Starting as a small competition in a Rhode Island town in 1881, the US Tennis Open has transformed into a premier sporting event. And as the only Grand Slam event in the country, the US Open has seen its fair share of surprising moments.
From the Williams sisters’ primetime duel for the title in 2001 to the first night game in 1975, the tournament’s court has made quite a memorable stage throughout the years. Keep reading to learn about some of the moments that mattered most in the history of the US Tennis Open.
Novak Djokovic Hitting A Line Judge With A Ball
In 2020, the world of tennis was stunned when Novak Djokovic was disqualified from the tournament for hitting line judge Pablo Carreno Busta in the throat with a ball. Of course, it was not intentional. But that doesn’t mean officials could let the instance go unpunished.
After pleading with referee Soeren Friemel for a solid seven minutes, it was decided Djokovic would not continue in the event. Unfortunately, for the 17-time Grand Slam champion, he was having a perfect year on the court, winning all 26 matches leading up to the Open. Next time, he’ll probably think twice before hitting a ball without looking.
1975 Added Night Tennis To The Tournament
The US Tennis Open is hosted from the end of August into September, with events ending before sunset. While the tournament had no problem attracting spectators during the weekend events, it was more of a struggle during the weekdays, as many people work.
In 1975 at Forest Hills, everything changed. For the first time in history, night tennis was included. Now, working men and women were able to finish up their jobs, hop on a subway, and enjoy evening matches. Ron Bookman of World Tennis, said, “Playing at night was an experiment but one that paid such dividends as to make everyone wonder why it took so long.’
Super Saturday Kept People On The Edge Of Their Seats
When people arrived to watch the US Open on Saturday, September 8, 1984, they knew they were in for a treat. From the first match to the last, the lineups were full of all-star athletes waiting to claim victory. The day started with a Senior final match between 1971 men’s Open victor Stan Smith and 1973 champion John Newcombe.
They were followed by men’s semi-finalists Pat Cash against Ivan Lendl, and women’s finalists Chrissie Evert versus Martina Navratilova. The day ended with a nail-biting competition between semi-finalists John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors. “Super Saturday” is said to be the greatest day in tennis history.
Women Were Offered The Same Prize Money As The Men
The year 1973 was a big one in the world of tennis. It was the first year the US Tennis Open offered the same amount of prize money to the women as they did the men. By doing so, the Open sent the message that they believe female athletes are just as important as the men in providing entertainment to the public.
To put it into perspective at how “ahead of the times” the US Open was, the Australian Open didn’t have equal prize money for their athletes until 2001! That’s a 28-year difference. Ironically, it was Australian Margaret Smith Court who won the title and prize in 1973.
Serena And Venus Williams’ Primetime Final In 2001
Before 2001, the women’s final didn’t always get the primetime slots during the US Tennis Open. But that all changed when both Venus and Serena Williams faced off in the final. For the first time, the women’s final was showcased during Saturday night primetime television.
Their performance set a new standard for the competition. No longer was the women’s final going to be upstaged by something else; it was going to be one of the must-see events. And it was, with 23 million viewers tuning in to the match. Venus out-matched her sister, winning 6-2, 6-4. It was the first time two African-American athletes met at a major final.
The 1971 “Coming Out Party” Of Chris Evert
Before competing in the Us Tennis Open, 16-year-old Chris Evert had already made a name for herself in the world of tennis. But even after she beat champions Margaret Court and Billie Jean King, no one imagined the impact she would make during the 1971 US Open.
With the mindset of a champion, Evert wound up making it to the semi-finals, where she was finally beat by Billie Jean King. Even though she didn’t win the title that year, witnesses of the teenager’s triumphs knew it wasn’t the last of the young girl. Evert went on to win a record six US Opens and a remarkable 18 majors.
The 2015 Upset: Serena Williams Vs. Roberta Vinci
Throughout the 2015 season, Serena Williams was dominating the sport. First, she snagged the title at the Australian Open, beating Maria Sharapova. Then, she won the French Open, despite feeling unwell, against Lucie Safarova. Finally, she came out victorious at Wimbledon, taking the title over Garbiñe Muguruza.
Williams had one more tournament to win in order to sweep all four majors, the US Open. She was pitted against the world No. 43 Roberta Vinci in the semi-final. In what should have been an “easy in” turned into one of the biggest upsets of the year. Williams lost the match and her chance at a Gram Slam.
In 1970, The US Open Introduced The Tiebreaker
For too long, fans of the sport would sit and fidget as they watched sets go on for hours on end. Thankfully, in 1970, the tiebreak was put into motion during the US Tennis Open. Now, sets were shorter, and “sudden death” made the sort a bit more interesting for spectators.
Invented by Jimmy Van Alen, the tiebreak was a big hit and eventually became commonplace. Both players and the fans are better for it, too. Everyone needs tiebreaker anticipation! Player Arthur Ashe told Sports Illustrated, “When I went to serve at 2-4 [in the tiebreak], you could have heard a pin drop. It was spooky.”
Andre Agassi’s Last Match
Andre Agassi first stepped onto the professional stage at the young age of 18. Full of swagger only a long-haired teenager can exude, Agassi went on to capture the attention of pretty much everyone. Going from a rambunctious teen to a respected player, Agassi made a name for himself in the sport.
Then, in 2006, he played his last match. After being part of every US Open from 1986-2006, Agassi picked the tournament as his final stage. Unfortunately, Agassi lost, but he didn’t let that dampen his spirits as he addressed the crowd in an emotional goodbye speech. He thanked them for their loyalty and for supporting his dreams.
Chris Evert Says Goodbye At The US Open
After making her grand tennis debut at the age of 16, Chris Evert quickly became a fan favorite, startling the world of tennis with her talent and titles. But, after 18 years in the spotlight and winning the US Open six times, Evert made the decision to make her final tournament the Open.
Unfortunately for the 34-year-old, she was unable to out-match Zina Garrison in the quarterfinals. While she walked off the court, waving to the fans, she received a stand ovation. Evert’s 19th and final US Open had come to a close.
2005 Was The Year Of The Blue Courts
While the 2005 US Tennis Open is probably remembered for the title runs made by Kim Clijsters and Roger Federer, there is something else that made history. It was the year a striking blue color replaced the hard green courts.
The change from green to blue material made it easier for both players and fans, especially those watching from home, to see the ball, as it, too, is the color green. The switch was met with favorable reviews, especially from the players. Clijsters said, “The blue, it’s a good blue. I can just really focus on the ball better.”
The 1995 Return Of Monica Seles
In 1995, Monica Seles made her emotional return to the US Tennis Open stage after being off the circuit for almost three years. After being stabbed in the back at a German tournament in 1993, the Open was Seles’ first major event.
It was a tough road of recovery, but Seles was all smiles by the end of her first match of the Open. On her third match point, Seles returned a soft second serve, sealing her victory against Ruxandra Dragomir. Needless to say, she was beyond thrilled, running over to her father and coach and giving him a huge embrace.
Arthur Ashe Wins The First Ever US Tennis Open
It was 1968 when tennis enthusiasts celebrated as professionals and amateurs joined each under one tent for the first Grand Slam tournament to be hosted on United States soil: The US Open. And with the opening on the tournament came its first victor, Arthur Ashe.
Ashe took on “The Flying Dutchman” Tom Okker in the final, inevitably coming out on top. Herbert Warren Wind of the New Yorker said, “I cannot conceive of a more popular victory. Ashe is not only a very fine young man but a very rare young man. There couldn’t have been a better winner of our historic first Open.”
Serena Beats Venus To The US Open Title
When Venus first took to the courts of the US Open at the age of 17 in 1997, people thought she was going to go all the way. She wound up losing to Martina Hingis, but it was thought she’d win a Grand Slam tournament within a year or two.
As fate would have it, her younger sister, Serena, beat her to the title. In 1999, Serena won, ironically, against the very same athlete who bested her sister, Martina Hingis. Serena became the US Tennis Open champ at the young age of 17.
The Grand Opening Of Arthur Ashe Stadium
Opening Night of the 1997 US Open was one of the most celebratory events in the history of the tournament. Past champions and present athletes were all gathered to reveal the brand new Arthur Ashe Stadium, an arena that could seat up to 23,000 spectators. It was unlike any other tennis stadium in the world.
Named after the winner of the first-ever US Open, the stadium’s big reveal was on the 20th anniversary of the tournament being held at Flushing Meadows. The turnout for the occasion was outstanding, and Whitney Houston’s “One Moment in Time” nearly brought the new house down.
The Roof On Ashe Stadium Makes Its Debut
As the US Tennis Open is held in New York at the end of August and goes into September, the event has seen its fair share of bad weather. And there’s nothing like a rainstorm to dampen the mood of spectators, literally. That’s why plans were put in motion to erect a roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium.
The roof was unveiled in 2016, much to the delight of both the players and fans. No longer did anyone have to worry about rain delays; the roof would ensure that the show would always go on!
The Tournament Moving To Flushing Meadows
When the US Tennis Tournament was first up and running, it was held in the elegant private club of the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills. For years, players and fans enjoyed the elegance of the club. But that all changed in 1977, the final tournament before the location changed to a borough of Queens, New York.
The popular tennis tournament uprooted itself and moved to Flushing Meadows, the location fo the old World’s Fair. It was a huge step in the world of tennis. Even British tennis critic David Gray said, “[Flushing Meadows] is a very worthy piece of tennis democracy.”
John McEnroe Defending His 1979 Title
In 1979, at the age of 19, John McEnroe made his way onto the winner’s board at the US Tennis Open, beating fellow New Yorker Vitas Gerulaitis in the final. After almost winning at Wimbledon, McEnroe returned to the stage of the US Open, planning on defending his title.
After beating Jimmy Connors during the semifinals, McEnroe met Bjorn Borg on the court for the finals, the same man who beat him earlier in the summer. After four hours and 13 minutes, McEnroe became the first man to defend his title since the opening of the tournament in 1968.
Jimmy Connors 1991 Run To The Semifinals At The Age Of 39
From his debut in the 70s through the 80s, Jimmy Connors was a staple at the US Tennis Open. Having won the tournament five times on three different surfaces, Connors was typically a central point at the Open. And that was certainly the case in 1991 when he was ranked 174 in the world.
At the age of 39, Connors shocked fans and fellow athletes alike when he made an 11-day run to the semifinals. Even though he wound up losing to Jim Courie in the semifinals, his run overshadowed pretty much everything else. Connors has even said the run was “the best 11 days of my life.”
US Open Facility Being Named After Billie Jean King
On the opening night of the 2006 US Tennis Open, Billie Jean King was given a high honor. Under the lights of Arthur Ashe Stadium, the tennis legend was awarded with the renaming of the US Open facility to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
When asked why King mattered so much, the emcee the evening, Mary Carillo, explained it best. She said, “She’s for the rich and the poor, black and white, straight and gay. She wants equality for everyone. She’s not just a great tennis player and a women’s libber, and that’s an important thing to keep in mind.”