September 5, 2023
Melinda Head

The US Open Tennis Championships

What a tournament, what a legacy!

The US Open is currently in play at Flushing Meadows in Queens, just outside of Manhattan. The Women’s Singles champion will be crowned on Saturday, followed by the Men’s Singles champion on Sunday.

Pole Iga Swiatek (four-time major singles champion) defeated Tunisian Ons Jabeur (seeking her first majors title) in 2022, while Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz defeated Norwegian Casper Ruud to secure his first major title. Each winner took home $3 million for their efforts. Of note: Novak Djokovic was not allowed to compete in 2022 due to his COVID vaccine status, and 41 year old Serena Williams played her last professional match at the 2022 US Open, gracefully losing to Aussie Ajla Tomljanovic.

Serena Williams with her husband, Alexis Ohanian (Redditt co-founder) and daughter, Olympia at the US Open in 2022

The US Open is the 4th and final Grand Slam tournament of the year, after the Australian Open (in January, played on hard courts), the French Open (in late-May to early June, played on clay courts) and Wimbledon (in late June to early July, played on grass). A Grand Slam (aka Golden Slam) is simply the name given to winning these 4 championship matches in one discipline in one calendar year – this feat has been achieved only 6 times, by 5 different players (3 women and 2 men). Established in 1925, some people refer to these individual tournaments as “grand slams” or “majors” – they are considered to be the world’s four most important annual professional tennis matches.

A singles Grand Slam champion has not been seen since 1988, when Germany’s Stefanie Graf won all 4 majors in one season.

In 1988, at the ripe old age of 19, Stefanie Graf won the US Open, cementing her place in history as 1 of only 5 players to ever win a Grand Slam title. Ms. Graf is married to tennis legend Andre Agassi

Did you know that the US Open (formerly known as the US National Championships) was founded in 1881, with women joining the boys club 6 years later? Originally the tournament was limited to amateurs and played on grass, then clay from 1975-1977 and since 1978 it has been played on a hard acrylic surface. Jimmy Connors is the only player to have won US Open singles titles on all 3 surfaces. The “Open Era” was established in 1968, opening the door for everyone to earn a living by playing tennis.

American Jimmy  Connors is the only person to have ever won Grand Slam singles tournaments on all 3 majors’ surfaces:  grass, clay and hard courts

There have been many firsts at the US Open over the years, including this year:

  • Althea Gibson became the first African-American to compete for the US National Championships in 1950 – at a time when America was still highly segregated

Althea Gibson paved the way for African-Americans to play professional tennis in America

  • In 1968, Arthur Ashe won the US Open singles title, making him the first (and, to this day, the only) male African-American player to do so. He contracted HIV from a blood transfusion and died prematurely from AIDS

Arthur Ashe was the first African-American man to win the US Open

  • In 1973, due to the efforts of Billie Jean King, the US Open became the first Grand Slam event to award the same prizes to male and female competitors. Most women’s sports have yet to catch up with tennis

Bille Jean King fought for and achieved equal pay for female tennis players

  • In 2018, 20 year old Naomi Osaka faced her childhood hero, Serena Williams, at the US Open Women’s final and won. She became the first Japanese woman to win a Grand Slam title during a controversial match that was marred with arguments between Williams and the umpire, who cited Williams with code violations for coaching, slamming a racket and verbal abuse

The first Japanese woman to ever win a Grand Slam, Naomi Osaka’s unexpected win was fraught with controversy. With 2 Australian Open and 2 US Open titles to her name and a net worth of $51 million, Osaka, 25, gave birth to a baby girl with rapper father Cordae in July

  • In 2019, Mississauga, Ontario, teenager Bianca Andreescu became the 1st Canadian to win the US Open and claim a Grand Slam title

Canadian Bianca Andreescu beat Serena Williams to win Canada’s first Grand Slam tournament

  • Pushing through the discreet footsteps of Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova, this year the first openly gay tennis stars, Daria Kasatkina and Greet Minnen, played each other at the US Open

Daria Kasatkina and Greet Minnen, both openly gay athletes, played each other at this year’s US Open

The US Open is the only Grand Slam tournament that has been played every year since its inception. It is owned and organized by the US Tennis Association, a non-profit organization. Revenue from ticket sales, sponsorships and broadcasting contracts is used to develop tennis in the United States. Well, well – I didn’t know - that’s a highly laudable mission!

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Next Tuesday, we will cover the finals. Ready for more?

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About the Author

A serial entrepreneur, Melinda is a sociologist and statistician who believes there is no currency with greater value than knowledge

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