WATCH—Stories of the Open Era - Cultural Icons:


In the five decades since the first US Open, these are the players, innovators and newsmakers whose contributions have helped make it one of our nation's essential sporting events

This Manhattan mover-and-shaker is famous for many things: starting the first women’s tour with Billie Jean King; editing World Tennis and writing forward-thinking editorials that were described as “exploding fireworks”; pushing for Open tennis in the 1960s; raising Julie Heldman, one of the Original 9 WTA pros. All of those achievements were and are important to the success of the US Open over the last 50 years.

But Heldman was also directly responsible for taking the idea of an international tournament in New York from the realm of fantasy to reality. Until the advent of regular jet-air travel in the 1950s, the U.S. Nationals at Forest Hills was an American-dominated event. By 1962, the visionary Heldman could see the sport’s global future. That year, she and a group of nine friends chipped in $1,800 each to fly 85 players from Amsterdam to New York to play the tournament.

“I happened to go out to Forest Hills on opening day and incredulously watched the first truly international tennis tournament I had ever seen,” tennis historian E. Digby Baltzell wrote. “I of course had no idea how it came about.”

Like so much of modern tennis, it came about because of Heldman. Six years later, at the first US Open, the game finally caught up to her and took its place on the world’s athletic stage. In the five decades since, the sport and tournament have only continued to fulfill her global vision.