100 Years And Counting….The U.S. Open And New York City
Posted by Admin on August 30, 20150 Comment
By Randy Walker
New York and the US Open Tennis Championships – they are as synonymous with each other as any event and location in sports.
The U.S. Open takes on the personality of the city where it is staged – loud and brash – played under bright lights, where people of all backgrounds and ethnicities, from all corners of the global converge to watch and play in the toughest tournament in tennis. It’s where the biggest tennis fans in the world travel to, where the financial titans of Wall Street entertain, where the elite of high fashion observe and where big media report. The tournament brings an economic impact of over $700 million to New York City as over 700,000 fans attend the two-week event, almost half of them being from outside of the New York area.
On Monday, August, 31, 2015 – the first day of the 2015 US Open - it will mark exactly 100 years to the day when this event and this city were first paired as partners in the sport.
How did it all start?
For 34 years since 1881, the men’s singles event at the U.S. Championships were held at The Casino in Newport, R.I., the site of the current International Tennis Hall of Fame. However, as the game grew from a simple garden party event into a larger international tennis event, the smaller facilities and remote location proved to be inadequate as the host of the maturing event. During the summer of 1914, the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, Queens, New York, hosted the Davis Cup final between the United States and the combined Australia-New Zealand team of “Australasia.” The event was a tremendous success, attracting enthusiastic crowds of 14,000 fans daily – the largest crowds to watch live tennis at the time. The great success of the Davis Cup series prompted deeper discussions of moving the men’s singles event to West Side Tennis Club in New York.
Officials from the USTA realized that tennis was no longer just a past time of the few and for the wealthy, but was growing into a national sport. By bringing their national championship to a bigger city would do its part to further increase the popularity of the sport and allow their organization to continue to flourish. However, purists from New England vigorously defended Newport as the venue, while also arguing that the more rowdy and less refined fans that were in attendance during the Davis Cup matches in New York the previous summer would not be a welcome experience for the national championships.
“New Yorkers enlarged upon the inequity of keeping the championship out of reach of the thousands who wanted to witness it and New Englanders made scornful allusions to the ‘baseball rooters’ who made up the crowd when the tennis tournament was held in the metropolis,” wrote the New York Times.
By a vote of 129 to 119 at the USTA Annual meeting at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York City on Feb. 5, 1915, the association voted to move the national men’s singles championship to New York at the West Side Tennis Club in New York.
“Now that the shifting of the all covers from Newport to New York is an accomplished fact, it seems strange that it was kept at the inaccessible resort so long,” wrote the New York Times in advance of the 1915 Championships. “The success with which the Davis Cup matches were managed at Forest Hills last summer justifies the belief that the event will be run off smoothly and the tennis fans to see the game may be counted upon to raise a loud howl if anybody tries to take their fun away.”
The Times also wrote that the first U.S. Championships in New York were “expected to mark a new era in the American game…which is expected to increase the popularity of the sport.” The Times continued “The exclusiveness which has heretofore surrounded the national championship has been swept aside and the competition brought into the very heart of the tennis centre of this country.”
Play started at 10 am daily at the first U.S. Championships in New York on 24 grass courts at West Side Tennis Club. Daily admittance was 50 cents and an additional 50 cents if one wanted a guaranteed seat in the 7,000-seat temporary grandstand.
The winner of the first U.S. Championship in New York was newcomer Bill Johnston, who would later earn the nick-name of “Little Bill” as he, at 5-foot-8, was seen as even more diminuitive next to his future Davis Cup teammate “Big” Bill Tilden, who stood at 6-foot-2.
The West Side Tennis Club would host the men’s singles event again through 1920, but for three years, from 1921 to 1923, was moved to Philadelphia’s Germantown Cricket Club to take advantage of the massive popularity of Tilden, then the best player in the world. While the men’s event was being played in Philadelphia, the women’s event, played at the Philadelphia Cricket Club since 1887, took their place in New York.
There was some consideration to actually moving the U.S. Championships around the country to different cities each year,
“In future years, the suggestion has been made that in tennis, as in golf, the championship should be moved about from place to place – New York one year, Chicago the next, Philadelphia, Boston and so on,” wrote the New York Times. “This idea has its appeal and it may well be that the association will sanction such a program. A migratory championship would surely have the effect of stimulating and spreading enthusiasm for the game.”
In 1923, the West Side Tennis Club debuted its 14,000-seat permanent stadium, first used, actually, during the 1923 Wightman Cup matches between the U.S. and Great Britain and then for the U.S. Championships later in the summer. Starting in 1924, both the men’s and women’s singles events would both be played in New York at the West Side Tennis Club until 1978, when the tournament was moved to its current location in Flushing Meadows at the USTA National Tennis Center.
The rest, you can say, for tennis and the city of New York, is history
Randy Walker is a communications and marketing specialist, writer, tennis historian and the managing partner of New Chapter Media – www.NewChapterMedia.com. He was a 12-year veteran of the U.S. Tennis Association’s marketing and communications division where he worked as the press officer for 22 U.S. Davis Cup ties, three Olympic tennis teams and was an integral part of USTA media services team for 14 US Opens. He is the author of the books ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY and THE DAYS OF ROGER FEDERER