How The US Open Stayed In Queens
By Reed Albergotti, MICHAEL
SPINNER and DAVID OATS
It was a giant leap forward for tennis in Queens, but a equally large leap
backward for the West Side Tennis club, when in 1978, the U.S. open
moved to Flushing Meadows Corona Park.
Thanks to the efforts of USTA President
W.E. Slew Hester, tennis stayed in Queens at Louis Armstrong
In the 1970s, The United States Tennis
Association was looking to reconstruct its image make it bigger,
broaden it, beef it up and put tennis on the map with mainstream sports
like baseball, basketball and football.
The West Side Tennis Club was a symbol of
the old guard in Tennis. It was small, intimate, and exclusive. That
didnt fit what the USTA was trying to accomplish.
Virtually any city would have bent over
backwards for the chance to welcome Tennis greats like Arthur Ash, Chris
Evert and Jimmy Connors, who would soon be saying goodbye to Forest
Fortunately for the borough, Queens had a man
on the inside.
It was W.E. Slew Hester, president of the
USTA, who didnt want to see the Open leave New York. In 1977,
contract negotiations with the West Side Tennis Club were becoming
increasingly strained, and Hester could have sent his tournament
Flushing Meadows-Corona Park became home
to the U.S. Open after the West Side Tennis Club closed in 1978.
But Hester had his eye on Queens Louis
Armstrong Stadium, to be exact.
Negotiations with the Parks Department began immediately, and to
the surprise of many involved, Hester and Parks closed the deal. New
York would keep its tournament.
Rapid construction commenced on Louis Armstrong
stadium, and the 1978 U.S. Open was scheduled for Flushing for the first
time in its history.
And what a tournament it was.
Chris Evert topped Pam Shriver to claim her
fourth consecutive title and Jimmy Connors beat Bjorn Borg. According to
reports at the time, the tennis matches were more popular than the Mets
playing next door.
A Washington Post article at the time
said there were only 9,256 people at the Mets game, while a crowd of
20,000 packed into the stadium to watch Tennis.
And one of the USTAs most loyal subjects,
The West Side Tennis Club, was over night cut out of that spectacle.
It hosted its last professional tournament
the Tournament of Champions in 1989. That is, its last until 2003.
Though club recently hosted the first ever
Forest Hills Tennis Classic. It was minor compared to the matches that
used to be played at the club, but it is still pretty good tennis, part
of the USTAs Pro Circuit.
And for the real tennis fans, who miss the
intimacy of the old U.S. Opens in Forest Hills, the tournament was an
opportunity to see some near-top-notch tennis up close. The stadium
didnt get used, but the clubs clay courts surrounded by the
well-kept greenery, saw some real action.
The headliner at the tournament was Michael
Chang, once one of the worlds premier players. Chang is on a farewell
tour of sorts, as he finishes out his final season of pro tennis.
professional tennis continues to have a home in Queens . . . in a venue
that attracts the world to Flushing Meadows-Corona Park and in an
intimate setting reminiscent of an era gone by.