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The History of the U.S. Open

December 31st, 2012 Seasonal

The U.S. Open features the best of the best of both men and women tennis players facing off against one another as they pound the courts with heels, balls and racquets, hoping to take home the championship trophy and a lifetime's worth of bragging rights. Although the U.S. Open is a much-hailed competition in the present day, its humble roots extend far back to the beginning of tennis, which later evolved into the renowned sport that it is today.

Tennis' real beginnings

According to HistoryOfTennis.net, the game was first invented by European monks thousands of years ago and it was played as a way to celebrate religious ceremonies. While present-day tennis is synonymous with stringed racquets, its original incarnation had the players using their hands to swat the ball. Later, a leather glove was used and eventually a handle was added to the glove to form the racquet. The first tennis balls also underwent an evolution process since the game was conceived. In the beginning, players used a wooden sphere, but this later changed to a leather ball that the source reports was stuffed with cellulose.

European growth

Much like golf, tennis proliferated due to the interest of royalty. By the 13th century, French nobility became fanatical about the game and thousands of courts were constructed throughout the country - both the Pope and Louis IV attempted to have it banned because they believed that it was too much of a distraction. But tennis lived on and eventually the craze spread to England, where Henry VII and Henry VIII adopted the game as a chronic hobby.

The original tennis courts didn't look like the ones we see in present times, but in 1625, AthleticScholarships.net notes that England's Hampton Court was built, paving the way for the modern models still used today. The game grew again in 1850, when a new form of rubber was created to make the balls and tennis became an outdoor affair with new rules.

Tennis experienced even more growth during the 19th century, when the first courts were built in the United States in 1874 and others were constructed in China, Russia and India the year after. The game began to become organized when the All England Club conducted the Wimbledon tournament in 1877.

The birth of the U.S. Open

According to US.Open-Tennis.com, the first men's U.S. Open competition occurred in 1881 at the Newport Casino in Rhode Island. The only clubs that could participate were those that were a part of the organization, including the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association. At the time, the event went under the name of the U.S. National Singles Championships for Men.

The tournament gained popularity and was later held at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, New York. There in New York, many momentous events in the game as well as society took place, such as Althea Gibson becoming the first black woman to play in a Grand Slam event in 1950, as well as both the men and women garnering equal prize money in 1973. The year 1975 also saw the first match played at night. The tournament also experienced many groundbreaking changes that would become precedents, such as the courts being made from green clay rather than the traditional grass, as well as players using metal racquets instead of the age-old wooden ones.

The U.S. Open tournament became ever more popular throughout the succeeding decades and the location was changed to Flushing Meadows in Queens, New York. As technology and people have progressed, so has tennis, and today it remains on the pinnacle of popularity as thousands flock to the city to experience the excitement of the racquet meeting the ball, just as the European nobility did so many years ago.