NEWPORT, R.I. – More than a century before Roger Federer and Andre Agassi faced off in the U.S Open tennis finals in New York, players were donning fancier attire and taking to the courts of Newport to compete in championship matches.

The earliest incarnation of the tournament, then known as the U.S. National Championships, began in Newport in 1881. Players competed on grass courts while musicians performed classical music.

The tournament moved to New York, but Newport for years after continued to host some of the sport’s best and, in 1954, became home to the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum.

That history is chronicled in a new exhibit at the hall of fame, which focuses on the city’s early ties to tennis but also on the rich architectural history of the museum’s wooden-shingled headquarters, the Newport Casino.

The exhibit of photographs and artifacts, which coincides with the casino’s 130th anniversary, is intended to appeal to tennis buffs as well as to those more interested in the social lives of the wealthy in Newport.

“The Newport Casino is actually the biggest and most valuable collection item that the hall of fame has,” said Mark Stenning, the museum’s CEO.

The casino opened as a social and recreational club for the wealthy and never was a gambling establishment. It was founded by tennis fan and New York Herald publisher James Gordon Bennett, who, according to the exhibit, became outraged with his rival Newport men’s club in 1879. Bennett didn’t like the club’s reaction after a guest of his brazenly rode his polo pony into the club rooms.

Furious after being chastised by the city’s elite, Bennett bought land on Bellevue Avenue — today home to opulent Gilded Age mansions — for what would become the Newport Casino.

The casino opened in 1880, designed by influential architect Stanford White, who created the Washington Square Arch in New York and in 1906 was famously killed in New York by his girlfriend’s jealous husband.

The casino became an instant hotspot for tennis, still a relatively new sport in America. The casino in 1881 began hosting the U.S. National Championships — a 25-player competition played amid a string quartet’s music. The tournament was moved to Queens after 1914.

The Hall of Fame & Museum opened at the casino in 1954 and offers a decade-by-decade look at the sport and its top players. Past inductees include Pete Sampras, Ivan Lendl, Chris Evert and Arthur Ashe.The Associated Press

The International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum in Newport, R.I., is seen through a trellis.