overview

In 1978, the U.S. Open moved from the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, Queens, to the larger USTA National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Queens, where it is still located.

The complex was renamed for Billie Jean King, the openly gay tennis champion and social justice activist, in 2006, and is also where notable LGBT players Martina Navratilova and Jan-Michael Gambill competed.

Header Photo
Credit: Christopher D. Brazee/NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, 2019.

History

The U.S. Open (known more formally as the U.S. Open Tennis Championships) is the most important professional tennis tournament in North America and one of four annual Grand Slam tournaments held worldwide. In 1978, it moved from its longtime location at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, Queens, to the larger, newly constructed USTA National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Queens. Today, the world-renowned complex features three stadiums and 33 tennis courts, including its centerpiece, Arthur Ashe Stadium, which opened in 1997. The original main court, Louis Armstrong Stadium, was demolished in 2016 and replaced with a facility of the same name two years later.

On August 28, 2006, the entire complex was rededicated the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in honor of groundbreaking tennis champion and social justice activist Billie Jean King (b. 1943), who is openly gay. She is the first woman to have a major sports venue named in her honor. Born Billie Jean Moffitt, King was the world’s top-seeded women’s player for several years in the 1960s and ‘70s, and won 39 Grand Slam titles during her 19-year professional career. At the U.S. Open, she won the singles title in 1967 (becoming the first player to win a Grand Slam with a metal racquet), 1971, 1972, and 1974; in doubles, she won in 1967, 1974, 1978, and 1980. King’s doubles partner for the latter two championships was fellow tennis superstar Martina Navratilova.

As an activist, King leveraged her high profile status to fight for women’s equality in sports as part of the wider movement for women’s rights that was gaining traction in the early 1970s. She testified in support of Title IX, which, after its 1972 passage, banned federally-funded educational institutions from discriminating against students on the basis of sex. As a result of her advocacy, in 1973 – the same year King founded the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) and served as its first president – the U.S. Open became the first major tournament in the world to award men and women equal prize money. That September, King defeated the self-proclaimed male chauvinist Bobby Riggs in the nationally televised “Battle of the Sexes” match in Houston, Texas. In 1974, she co-founded the World TeamTennis co-ed circuit and started the Women’s Sports Foundation. Despite her contributions, King lost all of her endorsement deals in 1981 when her assistant, Marilyn Barnett, with whom she was having an affair, outed King as gay.

King has since become an LGBT rights activist, raising funds to support AIDS research and address the high suicide rate among LGBT youth. In 2018, the same year she married Ilana Kloss, her partner of more than 40 years, King served as the grand marshal of the NYC Pride March. Among her many accolades, King was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1987 and was in the inaugural class of inductees to the National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame in 2013. President Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009, in recognition of her activism for women’s and LGBT rights. She is the first female athlete to receive this honor.

In addition to King, notable LGBT tennis players who have competed at the Queens complex include Martina Navratilova, one of the most decorated players in U.S. Open (and professional tennis) history, and Jan-Michael Gambill, who in 2001 reached a career-high singles ranking of No. 14 in the world.

Sources

  1. “About,” Women’s Tennis Association, bit.ly/34dNvfg.

  2. “Biography,” Billie Jean King, bit.ly/33UFr3d.

  3. Dawn Ennis, “Celebrating LGBTQ Sports History with the Incomparable Billie Jean King,” Outsports, October 3, 2019, bit.ly/34es6lV.

  4. “Pioneer Billie Jean King Moved the Baseline for Women’s Tennis,” NPR, September 12, 2013, n.pr/3G9VIhy.

  5. Rachel Shatto, “Billie Jean King Reveals She Secretly Married Her Partner in 2018,” Advocate, August 11, 2021, bit.ly/3u7cvPU.

  6. “Records,” U.S. Open, bit.ly/3ueLsCB.

  7. “USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center,” Wikipedia, bit.ly/3u7Kec5.

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