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Tennis Tumult: 64 to 96

Matt Zemek

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Danielle Parhizkaran - USA TODAY SPORTS

People generally know that in the history of major-tournament tennis, the Australian Open became a full-fledged Open Era major championship in 1988. That year, the Australian Open moved from its old location in Kooyong to the sparkling new Flinders Park, now known as Melbourne Park, with roofed stadiums (plural) and a facility which was ahead of its time compared to the other three majors. In 1988, both the men and women in Australia moved to 128-player draws, which had never existed before. The Australian Open, which had long been the ugly duckling of the four majors and was really a second-tier event the top pros often skipped (especially in the 1970s), had fully joined the club.

This is part of why Margaret Court’s 24 majors and Roy Emerson’s 12 majors — heavily loaded with Australian Opens in the first years of the Open Era — aren’t considered as impressive as the outward numbers would suggest. This is why Serena Williams is essentially (though not technically) the most accomplished major-tournament player in women’s tennis history.

The move to 128 in 1988 created balance and true four-tournament heft for the Grand Slam family of tennis.

A lot of people know that.

Let’s change the focus from 128 to other numbers, however: Did you know that the U.S. Open and Roland Garros had a hard time getting to 96-player fields for the women?

Roland Garros actually did have 96 women’s players for its first Open Era tournament in 1968, but it could not sustain that field. The French Open, for more than a full decade, was a 64-player, six-round event on the women’s side.

The U.S. Open started as a 64-player event in 1968, and it wasn’t until 1976 that the tournament moved to 96 for the women’s field.

Five years after 1976, Roland Garros returned to 96 players for the 1981 women’s tournament. 

The Australian Open — merely three years before fully hitting the big time in 1988 — still had just 64 players for its women’s tournament in 1985.

Wimbledon had 96 players in its first Open Era edition in 1968, and carried that field through the 1970s. Yet, it wasn’t until 1976 that two of the four majors had at least a 96-player women’s field, and not until 1981 for three majors.

Tennis Tumult, indeed.

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at radioinfluence.com. Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: mzemek@hotmail.com. You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

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