The US Tennis Open finals are set to take place this weekend, and this year’s tournament has already seen some thrilling matches and shock exits, including the early departure of Rafael Nadal.
Today, we’re taking a look the history of this Grand Slam tournament, and seeing what prize money and tennis trophies are at stake for this year’s finalists.
From Rhode Island to Queens – The History of the US Tennis Open
Now attracting more than 700,000 spectators every year, as well as some of the sport’s most famous players, the US Open tournament was the result of a merger between two separate competitions.
The first of these, the US National Championships for Men, was first held in 1881, at Rhode Island’s Newport Casino. Played on grass, it included men’s singles and doubles events. In 1915, this tournament moved to the West Side club, in Forest Hills, a neighbourhood in Queens, New York, where it continued to take place each year until 1920.
It was held at Philadelphia’s Germantown Cricket Club between 1921 and 1923, while a new stadium was constructed at West Side. On its return to Forest Hills, it officially became recognised as one of the ILTF’s major tournaments.
The second competition was the U.S. Women’s National Championships. This tournament, first held in 1887, at the Philadelphia Cricket Club, initially only featured a women’s singles competition. Women’s doubles and mixed doubles events were added later.
The two events merged at the beginning of the Open era, and the first US Tennis Open tournament took place in 1968 at West Side, Forest Hills. Professional players were also allowed to enter for the first time that year.
The event moved to its current home, now known as the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, at Flushing Meadow, in Queens, in 1978, where it was played on Decoturf courts, rather than the clay ones, which had been used since 1975.
Along with the men’s and women’s singles and doubles, and mixed doubles events, the tournament now includes junior and wheelchair competitions.
Famous US Open Tennis Tournament Winners
The first ever winner of the US National Men’s Singles Championship was Richard Sears. Sears won the title on seven consecutive occasions, a feat matched by just two other pre-Open era champions; William Larned and Bill Tilden.
The inaugural US National Women’s Singles title was won by Ellen Hansell, while Anna Margrethe Bjurstedt Mallory, known as “Molla”, won the most pre-Open women’s singles titles, with eight to her name.
The first non-American to claim the men’s singles title was a British player, Laurence Doherty, who became champion in 1903, while the first to win the women’s singles competition was Mabel Cahill from Ireland, who became champion for the first time in 1891.
Arthur Ashe won the first Open Era men’s singles title, while Virginia Wade claimed the women’s title the same year. Since then, Jimmy Connors, Pete Sampras and Roger Federer have been men’s singles champions on the most occasions, with five wins apiece, while Serena Williams and Chris Evert jointly hold the record for the most Open era women’s singles title wins with six each.
Other big names to have won the men’s singles event include Rod Laver, John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl, Andre Agassi, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic, while world-famous players such as Steffi Graf, Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova, Kim Clijsters, Justine Henin, Monica Seles and Venus Williams have all raised the women’s trophy aloft.
The US Tennis Open – What Do the Winners Take Home?
In 1968, the total prize money on offer at the tournament was $100,000, $12,000 of which was set aside for the winner of the men’s singles title. Unfortunately, as the champion, Arthur Ashe, was an amateur, he wasn’t entitled to claim it and only earned the standard tournament fee for non-professionals of $20 per day.
This year’s US Tennis Open prize fund is a record-breaking $46.3 million. In 1973, the US Open became the sport’s first major tournament to award equal prize money to men and women, and the winners of the men’s and women’s 2016 singles titles will take home an impressive $3.5 million each. Every champion will be awarded a replica of the glittering trophy presented in his or her category too.
Who do you think will win the 2016 US Tennis Open titles? Which former title winner is your all-time favourite? Add a comment or talk to us on Facebook or Twitter.