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Ashe, Arthur / Tennisspieler

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Arthur Ashe is the first African American to win the men’s singles at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, and the first African-American man to be ranked No. 1 in the world.

Born on July 10, 1943, in Richmond, Virginia, Arthur Ashe became the first, and is still the only, African-American male tennis player to win the U.S. Open and Wimbledon. He is also the first African-American man to be ranked as the No. 1 tennis player in the world. Always an activist, when Ashe learned that he had contracted AIDS via a blood transfusion, he turned his efforts to raising awareness about the disease, before finally succumbing to it on February 6, 1993.

Arthur Robert Ashe Jr. was born on July 10, 1943, in Richmond, Virginia. The oldest of Arthur Ashe Sr. and Mattie Cunningham’s two sons, Arthur Ashe Jr. blended finesse and power to forge a groundbreaking tennis game. Ashe would go on to achieve a number of African-American “firsts,” including becoming the first African-American male player to win the U.S. Open (1968) and Wimbeldon (1975), the first African-American man to be ranked No. 1 in the world (1975), and the first African-American man to be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame (1985).

Ashe’s childhood was marked by hardship and opportunity. Under his mother’s direction, Ashe was reading by the age of 4. But his life was turned upside-down two years later, when Mattie passed away.

Ashe’s father, fearful of seeing his boys fall into trouble without their mother’s discipline, began running a tighter ship at home. Ashe and his younger brother Johnnie went to church every Sunday, and after school were required to come straight home. Arthur Sr. even clocked the distance: “My father . . .kept me home, out of trouble. I had exactly 12 minutes to get home from school, and I kept to that rule through high school.”

About a year after his mother’s death, Arthur discovered the game of tennis, picking up a racket for the first time at the age of 7 at a park not far from his home. Sticking with the game, Ashe eventually caught the attention of Dr. Robert Walter Johnson Jr., a tennis coach from Lynchburg, Virginia, who was active in the black tennis community. Under Johnson’s direction, Ashe excelled.In his first tournament, Ashe reached the junior national championships. Driven to excel, he eventually moved to St. Louis to work closely with another coach, winning the junior national title in 1960 and again in 1961. Ranked the fifth best junior player in the country, Ashe accepted a scholarship at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he graduated with a degree in business administration.

In 1963, Ashe became the first African American to be recruited by the U.S. Davis Cup team. He continued to refine his game, gaining the attention of his tennis idol, Pancho Gonzales, who further helped Ashe hone his serve-and-volley attack. The training all came together in 1968, when the still-amateur Ashe shocked the world by capturing the U.S. Open title—becoming the first, and still the only, African-American male player to do so. Two years later, he took home the Australian title.In 1975, Ashe registered another upset by beating Jimmy Connors in the Wimbledon finals, marking another pioneering achievement within the African-American community—becoming the first African-American male player to win Wimbledon—which, like his U.S. Open victory, remains unmatched. That same year (1975), Ashe became the first African-American man to be ranked No. 1 in the world. Ten years later, in 1985, he would become the first African American man to be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

For Ashe, however, success also brought opportunity and responsibility. He didn’t relish his status as the sole black star in a game dominated by white players, but he didn’t run away from it either. With his unique pulpit, he pushed to create inner city tennis programs for youth; helped found the Association of Men’s Tennis Professionals; and spoke out against apartheid in South Africa—even going so far as to successfully lobby for a visa so he could visit and play tennis there.

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