While Roger Federer’s strong run at the US Open several years back has morphed into a more competitive landscape in the Men’s Singles tournament of late, the Grand Slam tennis tournament actually began with a much more dominant figure, who repeatedly won the earliest edition of the US Open for its first 7 years!
Richard Sears won the inaugural tournament way back in 1881 at the youthful age of 19, and remains one of the tournament’s all time youngest winners (a feat which has since been surpassed by Pete Sampras in 1990). Sears was a student attending Harvard University and played at a time when the sport was quite different.
Before all the modern shorts and hi-tech tennis shoes and rackets, Richard Sears competed with full pants and a cap, even sporting a tie. In those days the tournament was held in Newport, Rhode Island, one of America’s most historical and gentrified towns.
Sears would go on to win the US Open for 7 straight years, setting a mark that has never been surpassed (both Bill Larned and Bill Tilden have won 7 titles, though not in consecutive fashion). He would also earn 6 doubles titles at the event, also tied for most all time. Known as won to play strong at front court, his opponents couldn’t handle his unique and powerful style.
The US Open had a different format then though, enabling the previous year’s champion an automatic place in the final where he would compete against the best challenger who had actually progressed through the tournament. Therefore, Sears only played 18 US Open matches before he decided to retire in 1888. For that reason many have argued that Federer’s recent 5-title run was even more impressive, though such a comparison across over 100 years is a bit extreme for me.
Nevertheless, Richard Sears was at the forefront of American tennis and proudly orchestrated the most dominant run ever seen at the US Open. Who knows when we will see another such marvelous performance at this Grand Slam…
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