This year marks the 50th anniversary of TENNIS Magazine's founding in 1965. To commemorate the occasion, we'll look back each Thursday at one of the 50 moments that have defined the last half-century in our sport.
All in all, it was a helluva way to say good-bye.
If the early 1970s brought us the tennis boom, the 1977 US Open, the last to be played at its traditional home in Forest Hills, could be called the bust. The sport, after a decade of explosive growth, had outgrown its clubby surroundings. At the ’77 Open, the game’s past—in the form of the West Side Tennis Club, where members still wore all white—came face-to-face with its colorful, big-money present. It was clear from the start that the sport’s new audience had grown too large and unruly to fit into West Side’s old Tudor clubhouse or stroll across its quaint stone walking paths.
By the close of its two weeks, the event had gone from chaotic to sinister. When it was over, Bud Collins of the Boston Globe wrote, “It blended elements of the evacuation of Saigon, Twilight of the Gods,TheDay of the Locust, and a fiesta.” To Peter Bodo of TENNIS Magazine, “It was tired, tense, jaded, cynical, ruthless, a messy and dying tournament,” and in the end, “a wide, psychotic edge remained like an electric outline around all things.”
Does all of that sound a little overheated now? Not when you consider what was happening at the time in the city that encircled Forest Hills. The ’77 Open came at the tail end of the “Summer of Sam,” when decades of industrial decline had left New York broke and the landscape hollowed out. It was the year of the blackout, of looting that left neighborhoods in ruins, of Studio 54 and CBGB, of Reggie Jackson and the feuding New York Yankees, and of the serial killer known as the Son of Sam. Two of his murders took place in Forest Hills Gardens, a few blocks from where the Open began on August 29.
The tournament wasted no time following him onto the front pages. It began with a bona fide cultural event: Renée Richards’ first-round match. Richards had played the U.S. Championships 22 years earlier as Richard Raskind. Now, at 43, after undergoing sexual-reassignment surgery, she entered the women’s draw. The game’s authorities fought to keep her out, and there was fear that she would dominate the competition. Richards said she “felt like a monkey inside a glass cage,” but any anxiety about her strength or athleticism dissipated as her first-round opponent, Virginia Wade, powered her way to an easy win.