In 2012, Andy Murray became just the third British man in history to win the U.S. Open title. The first was Lawrence Doherty in 1903. Neither repeated as champion and neither was the greatest British tennis player of all time. That distinction belongs to Fred Perry, who captured the U.S. championship three times in four years (1933, 1934 and 1936) to go along with three Wimbledon titles and one each at the Australian and French Opens. Each British star to gain some degree of prominence in that last 80 years has lived in his shadow — one that somehow seems to grow with each successive year.
But in 1933, Perry was no legend. When the 24-year-old arrived in Forest Hills, N.Y. — then the site of the National Singles Championship, as the event now called the U.S. Open was known until the 1960s — he had no Grand Slam titles to his name. He was simply trying to do what no British man had done in 30 years: win a U.S. title. He had come close in previous years, reaching the fourth round twice and the semifinals once, but had yet to make so much as a major final. That changed in September 1933, when he defeated Australian Jack Crawford, who had already completed three legs of the Grand Slam that year. It was no easy task for Perry, who had to come back from being down two sets to one to claim the championship. Here’s how TIME described the action after the third set was completed:
Perry did win that championship, claiming the final two sets — ensuring that, though Crawford had been the tennis star to make TIME’s cover on the occasion of the 1933 Open, Perry was cover material in 1934. He lost just one more match at Forest Hills (in the 1935 semifinals) over the course of his amateur career. His five-set victory over Don Budge in 1936 was his last major victory before turning pro near the end of that year.
Though a Brit will not be winning this year’s U.S. Open (Murray was eliminated by top-seeded Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals), there’s still ample hope that the finals live up to some of Perry’s more epic matches on America’s grandest tennis stage.
Read TIME’s 1934 cover story about Fred Perry here, in TIME’s archives: Tennists to Forest Hills