The 2007 U.S. Open kicked off with a bang this week as all time attendance records at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center were set and a tennis great from yesteryear was honored.
As part of opening night’s on-court ceremonies, Althea Gibson, who became the first black tennis player to win a title at the U.S. National Championships (since renamed the U.S. Open), was officially inducted into the U.S. Open Court of Champions. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and tennis great Billie Jean King unveiled a Gibson plaque, which will permanently honor her beside other tennis legends at the center. Moments later, fireworks exploded over a packed Arthur Ashe Stadium and Aretha Franklin got the crowd moving with a rousing rendition of Respect.
Franklin said that Gibson, who died in 2003, deserves more respect than she gets. “She was a front runner. A woman of courage despite the adversity she faced.”
“I’m just happy I got to be part of the story,” said two-time U.S. Open Champion Venus Williams, explaining how overwhelming the ceremony was for her.
Williams defeated Hungarian Kira Nagy in her first match of the tournament on Monday. Her served topped out at 129 mph. Later that night, also playing on center court, her sister Serena Williams won her first match of the tournament.
The American women were cheered on by record-sized crowds. On Monday 35,058 spectators turned out and on Tuesday a combined record of 60,619 was set for both the morning and afternoon sessions.
American men Andy Rodick and James Blake advanced in their early matches, as did heavy favorites Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.