ITHF to re-enact 1881 Championships

August 19, 2011

NEWPORT, R.I. — In August 1881, the world’s best tennis players gathered on the elite grass courts of Newport, Rhode Island for the very first U.S. National Lawn Tennis Championships. The tournament inspired the nation’s enthusiasm for tournament tennis, and the event expanded over the years — ultimately evolving to today’s US Open. With the current US Open right around the corner and in celebration of the 130th anniversary of the inaugural event, the International Tennis Hall of Fame will host an 1881 Celebration, complete with a re-enactment of that first national championship played by tennis players in old-fashioned sportswear, and offering hands-on activities for visitors including croquet, lawn bowling, period music, entertainment and refreshments. Hall of Famer Bud Collins will serve as chair umpire for the event and John Winthrop Sears, the 81-year-old grandson of 1881 champion Richard Sears, will attend.

The 1881 celebration and re-enactment will be held on the historic grass courts of the International Tennis Hall of Fame on Saturday, August 20. The re-enactment match will be played at 12:30 pm, with ongoing festivities from 11 am – 4 pm. Museum and grounds tours will be offered at 11 am and 2 pm. The event is open to the public. Admission is free for ITHF Members and kids ages 16 & under, $11 for adults, $9 for seniors/military, which include access to all festivities and admission to tour the Museum and grounds.

Visitors to the re-enactment can expect a scene very similar to what fans would have experienced in 1881, when fans in elegant dress sat courtside to view the matches, while a string quartet played classical music throughout the match. In all, 25 players entered the singles draw, competing with lop-sided wooden racquets and white tennis balls. Winning in straight sets, 6-0; 6-3; 6-2, a young Bostonian named Richard Sears was crowned the first ever national champion, when he overcame William Glyn, a British player who happened to be in town on vacation and decided to enter the event. Sears went on to win the following six consecutive years, ultimately becoming the first great American tennis champion. The tournament was deemed a success, having turned a profit of $4.32.

The U.S. Nationals remained in Newport, Rhode Island until 1914. In 1915, the tournament moved to the West Side Tennis Club at Forest Hills, New York. From 1921 through 1923, it was played at the Germantown Cricket Club in Philadelphia and returned to Forest Hills in 1924, where it remained until 1977. In 1978 it moved to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens, New York City, where it is played today. The US Open trophies remain in Newport, where they are displayed in the Museum at the International Tennis Hall of Fame year-round, with the exception of the weeks surrounding the US Open.

For additional information, please call 401-849-3990 or visit