The fourth and the final Grand Slam tournament of the year- US Open 2019 kickstarted its 139th edition of the tournament at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York City. As per the tradition, the US Open starts on the last Monday of August every year and chronologically, it is the last championship that is played on double cushioned acrylic hard courts. US open is also called the breakthrough tournament for ‘Slam Virgins‘ who have emerged triumphant as youngest Singles Champions in US Open and first tasted slam success in New York (Pete Sampras himself!)
Statistically speaking, the US Open has been the career breakthrough for prodigies. In comparison to the other Grand Slams, the US Open is the only Slam in the last decade that has been won by as many as three players (Juan Martin del Potro, Marin Čilić and Stan Wawrinka) outside the Big 4 (Federer, Nadal, Djokovic & Andy Murray). It is the most unpredictable tournament in the open era and the youngsters have utilised the big stage to step from ‘good’ to ‘great’. XploreSports jots down the Top 6 youngest players who have defeated the champions beating all the odds to clinch the US Open title in the open era.
Youngest Men’s Singles Champions At The US Open
#3 John McEnroe (20 Years, 6 months, 24 Days)
German-born American John McEnroe is widely regarded to have possessed the best volleying skills that the game has ever seen. This particular skill of his helped him excel in Doubles too – a fact which often gets overlooked when his achievements are discussed.
McEnroe’s combined tally of 77 Singles titles and 78 Doubles titles is the highest in the Open Era. The maverick John McEnroe turned professional in 1978 and quickly established himself as one of the top players on tour with his on-court skills as well as his temperamental behaviour often indulging in on-court outbursts with the officials.
McEnroe came into the 1979 US Open as the 3rd seed. In fact, 6 of the top 10 seeds were Americans. He beat former World No.1 Ilie Nastase in the 2nd round and in the semi-finals, he beat Jimmy Connors – the 2nd seed. In the final, McEnroe made quick work of Vitas Gerulaitis to win his first Grand Slam title at the age of 20 years, 6 months, 24 days.
#2 Lleyton Hewitt (20 Years, 6 Months, 13 Days)
Even before the Australian turned 20, Lleyton Hewitt had beaten the likes of Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras and Yevgeny Kafelnikov. He, in fact, was the first teenager to qualify for the ATP Masters Series Finals in the Open Era.
Hewitt came into the US Open of 2001 as the 4th seed. He was by then already the No.1 ranked player from Australia moving ahead of Pat Rafter on the ATP charts. Hewitt had a difficult path to the final as he had 2 gruelling 5-set encounters against Americans James Blake and Andy Roddick in the second round and quarter-finals respectively.
In the final, Hewitt was up against 4-time US Open champion and sentimental favourite Pete Sampras. The match was a one-sided affair much to the contrary of what most people felt. Hewitt won the match in straight sets as he breezed past former World No.1 Pete Sampras to win his first Grand Slam title at the age of 20 years, 6month and 13 days. Later that year, Hewitt become the youngest ever ATP World Number 1.
#1 Pete Sampras (19 Years and 28 Days)
There have been few players who enjoyed more backing from the New York crowd than America’s very own Pete Sampras. ‘Pistol Pete’ as he was called on account of his quick serves, rose to prominence in the early 1990s. Sampras’ big break came in 1990.
Sampras was the 12th seed going into the 1990 US Open and there were 4 Americans ahead of him in the seedings chart. Sampras won the title beating the likes of Thomas Muster, Ivan Lendl, John McEnroe and Andre Agassi.
He became the only teenager to win the US Open in the Open Era – a record which still stands. Sampras was 19 years, 28 days old at the time. Having started the year as World Number 61, he made giant strides with consistent performances to finish the year as the World #5.
Youngest Women’s Singles Champions At The US Open
#3 Monica Seles (17 Years, 9 Months, 5 Days)
No other tennis player barring Monica Seles has won 8 or more Grand Slam titles before turning 20. Very few people start playing at the highest level and challenge the top players immediately after turning professional. But that is exactly what Monica Seles accomplished.
In 1990, she became the youngest ever French Open women’s singles champion by winning the title at the tender age of 16. She retained her title at Roland Garros the following year.
Seles came to the US Open in 1991 as the second seed behind her great rival Steffi Graf. She beat Americans Jennifer Capriati and Martina Navratilova in the semi-final and final respectively to win her first US Open title at the age of 17 years, 9 months, 5 days.
#2 Martina Hingis (16 Years, 11 Months, 8 Days)
There are quite a few women who became World Number 1, won multiple Grand Slam titles in their teenage unlike in the men’s field where they are few and far between. One such tennis prodigy was the first tennis superstar from Switzerland- Martina Hingis.
Hingis won the Wimbledon doubles championships in 1996 when she was not even 16 years of age. The following year proved to be her best ever as she made the finals of all 4 Grand Slams, winning all but one.
Hingis entered the 1997 US Open as the top seed. Hingis won the competition without dropping a single set, beating Venus Williams in the final. Hingis was only 16 years, 11 months, 8 days old at the time of her first and only US Open triumph.
#1 Tracy Austin (16 Years, 8 Months, 28 Days)
In the days of the wooden racket era, few players in the women’s game possessed a stronger all-round baseline game than American Tracy Austin. Blessed with a strong forehand and incredibly powerful two-handed backhands, Austin had the ability to hit winners with pinpoint accuracy. She also displayed great volleying skills which would help her win a Mixed Doubles title at the Wimbledon Championships with her brother John Austin. In 1995, she broke Chris Evert’s 125-match winning streak on clay at the Italian Open.
At the age of 16, she logged a win over the legendary Billie-Jean King at the Wimbledon Championships of 1979. At the US Open that year, Tracy Austin was the 3rd seeded player. She beat multiple Grand Slam champions and tennis legends, Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert in the semi-final and final to win the title at the age of 16 years, 8 months, 28 days, making her the youngest ever player to win the Women’s Singles Championship at the US Open 1979.