Countdown to US Open: A walk through history

From members-only national tournament to a pioneer of equal prize money. We take a look at US Open history

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Rafael Nadal en route to winning the 2019 US Open

The US Open is the only Grand Slam that has taken place every single year since its inception. It is the only major to continue even during the two World Wars. 2020 will be another landmark year as the major will be played without spectators. We take a look at US Open history:

1881

The US National Championship is where it all began. The inaugural edition was held on grass courts of the Newport Casino in Newport, Rhode Island.
This tournament, the precursor to the US Open, was open only to the member clubs of the USLTA (US National Lawn Tennis Association) – which is now known as the USTA.

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Only men’s singles and men’s doubles championship was held in the inaugural year. Richard Sears was the first men’s champion, and held the title for seven years in a row.

First men’s champion Richard Sears

1887

Women’s singles was added to the National Championships. The US Women’s National Singles Championship was held at the Philadelphia Cricket Club. Philadelphia’s very own Ellen Hansell, at the age of 17, became the first women’s champion.

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Women’s doubles event was introduced in 1889 and mixed doubles in 1892.

1898

Juliette Atkinson beats Marion Jones 6–3, 5–7, 6–4, 2–6, 7–5 in the final of the women’s championship. It is still the longest women’s match in the tournament’s history, in terms of number of games played (51).

1915

The US National Championship is relocated to the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, Queens, New York City.

1924

While it was considered as one of the biggest tournaments up until then, the ITF (International Lawn Tennis Federation) gave its approval in 1924. It was official recognized as one of the major tournaments.

Arthur Ashe (right) became the first men’s champion of the Open Era

1968

The Open Era begins. The five different events, which were previously held at different venues, all take place at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills. It is the first year the championships are called the ‘US Open’.

It was a landmark year in US Open history. With a total prize money of $100,000, it was, at the time, the richest event in the sport. All events except the mixed doubles were open to professionals.

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Arthur Ashe beat Tom Okker of the Netherlands 14-12, 5-7, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 in the final to become the first African-American man to win the singles title. However, since Ashe was an amateur he was ineligible for the prize money of $14,000. Instead, he collected only $20 per diem.

Virginia Wade won the women’s singles title.

1970

The US Open becomes the first Grand Slam to introduce a tie-breaker once a set reached 6-6.

Ken Rosewall beat fellow Australian Tony Roche 2-6, 6-4, 7-6, 6-3 to become the oldest men’s champion at 35 years, 10 months, 11 days. He still holds the record.

1973

The US Open pioneers equal prize money at the majors. Singles champions Margaret Court and John Newcombe receive cheques of $25,000 each for their triumph.

1975

The US Open is played on clay courts following complaints about the surface. Floodlights also make a debut.

The US Open was played on clay courts from 1975 to 1977

1978

The US Open moves to the hard courts of the USTA National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows. It is the only major to have been played on three different surfaces.

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Playing in his fifth straight US Open final, Connors dispatches Borg in straight sets for his third US Open title. The victory on the DecoTurf II hard courts gives Connors the distinction of being the only player to ever win the US Open on three different surfaces (grass 1974, clay 1976 and hard in 1978 and later in 1982-83)

Jimmy Connors (left) and Bjorn Borg before the men’s final in 1978

1979

Tracy Austin becomes the youngest women’s champion in US Open history at 16 years, 8 months, 28 days, defeating four-time defending champion Chris Evert Lloyd, 6-4, 6-3, in the final.

1990

Pete Sampras becomes the youngest men’s champion at 19 years and 28 days, defeating Andre Agassi, 6-4, 6-3, 6-2, in the final.

1992

Stefan Edberg’s 6-7, 7-5, 7-5, 5-7, 6-4 semi-final victory over Michael Chang, which lasted five hours and 26 minutes, is believed to be the longest match in US Open history. The Swede beat Sampras to claim the men’s singles title.

Andre Agassi won the 1994 US Open

1994

Agassi becomes the first unseeded player in the Open Era to win the men’s championship. That was when only 16 players were seeded at Grand Slams.

1997

The centre court of a new USTA National Tennis Center is named the Arthur Ashe Stadium.

2000

With Bill Clinton, the first sitting US president to attend the tournament, watching from the stands, Venus Williams conquers Lindsay Davenport 6-4, 7-5 in the women’s finals. It was a year after Serena Williams had won the title, making them the first sisters to win US Open singles titles.

Venus Williams (right) beat sister Serena in the final of the 2001 US Open

2006

The US Open becomes the first Grand Slam to introduce instant replay reviews of line calls, using the Hawk-Eye computer system. The USTA renames the stadium complex the Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre.

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2015

Flavia Pennetta beats fellow Italian Roberta Vinci 7-6, 6-2 to become the oldest women’s champion at 33 years, 6 months, 18 days.

She announced retirement during the trophy presentation.

2020

The US Open will be played without spectators due to the pandemic.

The Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre was transformed into a temporary 350-bed hospital to handle an overflow of patients as COVID-19 cases spiked across New York five months ago.

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