Though the run-up to the tournament was defined by withdrawals, health concerns, and all other manners of uncertainty, the 2017 US Open delivered the goods: Great matches, great storylines, inspiring comebacks, and emotional breakthroughs for young and old alike.
Here are the 10 most indelible moments from the fortnight in Flushing Meadows:
Sharapova and Halep electrify opening night
The first night of the US Open proved to be one of its greatest, as Maria Sharapova and Simona Halep clashed in the most anticipated first-round matchup in memory. Even with all the hype, the match more than lived up to its billing, blowing past any reasonable expectations of quality, drama, atmosphere, and emotion. When it was over, Sharapova had announced her return in the loudest possible fashion, while Halep had missed another opportunity to grab the No. 1 ranking.
Tiafoe gives Federer a 1st-round scare
Before the women produced an all-American semifinal at their home Slam for the first time in 36 years, it was 19-year-old Frances Tiafoe giving the locals a glimpse of the nation’s bright tennis future, taking Roger Federer to five sets in a messy, thrilling first-round match. Tiafoe put all his explosiveness and dynamic shot-making on display, and nearly blew the roof off Arthur Ashe Stadium when he broke Federer to get back on serve late in the fifth.
The match foretold two major storylines in the men’s tournament: That Federer would struggle, and that the teenagers would make their mark.
Shapovalov lights it up in Ashe debut
About those teenagers. Everyone wanted to see what Denis Shapovalov would do after his epic semifinal run in Montreal, and the 18-year-old Canadian didn’t disappoint. After drawing a huge crowd to Court 7 in his opening-round rout of Daniil Medvedev, Shapovalov was given a prime-time headlining spot on Ashe in his second-round bout with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Far from being starry-eyed or intimidated, Shapovalov looked right at home under the lights, blowing the eighth-seeded Frenchman off the court en route to becoming the youngest man in 28 years to reach the second week in New York.
Kvitova takes down Muguruza in stunning fashion
Petra Kvitova still can’t make a fist, or feel two of the fingers in her left hand, due to the knife attack that nearly cost her her life less than nine months ago. But she somehow used that hand to wallop forehand after forehand on her way to a fourth-round upset of tournament favorite and soon-to-be world No. 1 Garbine Muguruza.
It was her biggest win since returning to the tour in late May, and the emotion that spilled out of her afterward let you know what it meant to her.
Grandstand crowd wills Delpo to epic comeback
If ever there was a match that demonstrated the effect a crowd can have on a performer, this was it. In the fourth round against Dominic Thiem, Juan Martin del Potro was on his way out of the US Open. He was feverish, out of energy, and trailing two sets to love. What kept him going was the boisterous support from a maniacal Grandstand crowd made up largely of Argentine supporters.
“I was trying to retire the match in the second set,” he’d say after the match. “Then I saw the crowd waiting for more tennis, waiting for my good forehands, good serves. I took all that energy to change in a good way and think about fighting.”
The fans grew more and more frenzied as Del Potro won the third set, then fought back from a break down and saved two match points to win the fourth, and then finally completed the comeback in the fifth.
Venus and Petra play a ridiculous 3rd set
There was no letdown for Kvitova following her inspired fourth-round win, but her quarterfinal opponent, Venus Williams, was equal to the challenge. The two women slugged it out for three enthralling sets, throwing haymakers from the baseline, bombing huge serves, and running each other ragged. The match culminated in an extraordinary, nerve-fraying, 67-minute final set, with Williams clawing back from a break down and finally winning the battle of wills in the decisive tiebreaker. In terms of pure quality, this was probably the match of the tournament.
Venus and Sloane play an equally ridiculous 3rd set
Though it didn’t start out looking like anything resembling an epic, the semifinal between Williams and Sloane Stephens wound up producing the single most exciting set of the US Open. After Stephens took the first set with a breadstick and Venus rebounded to take the second with a bagel, the two played to a virtual standstill in the third, a set that lasted 19 minutes longer than the first two combined.
Stephens defended like a maniac, while Venus tried to break her down with heavy artillery. Twice Stephens went up a break, and twice Venus broke back. With Stephens serving to stay in the match, the two played the tournament’s most memorable point (above), which Stephens won with a brilliant backhand passer.
That shot proved a launching pad to even greater things for Stephens. It was the first of seven straight points she won to propel her past Venus, and she carried that momentum into a dominant final for her first Slam title.
Big Ando climbs into the box after making 1st Slam final
Though climbing into the stands to celebrate with your team is typically reserved for winning a Grand Slam title, Kevin Anderson can be forgiven for doing so after beating Pablo Carreno Busta in the semis, having returned from multiple injuries to make the first Slam final of his life at age 31.
His performance in the final may have been forgettable, but his run to get there was a memorable culmination of a career of hard work and resilience.
Rafa turns on the cheat codes to sprint through semi
Rafa Nadal had made it to the semifinals thanks in large part to a pillowy draw, in which he hadn’t had to play a single seeded opponent. He’d looked great at times but choppy at others, and after losing the first set of his semi against Del Potro, it seemed he might be in for a reckoning.
That’s when Nadal turned on his turbo boosters, and flew past Del Potro at warp speed. He amped up his aggression, attacked relentlessly with his forehand, dominated with his serve, and refused to let anything get past him. It was brutal, merciless, and beautiful. Nadal would pick up right where he left off in the final, when he dusted Kevin Anderson in similarly dominant fashion to win his 16th major title.
Keys, Stephens embrace at the net
In tennis terms, the women’s tournament ended anticlimactically, with Stephens routing her good friend and countrywoman Madison Keys in the final. But seeing Stephens and Keys embrace so warmly at the net – and share so many more fun, genuine moments during the trophy ceremony – provided a perfect emotional capper to a tournament full of surprise and heart.
Both players had begun the season on the sidelines recovering from surgeries, and both acknowledged they had no expectation of being where they were: playing each other in the final Grand Slam match of 2017.
People compared the scene to that of the 2015 final between Italian compatriots Roberta Vinci and Flavia Pennetta, but in that case, it was clear the two were experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime event. For Stephens and Keys, it felt less like the end of something than the beginning.