Tennis Greats: The Story of Arthur Ashe
On the 6th of February 1993, the only African-American man to ever win the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open died of complications as a result of AIDS. He was only 49 at the time. Some knew him for his wonderful tennis game, while others were ardent supports because of all his social activism. In either case, Arthur Ashe was a revered man who gained the respect of everyone who came across him. Even his closest rivals knew what a great athlete and man he was. And one way the tennis community paid tribute to the great man is by naming a tennis court after him. The Arthur Ashe Stadium at Flushing Meadows, New York, is the largest tennis arena in the world, holding over 23,000 people.
Trial and Adversity
Even though Ashe went on to become one of the best tennis players in the world, his life was not easy. He grew up in a segregated neighborhood in Richmond, with only his father to take care of him, as his mother had passed away due to complications from a toxemic pregnancy. Ashe was pushed hard by his father, who wanted his son to excel at both his studies and sports. However, Ashe Sr. never let his son play football, due to his thin build.
Luckily for Ashe, he found his entry into sports through tennis, as he began playing at public playgrounds from the age of seven. He was quickly spotted as a brilliant natural talent by Ron Charity, a student at the Virginia Union University. Ashe took lessons with Charity for several years, and he continued playing the game throughout his school years. Charity also connected Ashe with Robert Johnson and Althea Gibson, who had founded a tennis camp at his home in Lynchburg, Virginia. He invited Ashe there at the age of ten, and taught the young boy everything he could about tennis, sportsmanship and the mental composure he needed to make it as a black athlete during those times.
A First for Everything
Every step in his career was a first for Arthur Ashe, as he broke boundaries, proved people wrong and showcased his talent and temperament at every opportunity. After graduating high school, he went to UCLA on a full tennis scholarship and became the first African-American man to take part in the Davis Cup for the United States. He served in the Army for two years after graduating from UCLA, and then he went on to win the U.S. Open in 1968. Two years later, he was the Australian Open champion, and in 1975 he became Wimbledon champion after defeating Jimmy Connors in the final.
Off the court, Ashe dedicated his life to charity and humanitarian work, and his tennis programs were incredibly popular with inner city children in various parts of the United States. He was also outspoken about the cruelties of the apartheid government in South Africa, and he was never afraid of giving his opinion on social issues.
All Good Things Must Come to an End…
Ashe passed away in 1993 from AIDS, a disease he had contracted nearly a decade earlier due to a bad blood transfusion during a heart procedure. For many years, he had not told anyone about his condition, but he eventually made his AIDS diagnosis public after a newspaper discovered details about his health.
… But His Memory Endures
Four years after his death in 1997, the United States Tennis Association announced their decision to name their new center court at Flushing Meadows the Arthur Ashe Stadium, ensuring the man would be remembered and cherished in the sports world forever.