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When the US Open was played on a clay court

August 21, 2013 08:22 IST

Evert won on clay in each of the three years

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The US Open remains the lone major tennis tournament to be played on three surfaces. Bikash Mohapatra takes you back in time.

The US Open these days is synonymous with the hard courts of Flushing Meadows.

However, it wasn’t always the case.

Unlike the French Open and Wimbledon, which are played on same surfaces throughout, the year's final major has witnessed a few changes in surfaces.

Having started out on the grass courts of Newport Casino (Rhode Island) in 1881, the Grand Slam is now played on hard courts in New York.

While the transition to a hard surface occurred in 1978, it is a relatively unknown fact that in the three preceding years the tournament was played on clay courts.

The US Open was never about tradition, a la Wimbledon. A change, therefore, always seemed a possibility.

The authorities, in a bid to make the tournament television friendly, experimented by holding the tournament on a green clay surface in Forest Hills between 1975-77, the same venue where the tournament was held on grass for many preceding years.

Thus, the US Open remains the lone major tournament to be played on three surfaces.

Traditionally, the Americans haven’t been too comfortable playing on clay. But in the three years that the US Open was played on the surface, they did quite well.

The fact that the green clay is faster than the red clay of Europe worked to their advantage.

Already a two-time champion at the French Open, Chris Evert won the first of her six US Open titles in 1975. In fact, she won the event in each of the three years it was played on clay, as well as the first year it was played on hard court (1978).

Evert remains, and will remain, the only woman to win the tournament on two surfaces.


Image: American tennis player Chris Evert in action
Photographs: Central Press/Getty Images

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Connors won the US Open on all three surfaces

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Clay wasn’t Jimmy Connors favourite surface by any stretch of imagination.

In fact, at the peak of his career the American chose to skip the French Open.

However, that didn’t mean that he could not play on clay. Connors won 12 career titles on clay and made the semi-finals at Roland Garros on four occasions.

However, he reserved his best for the US Open.

In the 1976 final, Connors beat French Open champion and arch-rival Bjorn Borg in four sets for his lone clay court major.

In fact, the American also reached the final in all the three years it was played on clay.

Connors will remain the only player to have won the US Open on all three surfaces – grass (1974), clay (1976) and hard (1978, 82-83).


Image: American tennis player Jimmy Connors arriving with his bag and racquets
Photographs: Evening Standard/Getty Images

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Vilas made a perfect follow-up in 1977

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Guillermo Vilas is generally considered one of the best clay court players of all-time.

However, it was to the Argentine’s detriment that his career coincided with that of Bjorn Borg. Vilas, despite his dominance on the slow surface, could win the coveted French Open title just once in his career (1977), finishing second best to the Swede on two occasions.

However, he did win a second major title on clay. A four-set win over defending champion Jimmy Connors helped the Argentine win his lone US Open title in 1977, a year in which he dominated the sport.

In fact, Vilas's US Open triumph served as a perfect follow up to his French Open win.


Image: Argentine tennis player Guillermo Vilas in action
Photographs: Rob Taggart/Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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It somewhat made up for Orantes' failure to win the French

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Like many Spaniards, Manuel Orantes was a clay court exponent.

He won every major title on the surface save the biggest of them all (the French Open).

Orantes made it to the final just once at Roland Garros, in 1974.

He took a two-set lead before completely blowing away his chance, allowing Bjorn Borg to win in five.

Orantes albeit did win a major title on his favourite surface.

In the first year that the US Open was held on clay (1975), the Spaniard thrashed defending champion Jimmy Connors in straight sets to capture what remained the lone major title of his otherwise illustrious career.


Image: Manuel Orantes of Spain
Photographs: Reg Speller/Fox Photos/Getty Images

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