By Ann Liguori
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As the US Open Tennis Championship fortnight approaches, starting Monday, August 29, and as I begin to put my tennis cap on and switch from the golf world for a bit, I look back at some of my top memories of covering the US Open tennis championships since 1982, my first year working the event, covering one of my favorite sports.
In 1982, I was the statistician for HBO, the cable network who had the cable rights at the Open during that time. I watched the televised matches and was responsible for the score and various stats that were put up on the television screen throughout those two weeks. It was a marathon and I did not see the light of day, being in the production truck all day long, but it was a good experience and made me appreciate being able to rove around the grounds and report on the tournament the next couple of years for ABC Radio Sports. And then when WFAN Radio first started in 1987, I began my tennis reports for the station from the overcrowded press box of the Louis Armstrong Court…and all these years later, this upcoming US Open will be my 29th straight US Open. (Yikes – I feel like I’m 21!)
There are so many special US Open memories. Here are just a few that stand out in my memory:
Who can forget Jimmy Connor’s inspiring run at the 1991 US Open? The most replayed video on the big screen in the Stadium is his fourth round match against Aaron Krickstein. The 39-year-old Jimmy Connors (ranked 174 in the world at the time) rallied back from being down 5-2 in the fifth set to win. He eventually lost to Jim Courier in the semi-finals but what an inspiring performance! When I first started playing tennis, I was such a big Jimmy Connors fan; I used the racquet he played with at the time – a Wilson T2000 racquet. With all the new technology available with racquets, I have no idea how I ever hit the ball with such a heavy, steel weapon, but Jimmy had no problem winning with it!
Watching Roger Federer win five straight US Open titles from 2004-2008, including his 4-set win over Andre Agassi in the finals in 2005, was thrilling. Federer’s speed and grace on the court is intriguing as he makes every point look so easy. Federer is the classiest athlete, on and off the court, and I feel honored to have covered so many of his wins when he dominated the game, winning a record 16 Major Championships and maintaining the top ranking in tennis for 285 weeks over-all. Federer is now 30-years-old and can still win more Majors.
Switching to the Arthur Ashe Stadium Court and new facility:
After covering 15 US Opens in the over-crowded press box of the Louis Armstrong Stadium where the press box actually shook one year during a hail storm and where all too often, we climbed the steps to avoid the over-crowded elevator and gagged in the smoke of fellow journalists before they banned smoking inside, the new facility was unveiled in 1997. I always enjoyed the intimacy of watching tennis in the Armstrong Stadium. It is a perfect size and the fans there can really get involved in the match. The Armstrong Stadium court has been the number two stadium court since the Ashe Court was built. But I also enjoy the conveniences and the space in the lower broadcast level of the Arthur Ashe Stadium Court, covering the matches for WFAN, not missing a day session match on the Ashe court since it opened.
It was always a thrill covering Andre Agassi and watching him grow up on the Stadium court. When I first started covering him at the US Open in the mid-eighties, he had long hair, wore denim shorts and enjoyed being the game’s rebel. I nicknamed him the ‘denim dynamo.’ In 2006, with the hair and denim long gone, Agassi gave the most heartfelt, beautiful retirement speech after his last match at the US Open. Agassi won two US Open titles in 1994 and 1999 and 8 Grand Slam titles over-all. He always provided fun stories on and off the court with his marriage to Brooke Shields and then to Steffi Graf. I always admired his honesty. And he is one of the most articulate and eloquent athletes ever.
Recognition for Billie Jean King with the naming of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center:
Also in 2006, on the first day of the US Open, the facility was named after the legendary Billie Jean King: The USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. I always admired Billie Jean and appreciated everything she fought for regarding female athletes and women in sports. It was a most deserving recognition for the ‘visionary’ and human rights leader! And the ceremony was quite special.
Many in the tennis world were pulling for the Belgian in 2009 when she came back to the US Open as a wildcard entry to win her second US Open title! She had taken a lengthy break from the Tour and gave birth to her daughter Jada. And it was most touching when she won the US Open title for the first time, her first Grand Slam title in 2005. I’ve always liked Clijsters for being such a tenacious competitor and a nice person. She won her third US Open title last year and it’s a shame that she was forced to withdraw from this year’s US Open, due to injury.
Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova:
Who can forget this storied rivalry and how each player motivated the other and elevated women’s tennis and women’s sports over-all? As I mentioned, the first US Open that I covered was in 1982. Chris Evert won that one, beating Hana Mandlikova in straight sets. A lot of players I know, including myself, use the Chrissie inspired two-handed backhand. It was her sixth and last US Open title, among her 18 Grand Slam championships. I covered Martina’s four US Open victories (Martina beat Chris in the finals in 1983 and 1984) and both Chris’ and Martina’s legendary careers provided a lot of content for many of my weekly shows. What both players accomplished in tennis is remarkable: Martina won 59 Grand Slam titles: 18 singles, 31 doubles and 10 mixed doubles titles. Chris’ career record was 1309 wins to 146 losses. What a career!
When Steffi Graf took the court, there was little doubt who would dominate. She was a machine on the court, always stoic and serious, and when she beat Gabriela Sabatini in the 1988 US Open finals, it was very exciting for tennis historians, as she won the Grand Slam of tennis, the first since Margaret Court achieved the Grand Slam (winning all four Majors in the same calender year) in 1970. By sheer numbers, Graf is considered by many to be the greatest women’s tennis player of all time, winning 902 matches and earning 107 tournament titles, including 22 Grand Slam championships.
Be sure to catch Ann’s up-dates from the US Open, starting at 11am, Monday, August 29, on WFAN 660 AM. For more information on Ann, visit www.annliguori.com.