This year’s U.S. Open Tennis Championships are underway! Thousands of tennis fans are making the trip to Flushing Meadows-Corona Park to see some of the most talented tennis players in the world in the men’s and women’s singles, men’s and women’s doubles, and mixed doubles events. Nearly every year since 1978, the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center has been a bustling destination around August and September for top-tier Grand Slam tennis, though this wasn’t always the case. In fact, there were eight previous venues of the U.S. Open, or what was then called the U.S. National Championships. Originally only letting amateur tennis players play, the tournament expanded over the years to larger venues, including one in Forest Hills. Though it wasn’t until 1967 that all five events would be held at the same stadium. Read on to learn more about the previous venues of the U.S. Open, including some rather surprising locations.
1. Newport Casino (1881-1914)
Before finding a home in Flushing Meadows and Forest Hills, the U.S. Open Tennis Tournament’s took place in Newport, Rhode Island at the current International Tennis Hall of Fame, which opened in 1954. When the tournament began in 1881, it was located at the Newport Casino, a social club commissioned by New York Herald owner James Gordon Bennett Jr. At the time, the “Casino” was not a place for gambling but rather for socializing; it was a Gilded age social club. According to legend, in 1879, Bennett lost a bet with his polo partner Captain Henry Augustus Candy, whom he dared to ride a horse onto the porch of the nearby Newport Reading Room. Candy rode his horse right into the club itself, after which he lost his membership, creating a need for another social club. Though in reality, according to the International Tennis Hall of Fame, Bennett already had designs for another social club in Newport across from his home, the Stone Villa.
Bennett Jr. hired Charles McKim and Stanford White of architectural firm McKim, Mead & White; White also designed the headquarters of the New York Herald on present-day Herald Square. The shingled, manor-style complex resembled the country clubs of England, a common theme of the American elite. The Newport Casino opened on July 26th, 1880, featuring lawn tennis courts, an indoor facility with more tennis courts, a bowling alley, and a 500-seat theater. On August 31, 1881, the first-ever U.S. National Men’s Singles Championship was held at the Newport Casino, with 25 competitors — and a string quartet for entertainment. Dick Sears was crowned the first men’s singles champion, winning the next six tournaments as well as the doubles championships five times. Until 1886, the tournament was also men-only, though the Newport Casino never hosted any women’s matches.