50 facts for the 50th anniversary of the US Open

1. The US Open, which starts Monday in New York, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year – kind of. While the tournament was first played in 1881, it wasn’t open to professionals until 1968, so the fanfare this year is strictly for the tournament as we know it, with the greatest tennis players in the world assembled in Queens for the year’s final Grand Slam, and getting paid for it. (Handsomely, I might add.)

2. The prize pool for this year’s tournament will reach $53 million, a record for any major. (The other Slams award between $42 and $46 million.)

3. In 1973, the US Open became the first major tennis tournament to offer equal pay, spurred by Billie Jean King, who’d threatened a boycott after she received $10,000 for her win in 1972, which was 40 percent less than the men’s winner, Ilie Nastase ($25,000). No other major would annually distribute equal prize money until 2001.

4. This year, the singles winners will get $3.8 million. In comparison, golfer Patrick Reed made $1.98 million for winning The Masters, the most prestigious event in that sport.

5. Just for making the tournament, a player is guaranteed $54,000. A first-round win (coupled with a second-round loss) nets $93,000.

6. Nearly 700,000 fans will make the journey to the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center for the Open.

7. CBS aired the US Open for its first 47 years until ESPN signed an 11-year deal to start showing “first ball to last ball” coverage of the tournament in 2015.

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8. From 2008-2012, the men’s final was delayed from Sunday until Monday because of rain. In the previous 30 years, that had only happened once. (In 2013, the USTA adapted a “if you can’t beat ’em” approach and simply scheduled the final for Monday.) That spurred the addition of the $150 million retractable roof for Arthur Ashe Stadium.

9. Arthur Ashe Stadium is the world’s largest tennis arena, with a capacity of 23,771. That’s more than 6,000 seats bigger than any other stadium in the sport.

10. The new $600 million Louis Armstrong Stadium opens this year, with 14,000 seats and a retractable roof of its own. That makes the US Open’s No. 2 court almost as big as the three main show courts at the other Slams (Rod Laver Arena, Court Philippe Chatrier and Centre Court).

11. For decades, the Open had unique scheduling for the final weekend of the tournament, with the men’s semifinals being played on the same Saturday as the women’s final for a so-called “Super Saturday.”

12. Super Saturday started as a star-studded affair in 1984, when three classic matches (featuring John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova and Ivan Lendl) each went the distance, with the day ending at 11:16 p.m.

“It had to be the best day for fans at the Open — ever,” McEnroe said after. (He won, obviously.) The semifinal/final Saturday became part of the Open’s identity – an “only in New York” quirk.

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13. For 16 years, the women’s final was played in between the two men’s semifinals, which was grossly unfair for the female finalists who didn’t know their start time due to the fluctuating lengths of the first men’s match.

But in 2001, on the strength of two sisters from California, CBS and the USTA moved the women’s match to primetime, a worthy stage for one of the biggest matches of the year.

14. That first primetime showdown, the inaugural major-final matchup between Serena and Venus Williams, had 22.7 million viewers watch all or part of the match.

15. By 2013, the appetite for Super Saturday had slowed, with a loud chorus of voices suggesting it was unfair to players and detrimental to fans to have to the men play back-to-back best-of-five matches on the final weekend.

Theoretically, the quality of play was slipping because there was no day of rest. (Super Saturday was so awesome it was worth the perceived dip in Sunday play. What, are Pete Sampras’s titles invalidated because they came on only one-day rest?)

16. Arthur Ashe won the first open US Open but, ironically, was not yet a professional. Still a lieutenant in the U.S. Army, Ashe had yet to give up his amateur status when he defeated Tom Okker 14-12, 5-7, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3. Instead of collecting the $14,000 winners check, Ashe received $280, a $20/day per diem for the 14 days of competition.

17. Ashe was only eligible to compete in the Open because the U.S. Davis Cup team was still alive. Had the team been eliminated, Ashe’s furlough would have ended and he would have resumed his role as a computer programming instructor at West Point.

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18. Roger Federer, Pete Sampras and John McEnroe have won the most US Open titles, with five each.

19. Federer won his five in consecutive years, 2003-2008. Since then, Federer has won seven Grand Slam titles, but none at the Open. It’s his longest career drought at any Slam.

20. After McEnroe beat Bjorn Borg for the 1981 title (Johnny Mac’s third-straight Open and his second-straight over Borg), the Swede mysteriously walked off the court after the match, foregoing the trophy presentation. Still only 25, Borg would never play another Grand Slam match.

21. Chris Evert and Serena Williams are tied for the most titles on the women’s side, with six each.

22. Serena won her first US Open in 1999 and her last (for now) in 2014. That 15-year gap is the longest of any player at a single tournament.

23. There has never been a men’s final decided by a final-set tiebreak. Two women’s finals went the distance (albeit in three sets instead of five), both at the expense of Martina Navratilova. Tracy Austin beat Martina 7-1 in their third-set tiebreak in 1981 and, four years later, Hana Mandlikova did it to her again, winning 7-2.

24. Martina, 61, won her last US Open title in 2006. Seriously. At age 49, she teamed up with doubles legend Bob Bryan to win the mixed doubles championship.

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25. The US Open is the only major to play a final-set tiebreak, though it hasn’t come into play all the much.

26. In the 16 years between 1996 and 2011, the women’s final was decided in straight sets, the longest run in Grand Slam history, by far.

27. Not that the men are playing many marathons either. Only three finals since 1990 have gone the distance, which sounds surprising but isn’t too far out of line with the other majors. The Australian Open has had four five-set finals since 2009 but the last time before that was in 1988. The French Open hasn’t had a five-set final in 14 years and also only has hosted four since ’90. The quick courts at Wimbledon have the most marathon finals with eight being played over the same span.

28. Until 1974, the Open was played on grass courts. For the next three years, clay was the favored surface at Forest Hills. Then, in 1978, the tournament moved to its current digs, with the hard courts at the USTA National Tennis Center (now named after Billie Jean King). Jimmy Connors is the only player to have won the tournament on all three surfaces. Chris Evert won on two – clay and hard.

29. Night tennis came to the Open the same year as clay (though it stayed around a little longer). About 5,000 people watched the first match under the lights – a Stan Smith loss. This year, the Open is adding a second night session at the new Armstrong court, another first-of-its-kind practice.

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30. An American man won the Open 14 times in 26 years from 1978-2003. Since then, no American has taken his nation’s championship and the last one to even make the finals was in 2006, when Andy Roddick lost to Federer.

31. Ivan Lendl played eight-straight finals at the Open. He lost his first three, won the next three and dropped his last two.

32. The youngest winner of the US Open was Tracy Austin, who took the 1979 title at age 16.

33. Pete Sampras is the youngest man to the win the tourney. He won in 1990 just weeks after his 19th birthday. Since then, only one teenager has won any Slam – Rafael Nadal had turned 19 two days before winning the 2005 French Open.

34. The US Open has been the most unkind to the Big Four (Federer, Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray). Since 2005, the Open has been won three times by players outside the club (Juan Martin Del Potro in 2009, Marin Cilic in 2014 and Stan Wawrinka in 2016). Over the same span, the other three majors have only been won by non-Big Four players twice in total. Both times were by Wawrinka.

35. Roger Federer had a record 40-match US Open winning streak, winning five titles in a row and then making the finals in the sixth.

36. Juan Martin Del Potro, then just 20 years old, ended the streak in a classic final that saw a salty Federer question the relatively new Hawk-Eye technology and unravel after one of Delpo’s massive forehands was ruled in via replay.

“Don’t tell me to be quiet,” Federer snapped at chair umpire Jake Garner, after Garner seemed to tell Federer to stop complaining about how long Del Potro was taking to challenge calls. “When I want to talk, I’ll talk. I don’t give a (expletive) what he said.”

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37. That was downright G-rated compared to what happened two days earlier, when Serena Williams profanely threatened a lineswoman after she made a second-serve foot-fault call with Serena two points away from losing her semifinal to Kim Clijsters.

“I swear to God I’m (expletive) going to take this (expletive) ball and shove it down your (expletive) throat, you hear that? I swear to God.” Serena lost the point and then was assessed a point penalty that ended the match.

“I’ve let it go,” Serena said minutes later of the incident for which she’s yet to offer a sincere apology.

38. Speaking of crazy matches, in 1979 Ilie Nastase was assessed a game penalty for stalling during his match with John McEnroe. After vigorous complaints, Nastase was defaulted, which caused a near riot that had fans screaming, throwing things and running onto the court, all while NYPD guarded the players. After 18 minutes, the head referee reinstated Nastase and the match resumed, though the Romanian went on to lose anyway.

39. After a 10-year stretch of 39-straight matches played in Arthur Ashe Stadium stadium (capacity 23,771), Andy Roddick completed a fourth-round match in 2012 out on tiny Court 13 (capacity 584). Rain had forced Roddick and David Ferrer to the second-biggest court at the Open, Louis Armstrong Stadium, but a water bubble forced the match to move to a court usually reserved for junior’s singles matches.

40. In 2011, Rafael Nadal suffered a cramp during a post-match press conference and proceeded to endure an uncomfortable three minutes that looked like a bad method-acting exercise and ended with Rafa sprawled out on the ground.

41. The longest match in US Open history took place in 1992, when Stefan Edberg defeated Michael Chang in 5:26 to advance to the US Open final. Edberg went on to win the Open, playing his fourth consecutive day and having spent a record 22 hours, 22 minutes on the court in total. (The mark stood for 20 years.)

42. The latest a US Open match has ever ended was at 2:26 a.m. and, remarkably, it’s happened three different times in history. In 1993, Mats Wilander and Mikael Pernfors set the mark in a second-round match. It was tied in 2012 by Philipp Kohlschreiber and John Isner (whose name always seem to pop up around longevity records). And then, three years after that and defying all laws of probability, Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori had their fourth-round match end at the exact same time.

43. Jimmy Connors was ranked No. 174 when he made his magical run at the US Open. He was down two sets, 0-3, love-40 to Patrick McEnroe in his first match before storming back to win in a thriller that ended at 1:35 a.m., came back from a 5-2 deficit in the fifth set on a Labor Day classic against Aaron Krickstein (that also happened to be his 39th birthday) before a disappointing semifinal loss to Jim Courier.

44. Oh yeah, Connors also did this in the quarters, when Paul Haarhuis was serving for a two-set lead.

45. In 2015, Serena Williams won the first three majors of the year and needed the US Open to become the third woman to ever win the Grand Slam. But with only unseeded Roberta Vinci standing in the way of a final that would have been the biggest tennis match of the decade, Serena let the weight of the moment get to her in a three-set loss. Her two dozen or so major titles will have to suffice.

46. Pete Sampras entered the 2002 US Open seeded No. 17, on a 33-tournament victory drought and without a win at his national championship in six years. By the end of the fortnight, the 31-year-old had won his 14th major, including his fifth in New York and the third to come over Andre Agassi. He would never play competitive tennis again.

47. The oldest player in the men’s draw in 2018 is Roger Federer, from Basel, Switzerland. The oldest player in the women’s draw is Patty Schnyder, from Basel, Switzerland.

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48. Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic is the betting favorite at the Open, for what would be his third title in New York. Serena Williams is the women’s favorite at a majority of places, though world No. 1 Simona Halep has slightly better odds at books that haven’t lost their minds.

49. Rafael Nadal is the reigning men’s champion. He won his third title last year, easily defeating Kevin Anderson in last year’s final.

50. On the women’s side, Sloane Stephens will defend her inaugural Grand Slam title, which she won against fellow American Madison Keys.

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