US Open: the grandest of Grand Slams
Everything’s bigger at the American season finale - now sponsored by Rolex
Each year, the Grand Slam schedule reaches its raucous conclusion at the US Open in New York. If Wimbledon represents a particularly British celebration of the sport’s history and traditions, then what happens at Flushing Meadows, home of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, offers a typically American take on the game.
Take the size of the event’s showpiece court, the Arthur Ashe Stadium, named after the man who won the inaugural US Open men’s final in 1968. With a capacity of nearly 24,000, it is by some distance the largest purpose-built tennis arena on the planet. The noise that spectators can generate is amplified by the recent addition of a retractable roof. It prompted Rafael Nadal, last year’s men’s singles winner, to remark that, when in operation, the roof has the effect of enclosing the clamour, making it difficult to hear your opponent when he hits the ball.
And the money on offer is similarly outsized. In 2017, the US Open became the first tournament to offer prizes totalling more than $50m (£39m), of which $7.4m (£5.8m) was shared equally between the winners of the men’s and women’s singles titles. This year the total payout will rise to $53m (£41m). Compare that with 1973, when champions John Newcombe and Margaret Court each received $25,000.
The final will take place in Arthur Ashe Stadium, named after Arthur Ashe (centre), the first black man to win the US Open
Newport to New York City
This year’s event, which runs from 27 August to 9 September, celebrates 50 years in its present format, but the tournament traces its roots back to 1881, the year the US National Championships, a men’s singles competition, was founded in Newport, Rhode Island. It makes the US Open the second oldest Grand Slam after Wimbledon, whose inaugural competition had taken place four years previously. The first US Women’s National Singles Championship took place in 1887 at the Philadelphia Cricket Club.
In 1915, New York’s pre-eminence in American tennis led the US National Championships to relocate to the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, a neighbourhood in the New York City borough of Queens. The Forest Hills Stadium, which opened in 1924, remained the home of the US Open until 1977, after which the tournament took up residence in Flushing Meadows.
Change and innovation
In many respects, the history of the US Open has been one of innovation. In 1970, the tournament became the first Grand Slam to introduce a tiebreak to decide a set that reached 6-6, and it remains the only one to use a tiebreak in the final set of a match. It was, in 2006, also the first Grand Slam to use the Hawk-eye computer system for instant replay of line calls. Uniquely among the major tournaments, the playing surface has changed twice during the open era, from grass to clay to the present Pro Deco Turf hard court. The American Jimmy Connors is the one player to have won the US Open on all three surfaces.
In 1973, the tournament became the first to offer equal prize money to men and women – 28 years before the Australian Open and more than three decades ahead of Wimbledon and the French Open. The USTA National Tennis Center was renamed in 2006 in honour of tennis legend Billie Jean King (below), a prominent gender-equality activist and the player whose planned boycott prompted the USTA to offer equal prize money. The event’s main show courts, the Arthur Ashe Stadium and the Louis Armstrong Stadium (the latter due to reopen this summer after a complete rebuild), celebrate the lives of two great African Americans.
‘A passion for quality’
This year’s US Open will be the first with Rolex as Official Timekeeper. Rolex clocks will be installed throughout the grounds of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, including in pride of place on the facade of the Arthur Ashe Stadium.
The partnership reinforces Rolex’s 40-year tradition of supporting top-level tennis, which began in 1978 when it became the Official Timekeeper at Wimbledon. Rolex’s far-reaching partnership with the USTA also includes sponsorship of the Cincinnati Masters event, the USTA National Campus and the association’s outreach foundation.
“It was only natural that Rolex would seek to build on its Grand Slam heritage,” says Stewart Wicht, president and chief executive of Rolex Watch USA, “in this case through an association with the USTA and its flagship tournament, the US Open. The partnership brings together two organisations who share a passion for quality, excellence, precision and performance.”