The Sony Ericsson Open in Key Biscayne, Fla., is the biggest, most prestigious tennis tournament in the United States next to the US Open. Its history dates back to 1985 and is documented in pages in my book ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY ($19.95, New Chapter Press, www.TennisHistoryBook.com). The following are events that happened in the history of the tournament – also previously called the Lipton Championships, the NASDAQ-100 Open and the Ericsson Open – as excerpted from the book from March 26.
1995 – Andre Agassi dramatically defeats Pete Sampras 3-6, 6-2, 7-6 (3) in the final of the Ericsson Open in Key Biscayne, Fla., preventing Sampras from winning the title for a third straight year. Writes Robin Finn of the New York Times of the match and the Sampras-Agassi rivalry, “They embody a study in contrasts, Pete Sampras the classicist and Andre Agassi the iconoclast, but when their Lipton Championships final came down to a sudden-death third-set tie breaker this afternoon, they were a symphony of squeaking sneakers, smoking racquets and baggy shorts aflutter in the tropical breeze. Nobody else competes better. Rivals with a cause, the two American thoroughbreds are fast discovering that through each other they can goad themselves into reaching their athletic apex and, almost incidentally, revive tennis in the process.” The two rivals played the Australian Open final earlier in the year – won by Agassi – and the Indian Wells final – won by Sampras – and fight for the No. 1 ranking throughout the rest of the year. The two also play in the final of the Canadian Championships later in the summer, Agassi winning 3-6, 6-2, 6-3, while Sampras wins the most significant match between the two during the year – and perhaps their careers – in the U.S. Open final 6-4, 6-3, 4-6, 7-5.
1988 – Eighteen-year-old Steffi Graf defeats 33-year-old Chris Evert 6-4, 6-4 in 1 hour, 40 minutes to win the Lipton Championships in Key Biscayne, Fla., for the first of five Key Biscayne title in her career.
1998 – Seventeen-year-old Venus Williams upsets world No. 1 and fellow 17-year-old Martina Hingis 6-2, 5-7, 6-2 in the semifinals of the Lipton Championships in Key Biscayne, Fla. “I haven’t arrived yet,” says Williams following the match, a re-match of the U.S. Open women’s singles final the previous September. “I’m just coming. I’m on my way up.” Williams avenges her sister Serena, who loses to Hingis in a three-set thriller in the quarterfinals.
1999 – Sisters Venus Williams and Serena Williams each register semifinal victories at the Lipton Championships in Key Biscayne to set up a championship showdown between sisters – the first final-round match-up pitting sister against sister since the 1884 Wimbledon final between Maud and Lillian Watson. In the first semifinal, Serena Williams defeats world No. 1 Martina Hingis 6-4, 7-6 (3), while Venus Williams follows with a 6-2, 6-4 win over Steffi Graf. Says Richard Williams, the father of both finalists, “I always knew it would happen. I’ve been talking about it for years, planning for it, but now that it is here, I don’t even know what to think.”
1989 – Thirty-six-year-old Jimmy Connors leads Kevin Curren two-sets-to-love but fails to close out the hard-serving South African falling by a 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 margin in the fourth round of the Lipton Championships in Key Biscayne, Fla. Says Connors, “I’m still standing in the 15th round. Nobody’s knocking me out.” Says Curren, “It’s a tough way to make a living.”