The U.S. Open turns 50 this year and rather than easing toward old age, it will celebrate the landmark birthday by unveiling a $600 million facelift.
A grand slam that began life in an elegant country club in leafy Forest Hills, the U.S. Open long ago cast aside its quaint roots and has grown into a big, bold and brash money spinning tennis machine that according to Forbes will this year churn out a record $350 million in revenue.
“Forest Hills was very much a private club setting and the members took it as a sort of intrusion,” tennis historian and author Steve Flink, who has attended every U.S. Open, told Reuters. “A lot of them would have preferred it to themselves.
“They came there to play.”
The Forest Hills members got their courts back in 1978 when the U.S. Open found a new home in Flushing Meadows, overhauling the decaying infrastructure left behind from the 1964 World’s Fair.
The grounds, now called the ‘Billie Jean King National Tennis Center’ have been transformed into a state-of-the-art facility boasting 22 courts, including two futuristic stadiums with retractable roofs.
While the move across the Borough of Queens was just a few miles, it marked a seismic shift for the sport. The switch from a private club setting to a public facility meant tennis had moved from the “classes to the masses”.
Suddenly the traditional tennis whites dress code had a blue collar.
“It was sad in a way (the move) because it was such an elegant setting but it was too much of crush,” explained Flink.
“But it was also very wise to move it and go over to a public facility like Flushing Meadows and establish a new identity and make it more for the “masses than the classes” that was the phrase we all used but it was true.
When the United States National Championships opened its doors to professionals in 1968 and became the U.S. Open, the well-mannered Forest Hills crowds still observed tennis etiquette.
However, 40 years after the move to Flushing Meadows, the polite applause has gone the way of the wooden racket.