July 5, 1975: Arthur Ashe wins. The 6’2” tennis player was born in Richmond, Virginia in 1943. He had a younger brother, five years his junior. His mother died from complications of her third pregnancy in March 1950. The slight young man was raised by his loving but disciplinarian father who forbade his slightly-built son to play football. As a child, Arthur was called “Skinny” and “Bones”. The family lived in the caretaker’s cottage in Brookfield park, Richmond’s largest blacks-only public playground. There were four tennis courts there and Arthur began playing when he was just seven years old. Ron Charity, a Virginia Union University student and part time tennis coach, noticed the child’s natural ability and began to mentor him. He taught him the intricacies of the game and entered Arthur in local championships. Charity introduced ten-year-old Arthur to Walter Johnson who took over his coaching.
In 1963, Ashe became the first black player ever selected for the United States Davis Cup team. Two years later, he was ranked No. 3 in the US and won both the National Collegiate Athletic Association singles title and the doubles title, playing with Ian Crookenden of New Zealand. In 1968, he won both the United States Amateur Championships and the US Open, becoming the first black to take the title and become the only player to win both the amateur and open titles, although he could not accept the prize money and retain his amateur status. He was unable to play in the South African Open in 1969 because of their strict apartheid policy and when refused, he used the opportunity to campaign for sanctions against them and their expulsion from the International Lawn Tennis Federation. He did not ask individual players to forfeit matches.
In 1970, he turned professional. His association with Wimbledon had been fraught with controversy, but he was once again playing there in 1975. He played in Section 5 and his first match was against Bob Hewitt of South Africa. He went on to play against Jun Kamiwazumi of Japan, Brian Gottfried of the US, and Graham Stilwell of the UK. In the quarterfinals he was up against Swedish legend Bjorn Borg and then Australian Tony Roche for the semifinals. For the last game, he met fellow American Jimmy Conners. Ashe had been seeded sixth and was a just shy of his 32 birthday when this final game was played. It was the first time two Americans met for the final round of Wimbledon since 1947. This was Ashe’s ninth attempt to win there and Connors was the defending champion and a strong favorite.
The two men had met before and Ashe had never been victorious against Connors. On this day, Ashe played nearly perfect games of tactical tennis and won the match in four sets. The scores were 6-1, 6-1, 5-7, and 6-4. Ashe not only won the match, but it was the first win for a black man in the men’s singles at the event. In July 1979, Ashe suffered a heart attack. He underwent quadruple coronary bypass graft surgery in December 1979. He had further surgeries and in September 1988 was found to have symptoms found in people with HIV. It was found that he received contaminated blood transfusions during his second heart surgery. He died of AIDS-related pneumonia on February 6, 1993. He was 49 years old.
Drummed into me, above all, by my dad, by the whole family, was that without your good name, you would be nothing.
I don’t want to be remembered for my tennis accomplishments. That’s no contribution to society. [Tennis] was purely selfish; that was for me.
Every time you win, it diminishes the fear a little bit. You never really cancel the fear of losing; you keep challenging it.
Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can. – all from Arthur Ashe
Also on this day: Salvation Army – In 1865, William Booth founded The Christian Mission, later to become The Salvation Army.
SPAM – In 1937, Hormel introduced SPAM.
Principia – In 1687, Newton first published his masterpiece.
Ooh La La – In 1946, new swimwear was revealed (and revealing).
Who is a Jew? – In 1950, the Law of Return was passed.
* “Arthur Ashe” by Bogaerts, Rob / Anefo – Nationaal Archief Fotocollectie Anefo Item number 927-7839. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 nl via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Arthur_Ashe.jpg#/media/File:Arthur_Ashe.jpg