Billie Jean King National Tennis Center

Justin McCann

Fans at Arthur Ashe Stadium honor America before the Men’s U.S. Open Singles Final match, September 9th, 2001, just two days before the September 11th attacks.

Over the years, tennis in the United States has grown to become increasingly popular. While it started out with the stereotype of being a rich man’s sport, it has been able to shake off this label and become a worldwide sport played by all different types of people. The U.S. Open is the United States’ contribution to this great, global sport. Along with the Australian Open, French Open, and Wimbledon, the U.S. Open is one of the four premier tennis tournaments in the world, all together being known as the tennis “Grand Slam”. This much anticipated event has taken place in the United States yearly since 1881, with play starting out in Newport, Rhode Island with just 25 players entering.[1] However, it started being played at the United States Tennis Association (USTA) National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, Queens, in 1978.[2] The U.S. Open tennis tournament has been played there ever since and was renamed as the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in 2006 after one of the greatest women’s players ever.

The event first started being played after the lease was up on its long-time home of Forest Hills, also located in Queens. In 1977, USTA president W.E. Hester Jr. came up with a plan for a new venue to be located in Flushing Meadows Park. He also said that the USTA was willing to pay up to six million dollars of its own money in order for the project to be completed.[3] The USTA was looking for a location that could potentially be the permanent home of the U.S. Open without it having to be moved again. Hester was very pleased with the new

A 39 year old American tennis legend, Jimmy Connors, celebrates with the crowd after a thrilling victory in the 1991 U.S. Open.

chosen location and tried very hard to make this possible. Before it could be set in stone, meetings would have to take place to iron out the kinks. “Informal meetings between USTA officials and Martin Lang, city parks administrator, were held last month about shifting next year’s open from the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills to a renovated facility in Flushing Meadows Park”.[4] After these meetings between the USTA and the city of New York, plans were approved. “On May 26, 1977, New York City Mayor Abraham Beame and Hester held a press conference that not only announced the plans but also saw the signing of the agreement between the two groups”.[5] Also part of this agreement was that the U.S. Open could only use the facility for its events 60 days a year, with the public being able to pay to use the courts for the rest of the days of the year.

Construction would be completed rather quickly, as the newly built facility would be ready for late summer of 1978, when the tournament would take place. Many people viewed this new venue as a second coming of the World’s Fair, as there were many different languages spoken on the ground of the new facility that screamed diversity.[6] The people that came from all over the world and brought their cultures with them, truly made this a worldwide experience. There were 22 courts in all, with the main being Louis Armstrong Stadium. The first match at the new venue was played between two greats, won by Bjorn Borg in a tightly contested battle with Bob Hewitt. The playing of this match sparked a bright future for the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows. As for the victors of the tournament, in the men’s draw, Jimmy Connors defeated the aforementioned Borg in the finals. On the women’s side, Chrissie Evert won her fourth straight U.S. Open title with a victory over up and coming 16 year old, Pam Shriver. With a new event attendance record of over 275,000 and total tournament prize money exceeding $500,000, the newly constructed U.S. Open venue was surely already paying dividends.[7] The first year at Flushing Meadows was a success, which set the event off on a strong foot for the future.

The U.S. Open taking place at its new home in Flushing Meadows not only brought a new energy to New York City, but it brought a new energy to the sport of tennis as a whole. At a time in the city’s history that consisted of elevated crime and impoverished neighborhoods, the U.S. Open was an event that would embody the great things about the city, and would attract players and fans from all over the world to be a part of it. The event had basically created its own culture. It offered an experience with sights and sounds that could not be felt anywhere quite like New York City. “And during what seems like those few moments when the sounds of the industrial revolution are stilled at the National Tennis Center, the air is alive with the steady hum of vendors hawking and people talking, many of them milling around the scoreboard like commuters checking schedules at Grand Central Station. Others wait in long lines at concession stands that offer standard American fare and exotic delights for extravagant prices”.[8] This is an effect that the typical person may not think would come with a sport like tennis, but this is the kind of magic that was instilled into the city when the event started being played at Flushing Meadows Park in Queens. Superstar players such as Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe had interesting takes on the venue. Connors referred to it as “a concrete zoo, a huge monster place,” while McEnroe, a New York native, likened the event’s atmosphere to what it feels like going to a baseball game.[9] The type of adrenaline and enthusiasm that you could receive from being a part of the U.S. Open was similar to that from the beaches and amusement parks of Coney Island

The U.S. Open brings the best of the best to Queens every year. “The Open draws more highly ranked players than any other Grand Slam event. One reason is the hardcourt surface, which suits the styles of baseline and serve-and-volley players alike. How fitting. Hardcourts in New York. More than one player will agree that it is an asphalt jungle out there”.[10] It may just be a coincidence, but the fact that the matches are played on a hard court surface really does embody New York in general, as many refer to it as the “concrete jungle”. While its playing surface may be one of the reasons that the U.S. Open has attracted so many top players, there is no denying that there are other important reasons. “‘The money and the people are here,’ said Marshall Happer, the administrator for the Men’s International Professional Tennis Council. ‘All the companies are here and television too. If you care about your career, you want to play in the U.S. Open. I don’t know if it would have the same magic if it were played anywhere else’”.[11] It was evident to many players that the U.S. Open offered the most prize money so it was definitely worth the travel to New York City for top players to test their talents against the rest of the best from around the world. New York City also offered exposure for players to get noticed and become popular. All in all, there were a plethora of reasons as to why the U.S. Open was quickly becoming, and has today become neck and neck with Wimbledon in England as the greatest tennis tournament in the world.

To give an indication of how big the U.S. Open really was, in 1986, about 70 countries televised some part of the tournament. This is only behind the Olympics and the World Cup in the ranks of sporting events with global popularity.[12] In the years since then, the event has only grown and become televised in almost double the previous amount of countries.

In 1997, the already popular U.S. Open would become even more of an incredible event. This came with the opening of a second major stadium in the park complex, known as Arthur Ashe Stadium. This stadium was seen as an upgrade over the older Louis Armstrong Stadium, but both would continue to be used simultaneously. It is likely that if you have been to Queens, you would have caught a glimpse of Arthur Ashe Stadium at some point. When it was built, it had become the largest tennis venue in the world, while also featuring a retractable roof. This would make the stadium hard to miss for a casual Flushing, Queens visitor. This new stadium gave tennis fans a whole new experience. It featured many bathrooms that effectively decreased waiting lines, as well as luxury seating that were popular for upper income fans to view the matches in. “Inside the new arena, everything practically gleamed. Outside, there was a bigger food court, prettier public areas and an easier view of the satellite courts where more matches are played”.[13] One interesting thing that some people noted was the prices of food. When Arthur Ashe Stadium opened in 1997, a hamburger was $6.75 and a slice of pizza was $4.50.[14] Although these prices were high, many people argued that you were getting more for your money and that the quality of the event and venue in general made it worth it. This just gives a sense of the type of experience that people enjoyed when they came to Flushing Meadows Park for the U.S. Open.

When the USTA National Tennis Center was renamed as the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in 2006, it was something that was long overdue. Not only was King a tennis champion, but she was an activist for women’s rights throughout her career and still is to this day. She did a lot of work with furthering Title IX, and dedicated much of her time to empowering women and trying to make sure that they had equal opportunities in sports and life in general.[15] Her dedication to tennis and empowering women rightfully earned her the right of having the complex at which the U.S. Open is played at, named after her.

Overall, the U.S. Open is a very exciting event and has had some great moments over the course of its time at Flushing Meadows. The tournament hosts men’s and women’s events in singles, doubles, mixed doubles, as well as amateur events. The draw consists for 128 men and 128 women for each of the singles tournaments, with 64 doubles teams on each side as well. This year each of the singles winners received a check for $3.7million.[16] This gives an indication as to how big of an event this truly is. Most recently, in this year’s tournament, Rafael Nadal took home the singles title on the men’s side for a third time in his career, while Sloane Stephens won her first U.S. Open singles title on the women’s side.




Primary Sources:

Alfano, Peter. “U.S. Open; Tennis, City Style.” New York Times, August 25th, 1986.

Amdur, Neil. “Flushing Meadow Park is Sought as New Site for U.S. Open Tennis.” New York Times (1923-Current File), Mar 16, 1977.

Bruni, Frank. “At Arthur Ashe Stadium, most Find Something to Love.” New York Times (1923-Current File), Aug 31, 1997.


Secondary Sources:

United States Tennis Association. Open Book: Celebrating 40 Years of America’s Grand Slam. Chicago: Triumph Books, 2008. ProQuest Ebook Central.

Ware, Susan. Game, Set, Match: Billie Jean King and the Revolution in Women’s Sports. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2011. eBook Community College Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost.



Blake, Mike. September 9th. 2001. Reuters. Flushing, Queens, New York.

Anonymous. September 2nd. 1991. Tennis Magazine. Flushing, Queens, New York.


[1] United States Tennis Association. Open Book : Celebrating 40 Years of America’s Grand Slam. (Chicago: Triumph Books. 2008.) 74.

[2] NEIL AMDUR. “Flushing Meadow Park is Sought as New Site for U.S. Open Tennis.” (New York Times (1923-Current File. 1977), 50.

[3] Ibid 50.

[4] Ibid 50.

[5] United States Tennis Association. Open Book: Celebrating 40 Years of America’s Grand Slam. Chicago: Triumph Books. 2008.) 74.

[6] Ibid 74.

[7] U.S. Open Year By Year,

[8] Peter Alfano, “U.S. Open; Tennis, City Style,” New York Times, August 26th, 1986.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Frank Bruni, “At Arthur Ashe Stadium, Most Find Something to Love,” (New York Times, August 31st, 1997), 25.

[14] Ibid 25.

[15] Susan Ware, “Game, Set, Match: Billie Jean King and the Revolution in Women’s Sports, (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2011.) 77-78.

[16] U.S. Open, Past Champions,