- 27 Aug 2020
A special US Open edition: What happened exactly on that day
On this day, August 27, 1975, the US Open began, implementing two major changes. For the first time, at Forest Hills, the American Grand Slam was to be played on green clay instead of the traditional grass. This change was introduced after many players had complained about the quality of the grass courts in the past years. Bill Tabert, director of the tournament, had also announced that some matches might be scheduled at night, introducing the concept of the famous night-sessions. On top of that, the men’s matches were to be decided by the best two of three sets until the round of 16, as there was concern that longer matches would disturb the schedule.
The place : The West Side Tennis Club
The US Open (known as the US Nationals before 1968 and the start of the Open Era) was established in 1881. Although it is the only Grand Slam to have been played every single year without an interruption since its beginning, it moved several times locations throughout the 20th century. First held in August 1881 on grass courts at the Newport Casino, on Rhode Island, the tournament moved to New York in 1915, where it was held at the West Side Tennis Club, at Forest Hills.
The US Open true to its reputation as a precursor: The facts
Bill Talbert, the director of the US Open, was not as attached to tradition as the members of the All England Club, at Wimbledon. In 1970, he was the first to introduce tiebreaks in a major tournament. In 1973, the US Open was the first Grand Slam event to offer equal prize money to men and women. In 1975, the organizers, who were not afraid of innovation, decided to implement two changes.
The most easily noticeable one was the switch from grass to green clay (also known as har-tru, which was faster than European red clay). In the previous years, many players had complained about the Forest Hills grass courts, which they deemed uneven and too soft. This was enough to push Talbert to invest $240,000 in order to change for green clay. It was a pretty bold decision, as, with the exception of Jimmy Connors in 1974, the US Open champions of the Open Era all played serve-and-volley.
“It will take a complete player to win the Open this year,” said Talbert in June 1975, unveiling the new courts, according to The New York Times.
The tournament director knew he was not going to please everyone with this little revolution, but he couldn’t care less :
“This is the US Open, which I consider the world’s major tournament, and I believe that every player should consider it a privilege to compete in it, regardless of what kind of courts we have.”
With the idea that matches could last longer on clay than on grass, it was decided to play best-of-three matches until the fourth round.
The other major innovation of the 1975 US Open was the advent of night-scheduled matches. According to Paul Fein, quoted by vice.com, “You had millions of people working 9 to 5 who couldn’t watch. It was a brilliant move to make the sport more accessible to the masses.” The first players to compete in what would be later referred to as a night session were Stan Smith, from the USA, and Onny Parun, from New Zealand. In a revolutionary best-of-three US Open first-round, played under the lights, on green clay, the New Zealander upset the 1971 champion, 6-4, 6-2, in front of 5,000 late spectators. The initiative was appreciated by the public.
Manuel Orantes, a clay court specialist, would claim the US Open title in 1975, defeating Jimmy Connors in the final (6-4, 6-3, 6-3).
The clay court era at the US Open would only last three years, until the event moved to Flushing Meadows and adopted hard courts. This last change of surface would allow Jimmy Connors to achieve the feat of winning the US Open on three different surfaces.
The night sessions, acclaimed by the fans, would become the US Open trademark, producing some of the most dramatic matches in tennis history. In 1988, the Australian Open would follow the same path by scheduling night sessions.
The US Open would continue innovating throughout the years. In 1978, it would be the first Grand Slam tournament to be played on hard courts. In 1984, Super Saturday would be established, with the women’s final being scheduled the same day as both men’s semi-finals. In 2006, the US Open would also be the first major tournament to use Hawk-Eye technology.