 1984 and 1987, no one dominated men’s tennis quite like Ostrava, Czech Republic born Lendl. He made 10 Grand Slam finals in those years, winning six (three French and three U.S. Open titles). In fact, Lendl went to the U.S. Open finals eight years in a row between 1982 and 1989, winning back-to-back-to-back from 1985-87. In his first three forays into the final, Lendl lost to Jimmy Connors twice, the John McEnroe. Lendl ended his drought in 1985, beating Connors in the semi-finals in straight sets and then McEnroe in the final, 7-6, 6-3, 6-4. The American icons didn’t make it into the final eight in 1986, when Lendl beat countryman Miloslav Mecir handily in the final, 6-4, 6-2, 6-0. He completed his U.S. Open hat trick in 1987, again having to get past McEnroe in the quarter-finals and then Connors in the semis, before upending Swede Mats Wilander in the final (6-7, 6-0, 7-6, 6-4).
8. Martina Navratilova
Adopted American Navratilova was arguably the best female tennis player ever. Born in Prague, Navratilova would win 18 Grand Slam titles between 1978 and 1990, as well as making 14 other finals, the last at Wimbledon (which she won nine times) in 1994. Navratilova won as many U.S. Open Women’s titles (4) as she made finals appearances (also 4). She lost her first final in 1981 to American Tracy Austin and then sandwiched one finals loss between her four championships from 1983 to 1987. Along with Ivan Lendl’s victories at the same time, they put Czech tennis on the map. Navratilova easily beat Chris Evert for her first championship in 1983 (6-1, 6-3) and then had to fight back against Evert to repeat in 1984, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4. She lost to fellow Czech national Hana Mandlikova in 1985, before doing the repeat again in 1986 and 1987. In ’86 Navratilova beat upstart Czech Helena Sukova, and in ’87 a determined Steffi Graf (7-6, 6-1).
7. John McEnroe
The “enfant terrible” of tennis was as good at winning Grand Slam events (seven singles and nine doubles events) as he was at giving umpires grief in his illustrious career. And in the U.S. Open his battles with the likes of Jimmy Connors, Bjorn Borg and Ivan Lendl were legendary. At the tender age of 20 in 1979, McEnroe won his first Grand Slam title at the U.S. Open, outlasting countryman and foe Connors in the semi-finals, before beating Vitas Gerulaitis in straight sets in the final (7-5, 6-3, 6-3). In 1980 he won his second of three straight, first having to storm back against Lendl in the quarter-finals in four sets and then staging marathon-like, five-set victories in the semis against Connors (6-4, 5-7, 0-6, 6-3, 7-6) and Borg in the finals (7-6, 6-1, 6-7, 5-7, 6-4). McEnroe again had to go the distance in the 1981 semi-finals with Gerulaitis (5-7, 6-3, 6-2, 4-6, 6-3), before having to erase a one-set deficit in the final to beat Borg again. McEnroe’s last U.S. Open triumph in 1984 also cam at the expense of Lendl, who he beat in straight sets, after another monster five-set battle with Connors in the semis.
6. Steffi Graf
Players on the modern WTA tour owe a lot to Graf, whose aggressive game has been emulated over, and over, and over again. Graf is the only female player to have won the Golden Slam (all four majors in the same year, 1988) as well as each Grand Slam event at least four times (22 in total and five U.S Opens). The Mannheim, Germany native won back-to-back twice at the U.S. Open and made eight finals in total. Graf won her first of repeat championships in 1988 and 1989, when she beat Gabriela Sabatini and Martina Navratilova, respectively. She lost to Sabatini in the 1990 final and didn’t make it back to the championship until 1993, when she trumped Helena Sukova in straight sets. Another finals loss in 1994 to Arantxa Sanchez Vicario predated her last back-to-backs in 1995-96. In ’95 she got by old nemesis Sabatini in the semi-finals, then had to go three sets to beat Monica Seles in the final. Seles was also Graf’s victim in 1996, falling 5-7, 4-6. All-time, Graf’s record was an impeccable 73-9 at U.S. Opens.
5. Pete Sampras
Around the time that Steffi Graf was kicking butt and taking names on the WTA circuit and winning U.S. Opens, so too was American Pete Sampras. Like Graf, D.C. native Sampras won five U.S. Open Men’s Singles championships, the first in 1990 and the last in 2002. In fact, Sampras won his second title the same year Graf won her third in 1993 and then they both won back-to-back in 1995-96. Pistol Pete, so named for his precise and devastating serve, captured his first men’s singles title in 1990 at age 19. It was his first of 14 career Grand Slam singles titles, beating countryman Andre Agassi in the final (after getting by legend John McEnroe in the semis). Sampras lost in 1992 to Stefan Edberg, then would win three of the next four championships between 1993-96. In those three wins he beat Cedric Pioline (1993), Agassi (1995) and Michael Chang (1996). Sampras won his final title in his last year, 2002, after making the finals in 2000 and 2001. Sampras again had to outdo Agassi as a big underdog in 2002, clipping him 6-3, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4.
4. Serena Williams
Just two women in the Open Era have won six U.S. Open Women’s Singles titles, they being Williams and Chris Evert. Along with sister Venus, the Williams sisters have claimed eight U.S. Open championships. And you have to give Serena credit for career longevity and success, having won her first U.S. Open singles title in 1999 and her last 15 years later in 2014. In addition, she also went to two other finals and three semi-finals. Serena topped Martina Hingis for his initial win in 1999 and then beat sister and rival Venus for the win in 2002 (payback for losing to Venus in 2001). Serena didn’t win again until 2008, when she handled Jelena Jankovic in straight sets. She was a veteran of 30 when Williams won her first of three straight in 2012, getting by Victoria Azarenka in three sets. Williams again beat Azarenka in 2013, before winning her sixth and last U.S. Open women’s singles championship against Caroline Wozniacki in 2014.
3. Jimmy Connors
In terms of his 22 years on the ATP tour, Connors success at the U.S. Open was near unparalleled. He won five men’s singles championships, went to the finals twice more and the semi-finals seven times in 21 tournaments. A young Connors broke through in 1974 at age 22, whipping Aussie Ken Rosewall 6-1, 6-0, 6-1 first his inaugural victory. Connors went to the finals in 1975, then won again in 1976, beating arch rival Bjorn Borg in four sets. He lost in the 1977 final to Guillermo Vilas and then beat Swede Borg again in 1978 in straight sets. From 1979 to 1981, he lost in the semi-finals to foe John McEnroe (twice) and Borg (once), before going back-to-back in 1982-83 for his final two championships. Connors needed four sets to dispose of Vilas in the semi-finals in 1982, before needing another four sets to top Ivan Lendl in the final. In 1983 it was a repeat performance in the final, with Connors outlasting the higher ranked Lendl in four sets, 6-3, 7-6, 7-5 and 6-0.
2. Roger Federer
In terms of Grand Slams in the Open Era, Roger Federer is the greatest men’s tennis player. He has won 19 Grand Slam singles titles, including a record five U.S. Open championships (tying him with Jimmy Connors). And those five U.S. Open wins came in consecutive years, from 2004 to 2008. The Swiss superstar has also been to two other finals and three semi-finals in a pro career that started in 1998. Federer kickstarted his unprecedent U.S. Open men’s singles run with a resounding victory over Aussie Lleyton Hewitt in 2004, winning 6-0, 7-6, 6-0. He beat legend Andre Agassi in four sets in 2005 and then American Andy Roddick in a hard-fought four-set tilt in 2006. Not done yet, Federer snuck by rival Novak Djokovic in straight sets in 2007 (7-6, 7-6, 6-4) and capped his remarkable run with a three-set no-doubter over Andy Murray in 2008. He could have made it six in a row in 2009, but fell in a five-set heartbreaker to Juan Martin del Potro, 6-3, 6-7, 6-4, 6-7, 2-6.
1. Chris Evert
Our pick for greatest U.S. Open competitor goes hands down to American Chris Evert. Not only did she win six championships in 19 events, she also went to the finals on three other occasions, the semi-finals eight times and the quarter-finals twice. Doing the math, the worst Evert ever did was the quarter-finals. She made it to the semi-finals in her first four attempts from 1971 to 1974, before reeling off a women’s record four straight starting in 1975 with a win against Evonne Cawley. Evert topped Evonne Goolagong in straight sets in 1976, and another Aussie in Wendy Turnbull in 1977. Evert’s last of four straight in 1978 started with another final eight victory over Martina Navratilova in the semis, then a straight set triumph against countrywoman Pam Shriver. Evert lost to Tracy Austin in 1979, before coming back to beat Hana Mandlikova in 1980. Evert again victimized Handlikova in the 1982 final, for her sixth and last U.S. Open Women’s Singles championship.