No. 5: U.S. Open

Rafael Nadal thought it “unbelievable” after becoming only the seventh man in tennis history to complete the career Grand Slam. But the rest of the tennis world certainly could believe.

By the time he beat Novak Djokovic in the U.S. Open singles final, his triumph seemed a mere formality. Not that it was a guarantee. The Spaniard had often struggled at the U.S. Open in the past, falling short in New York due to exhaustion, injury, or failure to adapt to Flushing Meadow’s hard courts. As for Djokovic, the Serbian had already spoiled a dream final by outlasting Roger Federer in five sets the previous day.

Things were different this time around, as Nadal brought a fresh body, fierce determination, and a booming new serve to scorch the court. The only set Nadal dropped was to Djokovic in the final. Nadal’s full set of major titles placed him in a group that includes his contemporary rival, Federer, and Andre Agassi.

On the women’s side, Kim Clijsters was the queen of Queens once again, lifting the trophy for the second straight year. Her run to the title wasn’t as much of a fairytale as it was a year earlier, when she took the crown just months after returning from retirement, but Clijsters was sensational nonetheless.

One half of the all-powerful Williams clan was absent — Serena — but Clijsters still had to outduel Venus in an entertaining semifinal before destroying Vera Zvonareva in the final.

It wasn’t the most thrilling U.S. Open in memory, and the home challenge was poor: Venus Williams was the only American, man or woman, to reach the quarterfinal or better in singles. Yet there was no doubt that both the men’s and women’s draw had worthy champions. The sport could not wish for two finer ambassadors, either.

–Martin Rogers