The US Open began tournament play in 1881, making it one of the oldest championship tennis tournaments in the world. The first tournament – a men's only tournament – was held at the Newport Casino in Newport, Rhode Island in August of 1881. The championship event was known as U.S. National Singles Championship for men, and was attended solely by clubs that were members of the United States National Lawn Tennis Association, making the event a high society occasion.
The first U.S. Women's National Singles Championships were held six years after the men's tournament at the Philadelphia Cricket Club. The first mixed doubles championship tournament was held in concordance with the first women's singles and doubles tournament. The first U.S. National Men's Doubles Championship was held a year later, in 1900.
In 1968, the US Open tennis tournament we currently recognize was formed from the consolidation of all five predecessor tournaments. However, the 1968 tournament was open to professionals to compete, unlike the predecessor tournaments that did not allow professional tennis players to compete. The new US Open tennis tournament was held at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, Queens, and was played on a grass court. In 1970, the US Open was the first Grand Slam tennis tournament to implement the tie-break at the end of the match. In 1975, the US Open switched to hard clay courts. In 1978, the tournament moved to its current home in Flushing Meadows and the surface type changed again, this time to DecoTurf.
The US Open is a champion's event. Formerly called the U.S. Championships, this event was designed to select the cream of the crop from the world tennis circuit, and match them against each other to determine the best in the sport. The first US Open tennis tournament was held in 1968, although the predecessor to this tournament was in place by 1881 (when the first men's singles championships were held). The winner of the inaugural men's final in 1968 was African-American player Arthur Ashe. To this day, the central stadium at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, Arthur Ashe stadium, is named for this tennis champion.
The tennis complex itself was rededicated in 2006 in honor women's champion Billie Jean King. King won 12 Grand Slam singles titles, and is tied for the most mixed doubles titles won at the US Open. King is probably most famous for her "Battle of the Sexes" match in which she beat Bobby Riggs, a former men's Wimbledon champion. The USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center is the largest and most prestigious sports complex ever named for a woman.
Bill Larned is tied for the most U.S. National Championships (pre-US Open) Men's Singles titles with seven, and won his first at the age of 28 in 1901. He won five straight titles from 1907-1911. Larned was forced to retire after the 1911 season, due to the rheumatic fever he contracted while serving with Teddy Roosevelt's "Rough Riders" in Cuba. In 1922, Larned invented the steel-framed tennis racquet, and founded a company to manufacture it.
Chris Evert holds the record for the most US Open Women's Singles titles won post-1968 with six wins. She also holds the record for most consecutive Women's Singles titles at the event. In 1974, Evert won 56 straight matches, setting a modern record for women's tennis. In the same year, Evert had a highly publicized relationship with Men's Singles champion Jimmy Connors, although she eventually married British tennis pro John Lloyd several years later.
Pete Sampras, currently tied with Jimmy Connors and Roger Federer for most US Open Men's Singles wins since 1968, is arguably the best male tennis player to have ever competed in the sport. (Others might argue that Rod Laver is in the top spot and for a good reason: he is the only player to have won all four Grand Slam titles in the same year twice.) Sampras proved himself to the tennis circuit by becoming the youngest ever Open tennis champion at the age of 19 years and 28 days.
In 2008, Switzerland's Roger Federer tied both Sampras and Connors for the record of most US Open Men's Singles wins since 1968. As of 2008, Federer has won 13 Grand Slams all-time, and is looking healthy heading into the 2009 US Open tennis tournament as a prime contender for the title.
Sisters Venus and Serena Williams are prime contenders for the 2009 US Open Women's Singles title. Venus won the event twice, once in 2000 versus Lindsay Davenport, and once in 2001 versus her younger sister, Serena Williams. In 2008, Serena Williams beat Jelena Jankovic for the US Open Women's Singles title. Both Venus and her sister, Serena, are former world number one female tennis players, and both have won US Open singles titles (Venus has 2, Serena has 3). Serena beat Venus in 2002 for the US Open Women's Singles title.