The US Open that more than 700,000 fans will enjoy this year at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center bears, in many ways, little resemblance to the tournament started 129 years ago. It has evolved from an exclusive men's singles and doubles tournament in 1881 to a two-week sports and entertainment extravaganza, changing its name from the U.S. Championships to the US Open and its location from Rhode Island to Pennsylvania to its current home in Flushing, N.Y.
The five major championships that constitute the US Open—men's and women's singles, men's and women's doubles, and mixed doubles—grew from a single men's tournament held as an entertainment diversion for high society at the turn of the 20th century.
The first U.S. National Singles Championship for men was held at the Newport Casino in Newport, R.I., in August 1881, the beginning of a 34-year run for Newport as the center of tennis in the United States. Only clubs that were members of the United States National Lawn Tennis Association were permitted to enter the initial tournament. Men's doubles was played in conjunction with men's singles at the Newport Casino for the event's first seven years, 1881-1886, before the U.S. Championships grew and spread out to other locales.
In 1887, six years after the men's nationals were instituted as an annual event, the first official U.S. Women's National Singles Championship was held at the Philadelphia Cricket Club, joined by women's doubles in 1889. The U.S. Mixed Doubles Championship officially began in 1892 and was played in conjunction with the women's singles and women's doubles until 1921, when it was combined with the men's doubles program of the U.S. National Championships.
The five major events of the U.S. National Championships/US Open have been contested at nine different locations since the inception of the men's singles event in Newport. All five finally came together when the women's doubles tournament moved to the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, N.Y., at the advent of the Open Era in 1968, and all five moved to the US Open's current location, the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, N.Y., in 1978.
Overall, the West Side Tennis Club has hosted the most championships, 210, with the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center standing at 160 through 2009. Men's doubles has been played at the greatest number of sites (eight), while women's singles has been the least traveled, having only been hosted by the Philadelphia Cricket Club, the West Side Tennis Club and the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
A total of $100,000 was offered by the USTA to the field of 96 men and 64 women who entered the men's and women's singles and doubles at the 1968 US Open. Today, the US Open offers more than $22.6 million to a field of more than 600 men and women, including qualifying. In 2004, the US Open added the Olympus US Open Series Bonus Challenge, potentially pushing the 2010 US Open prize money to $25.2 million.