As CBS enters its final week of airing the U.S. Open, let’s look at some of the moments that have made the tennis tournament one of the signature events for the Tiffany Network. The U.S. Open stayed with CBS through some of the network’s best times and even during a period when it lost the NFL, college football and MLB.
Now that US Tennis Association is ending its partnership with CBS, let’s take a look at the Top Five moments in the 47 year history of the network televising the tennis tournament.
5. The Women’s Final Goes Primetime
In 2001, the U.S. Open separated the women’s final on Super Saturday and made it into its own primetime affair. Previously, the U.S. Open scheduled the women’s final in between the men’s semifinals, but realizing that a primetime match might be popular, the tournament got lucky with an all-Williams, Serena vs. Venus affair.
It was a ratings success for CBS and the women’s final remained on Saturday night until rains in recent years pushed it to Sunday afternoon.
4. Dan Rather Walks off the CBS Evening News Set in Anger
This is not a moment that CBS is proud of. On Friday, September 11, 1987, the network was airing the women’s semifinals. The second semifinal match between Steffi Graf and Lori McNeil was running close to the start of the CBS Evening News with Dan Rather. That night, the Evening News was planning a special broadcast from Miami as it was covering Pope John Paul II’s visit to the United States.
It appeared tennis was about to run over as CBS Sports gave local affiliates a 15 minute warning that the match would run past 6:30 p.m. on the East Coast.
This angered Rather and as he tried to appeal to CBS News President Howard Stringer to get his show to start on time.
Unbeknownst to Rather, tennis actually ended before 6:30 p.m., but sports ran until 6:32 p.m. When the network switched to news, viewers saw nothing but black and remained that way until 6:39 p.m. when Rather returned to the set.
The moment would haunt Rather a year later when he interviewed Vice President George Bush (go to 6:42).
3. Arthur Ashe wins the 1968 U.S. Open
In CBS’ first year airing the tournament, American Arthur Ashe wins the very first U.S. Open of the Open tennis era. Defeating Tom Okker in a first set that went 14-12 (no tiebreaker then) and going four more sets 5–7, 6–3, 3–6 and 6–3, it made Ashe a household name and also made the venue of Forest Hills part of U.S. Open lore until the tournament moved to Flushing Meadows in 1978.
Here are highlights of the 1st set that aired on CBS. Calling that first U.S. Open on CBS were Bud Collins and Jack Kramer.
Ashe would also win the 1975 Wimbledon Gentleman’s Final over a heavily favored Jimmy Connors.
2. Super Saturday 1984, all matches go the maximum, CBS airs tennis for 12 hours
In what made Super Saturday, CBS aired four matches that went the maximum. The year before, the men’s semifinals and women’s final ended early leaving CBS a lot of time to fill so CBS requested that the over-35 men’s singles final become part of the coverage. Little did CBS know what would transpire.
The over-35 final between Stan Smith and John Newcombe went three sets. Then the first men’s semifinal with Ivan Lendl and Pat Cash went five sets with two tiebreakers with Lendl winning. That was followed by the women’s final featuring the greatest rivalry in women’s tennis, Chris Evert vs. Martina Navratilova won by Martina in three sets. What became the nightcap was the second men’s semifinal that aired in primetime on the East Coast and Midwest between John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors that became a five set thriller won by Johnny Mac.
The men’s final the next day was anticlimactic when McEnroe beat Lendl in three sets, but Super Saturday’s reputation was set and having the men’s semis and women’s final all in the same session would last until 2001 when the women’s final was conducted in primetime (see number 5 above).
1. On His 39th Birthday, Jimmy Connors Outlasts Aaron Krickstein
On Labor Day, September 2, 1991, Jimmy Connors was in the midst of an amazing run during the U.S. Open. Entering the tournament as a wild card, he had already beaten Patrick McEnroe, Michiel Schapers and Karel Nováček on the way to the Round of 16.
Connors met Aaron Krickstein and quickly went down 2 sets to one. That included the second set tiebreaker that had a sequence that got Jimbo all riled up. Pat Summerall and Tony Trabert called the action for CBS.
Connors battled back and he took the last two sets and won the match in five, 3-6, 7-6, 1-6, 6-3 and 7-6 in four hours and 49 minutes. Connors would eventually go to the semifinals where he lost to Jim Courier, but it was magic while it lasted.
As CBS ends its 47th and last year at U.S. Open, it will have plenty of memories on which to look back.