How Come So Many Great Players, Particularly Men, Won The US Open Only Once?

I drive out to the Billie Jean King Center with my son on Wednesdays occasionally for him to practice with the USTA Junior Development Group. They practice on separate courts in the back, Courts 10-12 from 4-6 pm and then do an hour of fitness afterward. I’m happy to see the clinics always start with mini-tennis and then a volley drill where each player has to hit volleys with a ball in their non-hitting hand. I’m not sure what this achieves–I should ask my son the purpose of learning how to volley with a ball held in your hand (I was once shown a drill by a coach where you volleyed always close-quarters with one hand held behind your back and that is a reflex volley drill, but also teaches you not to take the racquet back or maneuver the racquet with your non-hitting hand).

I will usually talk to some of the other parents I’ve known now for quite some time. We are convivial with one another (I think I’m known as a nice guy, but a little crazy when it comes to my son’s tennis…but I could say the same thing about these parents as well…we all have our quirks). We talk about our sons’ latest tournaments, their training, upcoming tournaments, travel plans (the best way to get from New York to Mobile, Al. when there are no direct flights is to fly to New Orleans on a direct flight and then drive 2 hours and 20 minutes or fly to Atlanta on a direct flight and drive 4 hours and 40 minutes), coaches, spouses who might not care as much as we do about our sons’ tennis or in rare cases care too much and thus can be problematic. We’re mostly men, but some are women too, one who told me tonight she now has to work on commission and is making far less money because she has to take her son to training everyday and travel around the country with him to tournaments.

Sometimes I have to walk away because we sit on metal bleachers and I’ve just come from yoga and I’m acutely aware of how I’m slouching when I sit on these bleachers which isn’t good for my spine. Or because my son will double-fault twice in a row like he did tonight in a Super Breaker and lose to a boy he shouldn’t and even in practice that puts me in a boil. Occasionally, USTA national JD pros will be visiting from Orlando and I feel when I meet them I have to tout my son’s latest achievement so they’re aware of how he’s progressing or even know who he is in the first place (one of the directors of the program called my son David tonight. That concerned me a bit). I feel like I’m my son’s father, coach, driver, motivator and publicist.

I walk down to the lobby where there’s large photos on the entrance walls of every man and woman who’s won the US Open in the Open era back to black and white photos of Arthur Ashe and Virginia Wade who won the first one back in 1968. I noticed today as I looked up at these photos of how many men and women including both Ashe and Wade won the US Open only once. There’s Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, Ashe, Stan Smith, Ilie Nastase, John Newcombe, Guillermo Vilas, Manual Orantes, Boris Becker, Mats Wilander, Marat Safin, Lleyton Hewitt, Andy Roddick, Juan-Martin Del Potro, Marin Cilic, and Stan Wawrinka. All these great male players who only one won U.S. Open title! Of course, some like Laver didn’t get the chance to play in so many US Open’s, but this is a very surprising list to me.

On the women’s side, there’s Wade, Hana Mandlikova, Gabriela Sabatini, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, Martina Hingis, Lindsay Davenport, Maria Shapapova, Samantha Stosur and the last four winners, Flavia Penetta, Anglique Kerber, Sloane Stephens and Naomi Osaka.

Why is it all these great players only won one US Open crown? I bet if you looked at the other slams you wouldn’t see as many winners who won a particular slam only once as you do at the US Open. One can only surmise that the US Open, the last of the four slams on the calendar, is the toughest slam to win multiple times and period. Andre Agassi as great as he was, and an American, only won the US Open twice. Jim Courier and Michael Chang never won it. Ivan Lendl got to eight US Open finals in a row and won only three!

Why is the US Open so hard to win?

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  • Scoop Malinowski · June 21, 2019 at 2:46 pm

    Because somebody else won. I think every major has it’s abundance of one time winners, can you prove the US Open is any different statistically? FO Gaudio, Costa,Kafelnikov, Chang, etc. Wimby Krajicek, Goran, Andre, Hewitt. US Open Hewitt, Roddick, Delpo, Cilic, Safin. AO Johansson Safin Korda.

  • Scoop Malinowski · June 21, 2019 at 2:47 pm

    Do like the insights about junior player development. Dan do you see anything with players hitting badminton on court? I understand Federer did a fair amount of badminton on the tennis court to mix it up, also helped his versatility and variety.

  • Vijay · June 21, 2019 at 11:22 pm

    Don’t they say anything about or have drills for volleying with your feet? Laver always said that one volleys with ones feet. It’s a habit that is hard to develop and one that kids need to get to acquire early, especially when their legs are up to it.

  • Vijay · June 21, 2019 at 11:26 pm

    Scoop, badminton is a strange sport, relative to tennis. You use entirely different muscles and movements. All hopping and jumping and lunging.

    Not sure how much you can take away from Roger doing it. I’m certain you aren’t making a causal link between badminton and Roger’s skill level. I’d be surprised if many other tennis players played badminton in their youth. Much more likely to have played football (soccer).

  • Dan Markowitz · June 22, 2019 at 3:42 am


    I named 16 one-time winners of the US Open among the men since 1968. I don’t think any of the other majors has had that many one-time winners. Maybe the French comes close because of the clay being such a difficult surface.

    No badminton at these lessons. No talk about volleying with your feet although I don’t really know as I’m sitting up in the bleachers and can’t hear everything the pros say. Although, my son has a tendency to let the ball drop too much on the volleys and I heard one of the pros tell him to take the ball when it was still above the level of the net.

    I agree Vijay, I always taught volleys as a shot you hit with your feet, meaning you have to move toward the ball rather than letting it get in close on you.

  • Scoop Malinowski · June 22, 2019 at 5:54 pm

    Dan do you see how badminton is good cross training for tennis? Dolgopolov does it too. Surely others do to. That Chinese girl junior who is mechanical and still in the shoulders needs to hit bandminton over a tennis net to give her shoulders more flexibility and versatility. She only plays tennis and is too stiff, she needs to get more athleticism in her shoulders, more range of motion, Instead of just always hitting tennis balls which limits athleticism and makes her hit short. Her arch rival has better shoulders, more range of motion and athleticism from swimming. Throwing a football helps too. Shooting basketball. Shoulder flexibility is very very important. Lennox Lewis and Pete Sampras had amazing shoulder flexibility and could throw any kind of punch and Pete had the best serve in history.

  • Dan Markowitz · June 23, 2019 at 11:22 am

    My limited experience with badminton, I don’t think it’d greatly improve your shoulder flexibility. Neither will shooting in basketball, because that’s a pushing motion. My son plays high-level travel baseball. I was just out with him at a tournament at Baseball Heaven in Yaphank, Long Island, love that name, and he’s a pitcher and can throw at 13 in the low-70’s and he’s hitting fastballs now at mid-70’s and that will improve your shoulder flexibility I think and also improve in hitting your eye-hand coordination and hip rotation.

    Swimming is really good for tennis players, but I don’t think there are many who train by going in the pool regularly.



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