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Why the US Open is the site of so many breakthrough major champions

Syntax issues aside, it seems New York really is the “concrete jungle where dreams are made of”. At least, in a tennis sense.

“I’m not sure why but there’s something special with this place,” Casper Ruud said after he reached the semis at the US Open.

“This year there will be a new first-time winner also. It shows that it’s possible to do it here in New York. It’s sort of a city of dreams, I guess.”

And while we can’t speak to any sort of mysticism, the stats back up his claims.

Either Carlos Alcaraz (left) or Casper Ruud will be world number one after the US Open final.(AP)

There hasn’t been a grand slam winner on the men’s side of the draw at this year’s US Open since the fourth round, when Rafael Nadal, Marin Čilić and Daniil Medvedev were knocked out.

Tomorrow Ruud and Carlos Alcaraz join a long line of tennis stars for whom Flushing Meadows will forever be the site of their breakthrough on the biggest stage.

And while names like Sloane Stephens, Naomi Osaka, Emma Raducanu, Leylah Fernandez, Flavia Pennetta and Roberta Vinci will also elicit memories of breakthrough titles and surprise finals runs at Arthur Ashe, the women’s draw at every major has been less predictable for the past two decades than the men (Serena Williams aside, of course).

In New York, you can be a new man

Russia's Daniil Medvedev smiles in joy and relief with his arms raised as he walks to the net after winning the US Open.
Daniil Medvedev lost a heartbreaker to Nadal in the 2019 final before breaking through for his first win two years later.(Getty Images: Al Bello)

Since Novak Djokovic made his first major final at the 2007 US Open, New York has remained the best hope to break the Federer-Nadal-Djokovic-Murray stranglehold at the slams.

Of the past 30 men’s finalists at the US Open, 12 come from outside that ‘Big Four’ group (compared to nine at Roland Garros, eight at Wimbledon, and just six at the Australian Open).

It is also the only major that has mixed up the champions with any sort of regularity.

Juan Martin del Potro (2009), Čilić (2014), Stan Wawrinka (2016), Dominic Thiem (2020), Medvedev (2021) and this year’s winner have all won the final slam of the year, giving us almost an even 8- 6 split between the Big Four and the rest of the field in the past 14 years.

And if we go back even further, to Nadal’s first title at the 2005 French Open, only eight of the past 70 men’s singles slams have been won by players not named Federer, Djokovic, Nadal or Murrayand the US Open has contributed six of those eight outliers.

In that time, only New York has hosted a men’s final without any member of the Big Four.

Alexander Zverev embraces Dominic Thiem on the court.
Dominic Thiem’s ​​2020 win over Alex Zverev was the first men’s major final since 2014 to not feature any of the Big Four.(Reuters: Robert Deutsch)

And it’s happened three times, with Čilić taking down Kei Nishikori in the 2014 decider, Dominic Thiem edging Alex Zverev in 2020, and this year’s clash between Ruud and Alcaraz.

Since Djokovic’s maiden decider in ’07, the US Open has also played host to nine first-time men’s finalistswhich is almost twice as many as the French Open’s five, which is the second-highest mark.

And perhaps more importantly, six players have won their first grand slam title in NYC in that time — Del Potro, Murray, Čilić, Thiem, Medvedev and whoever claims this year’s title.

Ruud, who reached his first major final at this year’s French Open only to get waxed by Nadal, said the history in New York was “helping me with my game and my motivation.”

So what is it about the US Open that makes it different?

Why do so many make it over the hump in Flushing?

Juan Martin del Potro holds the US Open trophy in front of final opponent Roger Federer.
Roger Federer (left), Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic had won the past 18 men’s major titles before Juan Martin del Potro (right) shocked the world at the 2009 US Open.(Getty: Clive Brunskill)

The timing of the tournament certainly has a lot to do with it.

Coming towards the end of the year, many of the biggest names have had massive schedules, including deep runs at three majors, by the time the US Open rolls around.

There are also big Masters 1000 tournaments crammed into a brief window of a bit more than a month between Wimbledon finishing and the US Open starting.

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