The Beginnings of the US Open Tennis Championships
Currently, and since 1978 the majority of tennis fans will be familiar with the US Open being played at Flushing Meadows. However, since its inception there has been three other venues that have held the tournament.
The very first US Open took place in 1881 at Newport Casino on Rhode Island, New York and continued to be played at the venue until 1914. At the time of the first tournament the venue had only just been constructed and opened as a social club. It had many facilities to cater for social needs including ballroom and theatre, billiards, card playing and reading rooms, lawn bowling and squash but most importantly, facilities for lawn and court tennis. Today the Newport Casino is designated as a National Historic Landmark.
It was the grass courts that were used for the tournament that was at that time branded The U.S. National Championships and only men would participate. Those players to play in the tournament would be members of the United States Lawn Tennis Federation. Defending champions would automatically defend their title between 1884 and 1911 against the winner of the all-comers tournament.
The first man to win the title was Richard Sears. Not only did he win it, Richard Sears earned himself a place in the International Tennis Hall of Fame. It was not because of his first win only, but the fact he went on to win the tournament every year between 1881 and 1887. This feat has only been matched by fellow Americans William Lanard 1901/02 and 1907 to 1911 and Bill Tilden 1920 to 1925 and 1929. Richard Sears is also a proud winner of the most consecutive singles titles, that said he also holds the most and consecutive doubles titles where he won that championship six times between 1882 and 1887. With his singles career at the US National Championships (US Open) he remained unbeaten in the competition throughout his career.
The Ladies tournament took an extra six years to start following the first men’s event. In 1887, playing at the Philadelphia Cricket Club, Philadelphia, Ellen Hansell won the Women’s National Singles Championship. Alike the men’s game, the competition was played on grass courts and at 17 years of age, Ellen is one of the youngest female winners of the singles title of all time. The following year she was runner-up to two-time winner, Bertha Townsend.
The Middle Ages of The US Open
The final men’s singles tournament was played at Newport Casino, Rhode Island in 1914. The United States National Lawn Tennis took a vote from its members and decided to move the event closer to New York City where the men’s event was hosted at West Side Tennis Club, Forest Hills. It was then held at Germantown Cricket Club, Philadelphia between 1921 and 1923 before moving back to West Side Tennis Club following a redevelopment. The women’s singles continued to be played at the Philadelphia Cricket Club until 1921, when finally in 1923 West Side became the home of the tournament all the way until 1977.
The end of the amateur period gave rise to the first professional US Open tournament to be held in 1968, where the total prize money was $100,000. Two years later came a rule change when the tie-breaker was introduced to decide the winner of a set when the scores were level at 6 games all. The US Open was the first of all the Grand Slam events to bring this rule into play. That was not the only ground breaking decision to be introduced at the US Open as three years later, the prize money for women and men would be equalised. That very year, women’s legend and five-time US Open winner Margaret Court and two-time winner John Newcombe both won $25,000. In 1975 a decision was made to change the playing surface from grass and play the event on clay courts.
The Modern Era
It was the end of an era for the West Side Tennis Club and the relationship with the US Open. However, a new relationship began in 1978 with the tournament and its brand-new home, the USTA National Tennis Center, also known as Flushing Meadows. This was later re-named after four-time US Open legend Billie Jean King, The USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. The change in venue led to the final change in playing surface and the hard court was introduced and has been used for the US Open ever since.
These changes in playing surfaces over a short period of time led to some rather bizarre records being set. For example, Jimmy Connors the legendary American eight-time Grand Slam winner is the only player to have won the US Open on grass, clay and hard courts. Connors actually won the US Open on five occasions in 1974, 1976, 1978, 1982 and 1983. Female megastar player Chris Evert won the tournament a record equalling six times during the Open era in 1975 to 1978, 1980 and 1982 and also won on clay and hard surfaces.
Alongside the tournament boasting the highest quality hard court tennis in the world and with the game becoming faster and even more competitive, technology has also improved and contributed significantly. Once again, the US Open was pioneering as it was the first Grand Slam in 2006 to introduce hawk-eye, a computer aided tool to help close line calls and decisions. By 2018, all tournament courts at Flushing Meadows had the system installed and now all line calls are made electronically. More technology was introduced in 2018 with the introduction of the shot clock to avoid players unreasonably slowing down the pace of a game. This was another first for the US Open and another technology that has been implemented in all the world’s major tennis events.
Today Flushing Meadows is a huge state of the art tennis complex and will be ready to welcome the world’s best tennis players from Monday 29 August until Sunday 11 September. The finals will be played in the huge 23,771 capacity Arthur Ashe stadium, named after the inaugural winner of the tournament in the US Open professional era.
The defending men’s champion is current world number 2 Daniil Medvedev, although he has recently undergone hernia surgery it is questionable if he will play at Roland Garros, despite being entered. The big question surrounding his chance to defend the US Open title is whether he will be eligible to play in the tournament because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He certainly will not be playing at Wimbledon in 2022.
Defending the Ladies US Open title is British teenage star Emma Raducanu. She has had indifferent form since winning the tournament in 2021. Currently ranked world number 12, she has won four of her six last matches as of 11 May 2022 but has continued to have niggling injuries, recently highlighted by her first-round withdrawal at the Italian Open with a back problem. Maybe you will have the chance to consider her form at Roland Garros and Wimbledon.
The US Open will be an exciting tournament to look forward to in 2022. We hope you have enjoyed this overview of its history. If you are planning to have a bet on the US Open, we would like to remind you that gambling can cause personal and financial issues, if it is not treated with respect. If you feel you have an issue with gambling then visit gambleaware.co.uk for free help and support.