The USTA honors two of the sport’s greatest icons who transcended tennis and gave voice to important cultural issues in this country - Billie Jean King & Arthur Ashe. In 1997, the USTA named the world’s largest tennis stadium after Ashe - in 2006, the organization extended the honor of naming the entire compound after King.
The USTA spent $285 million to build Arthur Ashe Stadium and to renovate Louis Armstrong Stadium and the grounds of the USTA National Tennis Center, a four-year construction project (1995-99) that spanned more than a decade, including planning. But the USTA, in fact, operates the USTA National Tennis Center for the City of New York, paying in excess of $1.5 million per year in rent. The facility remains completely public, as it has been since the association moved the US Open there from the nearby West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills in 1978.
In March 1995, construction began to expand the USTA National Tennis Center. A new arena – Arthur Ashe Stadium – was built to hold more than 22,000 spectators. Louis Armstrong Stadium was renovated and downsized to hold 10,000 people. A number of outdoor courts were demolished and re-built with better access and more seating available for spectators, and the number of restrooms and food concessions, including a large food court, were added to make the tennis center the state-of-the-art facility it is today. Funding for the entire expansion project was paid for entirely by the USTA, with no costs involving any city or taxpayer money.
Indeed, the USTA turned a former World’s Fair site in Queens into a marvel of public and private cooperation with the opening of the USTA National Tennis Center. Today, the world marvels at the grandest stadium in all of tennis—Arthur Ashe Stadium—as it rises from the heart of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, welcoming even more people to the sport of tennis than Ashe might have imagined nearly 40 years ago, when he became the first black man to win a Grand Slam tournament.
Arthur Ashe Stadium and the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center allow up to 33,000 fans to watch the greatest tennis in the world during each session of the US Open. That’s about twice the number of fans who attended the largest session of the 1968 US Open, which Ashe won at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills.
In actuality, the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center is open to the public seven days a week, 11 months a year, closing only on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Annual events held at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in addition to the US Open include the Eastern Wheelchair Tennis Championships and the Mayor’s Cup high school tennis championships. The USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center staff conducts community tennis programs, summer tennis camps, group and private lessons and USTA programs.
Expansion of the USTA National Tennis Center has increased the number of outdoor courts available for public play to 30. This does not include Arthur Ashe Stadium, Louis Armstrong Stadium or the Grandstand. In addition, there are 12 indoor courts and 4 climate-controlled clay courts available for public use.
The idea to establish a USTA National Tennis Center began in the fall of 1976 when W.E. "Slew" Hester, soon-to-be president of the USTA, recognized the need for an alternative site for the US Open. The size and scope of the tournament had clearly grown beyond the capacity of the tiny West Side Tennis Club.
In January 1977, on a flight to New York to meet with the city parks commissioner, Hester glimpsed Louis Armstrong Stadium in snow-covered Flushing Meadows Corona Park as his plane approached LaGuardia Airport. From that moment, Hester’s vision and perseverance led to the rapid development of site plans and agreements with New York City to create the USTA National Tennis Center. Ground was broken in October 1977 and, remarkably, the new facility opened the following August, a mere 10 months later. By comparison, construction of Arthur Ashe Stadium took 30 months, from the initial groundbreaking in March 1995 to the August 1997 grand opening for Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day.
Construction began in 2006 on a new 245,000-square-foot, state-of-the art multi-purpose tennis pavilion at the site of the former indoor tennis building near the East Gate of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
The new facility features 12 courts (nine on the ground floor, 3 on the second level), viewing areas for all courts, training center classrooms, fitness facilities, and pro shop.
For the US Open, the pavilion features a hospitality center, SmashZone, a US Open superstore, a museum, a food commissary and a merchandise warehouse.
Already work has been completed on upgrades for both the players and the fans. A $7.5 million renovation to improve the players’ lounge, locker rooms and fitness facilities, and to expand the capacity for player operations as well as create more room for medical, training and office space was completed last year and provides the players with the world’s finest facility. Meanwhile, fans can enjoy the new television sports desk outside Arthur Ashe Stadium, fan-friendlier way-finding signs around the grounds, an expanded ticket office area and new places to eat and shop.