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Ten great U.S. Open stories

By Sam Sheringham, for CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • CNN charts ten of the greatest moments of the U.S Open tennis championship
  • Arthur Ashe became first Arfican-American men's champion in 1968
  • Tracy Austin became youngest champions with her victory over Chris Evert Lloyd in 1979
  • Kim Clijsters ended retirement to become first mother to win a grand slam for 29 years

(CNN) -- When Belgian wildcard Kim Clijsters came out of retirement to win the U.S. Open last year -- becoming the first mother to triumph since 1980 -- she provided the latest fairytale in a tournament which has thrown up more than its fair share of memorable stories.

The event began in 1881 as an elite competition for America's upper classes and is now the fourth and final grand slam of the season, offering total prize money of $24.2 million.

It's a little known fact that since the Open era began in 1968, the tournament has been played on grass, clay and hard courts, with Jimmy Connors the only player to triumph on all three surfaces.

Here, on the eve of the 2010 tournament, CNN looks at ten of the great U.S. Open stories, capturing the most memorable finals, the finest champions and the moments when players wrote new chapters in the sport's folklore with their dazzling deeds.

Enjoy the list, and let us know your thoughts in the comments sections below.

1968 Arthur Ashe

The first final of the Open era was won by black American Arthur Ashe, who beat Tom Okker of the Netherlands 14-12 5-7 6-3 3-6 6-3. A lieutenant in the U.S. army and therefore an amateur in tennis terms, Ashe was not able to claim his $14,000 prize. Ashe was the first African-American to win a men's singles title at a grand slam championship, going on to win the Australian Open in 1970 and Wimbledon in 1975. The biggest stadium court at Flushing Meadows is named after Ashe.

1972 Ilie Nastase

Ashe's bid for a second title is quashed by Ilie Nastase in front of a record crowd of 14,696. The match was a treat for those in attendance with the Romanian producing a stunning comeback from the brink of defeat. Trailing two sets to one and 3-1 down in the fourth, Nastase saved a break point which would surely have lost him the match and battles back to win 3-6 6-3 6-7 6-4 6-3.

1979 Tracy Austin

Tracy Austin becomes America's new darling as she is crowned the youngest U.S. Open champion at the age of 16 years, eight months and 28 days. Austin beats 14-year-old Andrea Jaeger in the second round and No.2 seed Martina Navratilova in the semifinals before ending Chris Evert Lloyd's 31-match winning streak at the U.S. Open with a 6-4 6-3 victory in the final. Austin won the title again two years later, her only other grand slam success.

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1980 John McEnroe

Flushing Meadows plays host to one of the greatest rivalries the sport has ever known as John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg meet in the final. And the match does not disappoint as Borg claws back from two sets down to set up a decider. But McEnroe digs deep to win the fifth and gain revenge for his defeat to the Swede in the Wimbledon final earlier that year. With a 7-6 6-1 6-7 5-7 6-4 victory, McEnroe becomes the first American to win two straight titles since Pancho Gonzales in 1948-49.

1988 Mats Wilander

Mats Wilander denies Ivan Lendl his fourth straight title and clinches the world number one ranking in a classic encounter between the two best players of the era. The Swede, who had already captured the Australian and French Opens that year, eventually triumphs 6-4 4-6 6-3 5-7 6-4 in a gruelling baseline encounter. The match clocked in five minutes shy of the five-hour mark, making it the longest singles final in the Open era. Wilander gains revenge for the previous year's final when he lost to Lendl in four hours, 47 minutes.

1995 Steffi Graf

Monica Seles storms into the final despite playing only her second tournament since she was brutally stabbed on court in Hamburg two years earlier. Graf edges the first set on a tie break after Seles wastes a set point but the former world number one roars back to win the second 6-0. Germany's Graf rallies in the third to win it 6-3 and claim her fourth U.S. Open title.

1996 Pete Sampras

Pete Sampras won five U.S. Open singles titles but 1996 was surely his most courageous performance. Playing his first grand slam tournament since the death of his close friend and coach Tim Gullickson, Sampras threw up on court during his quarterfinal against Alex Corretja because of extreme dehydration and fatigue. Three days later, with the number one ranking at stake, Sampras produces some of his best tennis to trounce Michael Chang 6-1 6-4 7-6.

1999 Serena Williams

A star is born as 17-year-old Serena Williams runs away with the title to become the first black woman to win a grand slam singles title since Althea Gibson in 1958. In only her second season as a professional, the younger Williams sister beats world number four Monica Seles and number two Lindsay Davenport en route to the final. There, she shows the raw power and athleticism that will go on to define her tennis in downing the Swiss world number one Martina Hingis 6-3 7-6.

2009 Kim Clijsters

Kim Clijsters ends two years of retirement in August and wins the U.S. Open the following month in one of the most extraordinary comebacks the sport has seen. The Belgian, a wildcard at her first grand slam since 2007, beats Serena Williams in the semifinals and overcomes Dane Caroline Wozniacki 7-5 6-3 to claim her second crown at Flushing Meadows. Having given birth to her daughter Jada during her break from the game, she became the first mother since 1980 to win a grand slam.

2009 Juan Martin Del Potro

The men's final in the same year produces another great story as Argentina's Juan Martin Del Potro hijacks Roger Federer's bid for a record-equaling sixth straight title. The 20-year-old sixth seed fights back twice from a set down to win 3-6 7-6 4-6 7-6 6-2. Del Potro is watched by Guillermo Vilas, the only other Argentine win the U.S. title.