How the U.S. Open found its home in New York at Flushing Meadows
- A look at the historical locations of the U.S. Open and how the tennis tournament made its way to New York, Flushing Meadows and Arthur Ashe Stadium.
We all know about Flushing Meadows. And tennis fans most likely can name Forest Hills as a location of the U.S. Open. But can you go trivia master on your friends and come up with every historical location of the U.S. Open? You’ll need nine total answers. Yes, nine.
First played at Newport Casino in Rhode Island in 1881, the early days of the U.S. Championships offered a fractured tournament with men’s singles, women’s singles and doubles often located in differing locations in the same year. The men’s singles landed in Forest Hills, Queens, N.Y., in 1915 and gave the tournament a fair bit of stability by remaining mostly there until the move to the National Tennis Center at Flushing Meadows in 1978. But before 1915, the tournament bounced-around to plenty of locations.
Rhode Island held various combinations of men’s singles and doubles off and on until 1914. But the women never played there because they had their own tournament, which started in 1887, based at the Philadelphia Cricket Club in Pennsylvania. The other five locations include the Orange Tennis Club in Mountain Station, N.J., home of the men’s doubles in 1887; New York’s Staten Island Cricket Club for men’s doubles in 1888 and 1889; men’s doubles in 1893 at St. George Cricket Club in Chicago; the Longwood Cricket Club in Chestnut Hill, Mass., played home to various men’s and women’s doubles tournaments from 1917 until 1967; and the Germantown Cricket Club in Philadelphia took on men’s singles from 1921 through 1923 and handled doubles in 1934.
The West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills first hosted all events in 1942, but the ‘40s and ‘50s saw tournaments scattered across the land yet again. The tournament came together for good in 1968 at Forest Hills, coinciding with the official Open Era.
As the second-oldest major sporting event in the country behind the Kentucky Derby, the U.S. Open was played on grass for the majority of its existence, right up to a transition to clay in 1975 and then hard courts in 1978. The exclusive club-style of Newport Casino gave way to the desire to centralize tennis in New York, moving the tournament to the West Side Tennis Club. And the centralization did help grow the sport, enough that Forest Hills needed three years—1921-23 when the tourney moved to Philadelphia—to construct a 14,000-seat concrete Forest Hills Stadium. The U-shaped stadium featured a grass court and was surrounded by a mix of other courts with different surfaces. It remains today, following a refurbishing, as mainly a concert venue.
For the final three years of the tournament’s Forest Hills home, the West Side Tennis Club switched the main courts from grass to clay. The third surface came with the tourney’s final move just a few miles to Flushing Meadows. While switching to hard courts, the 1978 move came with it a new home in the renovated Singer Bowl, built for the 1964 New York World’s Fair.
Now named Louis Armstrong Stadium, it originally held close to 18,000 fans when it was the key stadium from 1978 to 1996. Remodeling Singer Bowl into a more square-like venue also created space for the adjacent 6,000-seat Grandstand stadium.
Then changes came in 1997. Not only did Arthur Ashe Stadium open then as the world’s largest tennis-specific stadium with its capacity of over 23,700, but that opening came with it a removal of the upper tiers of Louis Armstrong to reduce capacity to about 10,200.
Just over 20 years later and the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center sits poised for more major changes. Ashe debuts a new retractable roof this year and a brand-new Grandstand stadium opens with more than 8,000 seats on the south side of the complex. Two years from now expect another shift, as a brand-new Armstrong stadium will open with more than 14,000 seats.
For such an early-day nomadic tournament, Flushing Meadows has turned into the undisputed home of the U.S. Open. Just don’t forget the historical importance of Rhode Island, Pennsylvania or Forest Hills.
Tim Newcomb covers sports aesthetics—stadiums to sneakers—and training for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.