The Surprising History Behind The U.S. Open, Tennis’ Biggest Tournament
The U.S. Open is the crown jewel of the United States Tennis Association- the final Slam of the year that brings the focus of the tennis world to the hard courts of Flushing Meadows just outside New York City. The tournament has grown to epic proportions including a 22,547 seat stadium (with retractable roof) and the biggest prize package in the world of tennis. It is in fact the largest tennis tournament in the world. Know this. The vertigo inducing seats at the very top of Arthur Ashe are best if you bring binoculars.
Did you know that the tournament was first held in historic Newport, Rhode Island on grass courts? Let’s take a look at some U.S. Open history, before it went super-sized. We’ve hunted up some nice vintage video footage for you, too.
This is where it all began, on the lawns of the Newport Casino. The year was 1881, and it stayed here until 1914. The first six years of the event were known as the US National Singles Championships for Men. The women got their own event six years later, with the U.S. Women’s National Singles Championships debuting at the Philadelphia Cricket Club. Richard Sears won the first men’s title, and he would go on to win seven straight championships. Ellen Hansell won the first women’s event in 1887 when she was just 17 years old, and it was her only tournament win.
The Newport Casino, by the way, is now home to the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
West Side Tennis Club, Forest Hills, New York
The National Championships for men and women moved here for the 1915 event, taking time from 1921-1923 to go to the Germantown Cricket Club in Philadelphia while the Forest Hills stadium was built. The surface remained grass until 1975, when it changed to clay. Floodlights were also introduced that year, making night play possible.
Remember the memorable 1977 final between Vilas and Connors? Forest Hills now houses smaller tournaments and music concerts.
USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, Flushing Meadows, New York
This is where the U.S. Open entered the big time. A massive new tennis center for 1978 ensured a bright future for the sport in the United States. Jimmy Connors is the only man to win the title on all three surfaces, while Chris Evert is the only woman to have won it on two surfaces, (clay and hardcourt.) The grounds at Flushing Meadow consist of 22 Pro DecoTurf hardcourts, including the main show courts of Arthur Ashe, Louis Armstrong, the Grandstand and Court 17, which is nicknamed “The Pit.” Armstrong was the main stadium until 1997, when Ashe opened. The National Tennis Center added the name Billie Jean King to its name in 2006, in honor of the women’s tennis great.
Arthur Ashe was topped off with a new roof in 2016. This would ensure play could continue during wet weather, which as we all know can plague the event.
*Feature photo from event Facebook page.
2017 Talent Preview: This August, Germany’s Angelique Kerber and Switzerland’s Stan Wawrinka will look to defend their titles. Kerber won’t need to worry about Serena Williams who will have other things on her mind, but Maria Sharapova will return and could make life difficult for the defending champ. On the men’s side, Wawrinka will have to deal with fellow countryman Roger Federer, who missed last year’s event due to injury.
Now’s the time to plan that tennis trip of a lifetime: this year’s Open runs August 28th through September 10th 2017. US Open tickets are available now. Get them sooner rather than later so you can leave your binoculars at home.
Who knows what type of tennis history awaits?