In the beginning, like most institutions in modern society, the U.S. Open was “open” only to men who competed in singles. The first tournament was held in August of 1881 in Newport, Rhode Island.
Back in those days the tournament used a challenger system, which meant that last year’s champion only had to play in the final match when “challenged” to do so. Quite a benefit for the defending champion, who only had to win one match to retake his trophy. That system lasted through 1911.
The U.S. Open’s playing surface was grass until 1974. Then briefly the Open was played on clay from 1975-1977 before it moved to DecoTurf in 1978.
In 1915 the tournament moved to the West Side Tennis Club located in Forest Hills, New York. Since 1987 the U.S. Open has been held at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens, New York.
The earliest long-standing champions of the U.S. Open were Richard Sears who won seven consecutive titles from 1881-1887. Bill Larned won seven titles as well, but not consecutively from 1901-1911. Their trophies were won back in the days of the challenger system.
“Big” Bill Tilden also won seven titles, six consecutively from 1920-1925. Only players from the United States played in the U.S. Open Championships until 1926 when it opened to international competition.
In the modern era Roger Federer holds the record with five consecutive titles from 2004-2008. Pete Sampras is the youngest male to win the U.S. Open at age 19 years and one month.
In the pre-"open" era, Bill Tilden holds the most overall championships with 16 titles––seven singles, five doubles, four mixed doubles [1913-1929]. John McEnroe holds it in the "open" era with eight titles––four singles, four doubles.
Because the rules were not the same for players who played as amateurs and then as professionals, this ranking is divided between the "open" era and the years before 1968. Some players, however span both eras.