This year’s U.S. Open marks an even half-century since the event formerly known as the U.S. Championships joined the other Grand Slam tournaments in admitting professional players.
The first Open edition of the tournament started on Aug. 29, 1968, at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, and culminated with singles titles for Virginia Wade and Arthur Ashe. The total prize money on offer was $100,000.
Fifty years later, play will began yesterday at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, where two stadiums have retractable roofs and each singles champion will take home $3.8 million from a total pool of $53 million.
“The change is so dramatic. It’s polar sides apart,” Wade said. “If you take it like a gradual thing, like every year it got better, bigger, more money, improvements every year, then it’s a little bit more easier to understand.”
Today’s stars weighed in on the significance of the tournament and shared their fondest memories of the event.
Madison Keys, an American ranked no. 14 in the world and the 2017 U.S. Open Runner-up:
“One of my absolute favorite U.S. Open matches was Andre Agassi and James Blake, when they played that epic night match (in the 2005 quarterfinals). I remember it vividly, because it was actually one of the first times I stayed up to watch all of it. That’s something I will always remember.”
Francis Tiafoe, a French player
“That year that Connors made the semis at 39. I don’t even know what year that was [it was 1991]. That was absurd.”
Alexander Zverev, a German ranked no. 4 in the world
“I remember the last Agassi-Sampras final (in 2002). I loved that match. Everybody was like, ‘Oh, Sampras is never going to win another one. He’s too old. He’s done.’ And then, all of a sudden, he surprised everyone. Played an unbelievable tournament. Was unstoppable, basically. He surprised everybody around the tennis world. And then he never played again. What a good way to stop.”
Stefanos Tsitsipas, a Greek player ranked no. 15 in the world
“One match that I remember really well was Marcos Baghdatis against Andre Agassi [in the second round in 2006]. The ‘cramping match.’ It was a phenomenal match. So much drama. A good show for the people. These kinds of matches are the ones people are excited to watch.”
Andrea Petkovic, a German player and 2011 U.S. Open Quarterfinalist
“Jennifer Capriati comes to my mind first. I don’t know why, but she, for me, is the epitome of the U.S. Open. I feel like she always upped her game there. She was a hard-court player that was amazing. And she had this great rivalry with Serena. That’s just somebody that when I go on YouTube to watch old matches, it’s Capriati and Seles that I like to go back and watch.”
Denis Shapovalov, a Canadian player ranked no. 28 in the world
“The best memory for me, probably, was when (Federer) was playing in the final against Djokovic [in 2015]. We were sitting far up in Ashe. We could barely see them. But it was unbelievable to be there during the final, seeing the whole atmosphere. It was one of those moments I’ll never forget.”
John Isner, an American player ranked no. 11 in the world
“The Corretja-Sampras match, where Pete was throwing up (in the 1996 quarterfinals). That one match sticks out to me. … I wasn’t that much of a tennis aficionado growing up, even though it was the sport I played the most. But I always tuned in during the U.S. Open. Staying up late as a young kid, watching a Grand Slam tennis match, was very unique.”
Caroline Wozniacki, a Danish player ranked no. 2 in the world and a two-time U.S. Open runner-up
“Some of my earlier memories were when Venus and Serena started coming up, when they were young. They had the braids and the beads. … Just the fashion aspect of it and the atmosphere. I think there is nothing to beat Arthur Ashe night sessions. Those are very special.”