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Super Saturday 1984: A day like no other

John McEnroe was one of four champions to advance on Super Saturday 1984, regarded as one of the greatest days in tennis history.
By Steve Flink
Saturday, September 6, 2014

Whenever serious followers of tennis sit around a table and talk about the single greatest days the sport has ever celebrated, Sept. 8, 1984, is almost always on the tip of their tongues. That “Super Saturday” at Flushing Meadows was a dandy from beginning to end, featuring a cavalcade of towering champions, a series of matches that were fought out valiantly on both sides of the net, high drama and huge suspense, rich contrasts in style and sharp shifts in momentum. That day represented everything a tennis fan could want, and possibly even more.

The program on the old Louis Armstrong Stadium commenced with a Men’s 35 Final between 1971 US Open champion Stan Smith of the United States against 1973 victor John Newcombe from Australia. The two prodigious serve-and-volley stalwarts performed with clinical efficiency and unbending aggression before Smith came from behind to win in three sets.

Now the stage was set for Ivan Lendl to test his unparalleled backcourt skills against the attacking game of the highly-charged Australian Pat Cash in the first men’s semifinal. On the fast-paced hard courts, both men were happy with the conditions. Lendl rallied from a set down and moved within two points of victory at 5-5 in the fourth set tie-break, but Cash pushed the battle into a fifth. At 4-5 in that gripping final set, Cash saved a match point on his own serve. Cash then broke Lendl and served for the match, holding a match point of his own at 6-5 – only to be thwarted by an exquisite topspin lob from a determined adversary. A highly-charged Lendl broke back, made it to a final set tie-break, and came through like a champion, prevailing seven points to four, carving out a 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-7, 7-6 victory.

Next up was another classic confrontation between the two best woman players in the world. Top seeded Martina Navratilova and No. 2 Chris Evert were meeting for the second straight year in a US Open final, the third consecutive time in a major final that season, and for the 61st time in their celebrated career head-to-head series. They were deadlocked at 30-30 heading into this highly anticipated battle, but Navratilova had defeated Evert 12 times in a row. But Evert came from a break down in the first set to win it 6-4, earning a standing ovation from an exhilarated audience.

With Navratilova serving for the second set at 5-4, the incomparable left-hander trailed 15-40, but Evert guided a forehand long. Navratilova held on and never looked back, recording a 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 victory, capturing her sixth consecutive major singles in the process, tying a record shared by Maureen Connolly and Margaret Smith Court. The standard of her showdown with Evert was more than remarkable.

And so it was up to the combative Americans John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors to fight deep into the New York night in search of a place alongside Lendl in the final. McEnroe was shooting for a fourth Open crown while Connors was in pursuit of a sixth – and a third in a row. Ultimately, McEnroe was marginally better than Connors in a pulsating battle reminiscent of their 1980 U.S. Open semifinal that McEnroe won in a fifth set tie-break. After splitting the first two sets, Connors had a crucial opening when he led 3-1, and 0-30 on McEnroe’s serve in the pivotal fifth game of the third set. But McEnroe pulled that set out, dropped the fourth, but came through handsomely in the fifth to register a 6-4, 4-6, 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 triumph.

The McEnroe-Connors match ended at 11:16 in the evening. Smith versus Newcombe had started at 11:07 a.m. The view here is that there has been no better day in the history of tennis. Ever.