The 2013 US Open Tennis Championships in New York City close out this weekend with the Women’s Finals on Sunday and the Men’s next Monday. One of the venues for the tennis action is Arthur Ashe Stadium, named after the late pro tennis player who was African-American. Ashe was the first and still only African American male to win a Grand Slam Tournament; the 1968 US Open, the 1970 Australian Open, and 1975 Wimbledon. He has a prominent place in tennis history not only because of the “first” ascribed to his success, but also the “still only”.
In 1938, Don Budge became the first tennis player to win all four Grand Slam Tournaments in one calendar year; the French Open, Wimbledon, the US Open which was called the US Championships at that time, and the Australian Open. Budge’s tremendous accomplishment has been matched two times in the Men’s Singles by Rod Laver, in 1962 and 1969.
In 1953, Maureen Connolly was the first to win all four in Women’s Singles. Margaret Court accomplished it in 1970 and Steffi Graf in 1988.
Althea Gibson was the first African-American to win a Grand Slam Tournament. She won the French Open in 1956, Wimbledon in both 1957 and 1958, and the US Open in 1957 and 1958. Following in Gibson’s footsteps, Serena (16) and Venus Williams (7) have won a combined twenty-three Women’s Single Grand Slam Tournaments.
No African-American male has matched the accomplishments of Arthur Ashe, he is the only one to win a tennis Grand Slam Tournament. His legacy includes some criticism he did not have a strong voice in the black cultural and political revolution that took place during his time. However, Ashe was the African-American face of professional tennis from 1968 – 1979. Today, twenty years after his death in 1993, he still holds that position on the men’s side of the sport.
The end of Ashe’s “still only” distinction is not in the near future. James Blake, the top African-American male on the ATP Tour announced his retirement during this years’ US Open. During his fourteen year career, his highest tour ranking was fourth in 2006. Also, unlike on the women’s side of tennis where there are African-American teens (Sloane Stephens, Victoria Duval) trying to follow in the footsteps of Gibson and the Williams sisters, there are no current notable African-American males to someday follow Ashe’s.