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USTA History

May 25, 2008 12:04 PM


On May 21, 1881, a small group of tennis club members met at the Fifth Avenue Hotel in New York City to form the world’s first national governing body for tennis: the United States National Lawn Tennis Association. The new organization was created to standardize tennis rules and regulations and to encourage and develop the sport. In 1920, “national” was dropped from the name, and in 1975, the name was further shortened to the current United States Tennis Association (USTA).

The USTA has evolved through more than a century of expansion and development, yet abided by the constitution of the association:

“…to promote the development of tennis as a means of healthful recreation and physical fitness; to establish and maintain rules of play and high standards of amateurism and sportsmanship; to foster national and international amateur tennis tournaments and competitions; to encourage, sanction and conduct tennis tournaments and competitions under the best of conditions; and to encourage through tennis, the development of health, character and responsible citizenship.”

From 1881 to the present day, the USTA has been a vital part of many changes that have grown and shaped tennis both at the professional and grassroots level.

Tournament Competition
Five years after the USLTA was formed in 1881, Canadian and other foreign players sent entries to the Nationals for the first time. In 1889, women players were officially recognized and were ranked for the first time in 1913. Mixed Doubles Championships were founded in 1892 and 1910 saw the founding of the National Clay Court Championships. In 1915 the National Championships were moved from Newport, RI to New York. It was not until 1922 that seeding was established in sanctioned tournaments. That same year USLTA joined the International Lawn Tennis Federation (ILTF).

1931 saw an expansion of the ranking system with matches between Americans in foreign sanctioned tournaments being considered in ranking. 1968 was the birth of Open Tennis. In 1970, the rules of tennis changed significantly with the introduction of the 9-point tiebreaker at the US Open. The 9-point was changed to a 12-point tiebreaker in 1975. The Virginia Slims Women’s tour was sanctioned by USLTA in 1973 and the Women’s Prize Money Tour was organized by USLTA. In addition, 1973 marked a significant change in that it was the first year that men and women received equal prize money at the U S Open. In 1979, USTA blended three distinct satellite tours into one national circuit.

The new US Open Series began in 2004 to combine ten summer tournaments under one series, with bonus money for the winners at the final Grand Slam of the year, the US Open.

Davis Cup, Wightman Cup, Federation Cup and Olympics
In 1900, the Davis Cup Challenge was founded by Dwight Davis of St. Louis, MO. It wasn’t until 1935 that the Junior Davis Cup program was born. In 1922, USLTA joined the International Lawn Tennis Federation (ILTF) and the Wightman Cup for women was inaugurated. In 1963 the Federation Cup was inaugurated to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the International Lawn Tennis Federation. The USTA involvement with Olympics began in 1978 with USTA being recognized as the official national governing body for tennis by the Amateur Sports Act and the U.S. Olympic Committee. Tennis today is an official sport of the Olympics.

Junior Tournament Competition
In 1916, National Junior and National Boys’ Championships were added and Girls’ Championships were instituted in 1917. A year later juniors, boys and girls, were ranked for the first time. It was ten years later that the Junior Development Program was instituted. US National Team replaced Junior Davis Cup, Junior Federation Cup and Junior Wightman Cup teams in 1988. A year later Zone Team Championships were introduced to replace 12-and-under national championships. In 1999, the 12-and-under national championships returned. In 1992, Player Development relocates from its Princeton base to Miami, FL. and two years later moves into headquarters at the Tennis Center in Crandon Park in Key Biscayne, FL. The High Performance unit also has a center in Carson, CA.

It was not until 1958 that USLTA began registering all tournament players thus creating a “membership”. In 1984, membership reached a milestone of 250,000 members and only four years later the adult membership age was lowered from 21 to 19. In 1993, membership climbed to 500,000 for the first time. Today the number of USTA Members exceeds 670,000.

USTA Programs
Efforts to take tennis beyond the “country club” and elitist view of tennis led to the formation of many programs designed to include non-tournament players and new players, both adult and junior at private clubs or parks and recreation courts. In 1943, USLTA organized the School Tennis Development Committee and forty years later a National Schools Program was launched. The National Junior Tennis League (NJTL) was founded by Arthur Ashe, Charlie Pasarell and Sheridan Snyder in 1969. In 1980, USTA/Michelob Light League Tennis was instituted adding a new dimension to adult grassroots tennis. The success of the program led to the addition of national Senior League Tennis in 1991, Mixed Doubles, and Super Seniors in 2004. USTA Junior Team Tennis programs began in 1990.

USTA Affiliations
In 1971, USTA established the National Teachers Conference in cooperation with AAHPER. Under USTA guidance, tennis is included in the International Special Olympics for the first time in 1983. The Wheelchair Tennis Players Association came under the auspices of the USTA in 1998.

US Open and National Tennis Center
The US Open was played at Forest Hills for the last time in 1977 and one year later marks the dedication of the USTA National Tennis Center. In 1990, plans were announced for a new USTA National Tennis Center and construction began on this project in 1995. Two years later, the new main stadium at the USTA National Tennis Center is named for Arthur Ashe and opens with great fanfare. The new USTA National Tennis Center project is completed at a final cost $285 million, paid for entirely by the USTA.

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