Little Bits of History

Tennis, Anyone?

Posted in History by patriciahysell on July 5, 2015
Arthur Ashe

Arthur Ashe*

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 –

Powerful Serve; Best Backhand

Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 27, 2010

John Donald Budge in 1937

September 24, 1938: John Donald Budge is the first person to win a Grand Slam in tennis. The term “Grand Slam” refers to winning the four major tennis tournaments in a single year: the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, and US Open. The term was coined by New York Times columnist John Kieran in 1933 when Jack Crawford was one win away from the feat.

The Grand Slam, as defined in one year, has been won by five singles, one junior singles, and three doubles. Steffie Graf not only won all the major tournaments, but also won the Olympic Gold Medal in 1988 making her the only Golden Grand Slam winner. Martina Navratilova won six tournaments in a row, but three were in 1983 and the other three in 1984. Many others have one each of the four main tournaments, but not in the same year.

Don Budge was born in Oakland, California and was the son of a former soccer player. He grew up playing a number of sports. He was tall and slim and his height helped produce one of the most powerful serves of all time. His backhand was also powerful with a touch of topspin added. He grew up playing on hard-court surfaces and had to adjust to grass when he moved east to train for the Davis Cup.

After winning the Grand Slam, Budge moved from amateur status and became a professional tennis player with mostly head-to-head matches. With the advent of the Second World War, Budge joined the US Army Air Force. He spent most of his service time playing exhibition matches for the troops. He injured his shoulder while running an obstacle training course and his tennis game was never again the same. He retired and taught children the game. He died after being involved in an automobile accident.

“Tennis is a perfect combination of violent action taking place in an atmosphere of total tranquility.” – Billie Jean King

“If you see a tennis player who looks as if he is working hard, then that means he isn’t very good.” – Helen Wills Moody

“Why has slamming a ball with a racquet become so obsessive a pleasure for so many of us? It seems clear to me that a primary attraction of the sport is the opportunity it gives to release aggression physically without being arrested for felonious assault.” – Nat Hentoff

“Sports do not build character. They reveal it.” – Heywood Hale Broun

Also on this day, in 1947 Harry Truman did not form the Majestic 12 group to investigate UFOs.

Tennis, Anyone?

Posted in History by patriciahysell on July 19, 2010
Wimbledon Championship


July 19, 1877: The first Lawn Tennis Championships at Wimbledon are held in front of a few hundred spectators. The only event held was the Gentlemen’s Singles with W. Spencer Gore finishing as champion and winning twelve guineas. The competition was held to raise money for a new roller, but it was so successful despite rain that it was held again the next year. The championships have been held yearly except during the World Wars.

The first contest was held with 22 male participants. In 1884, Ladies’ Singles and Men’s Doubles were added. The event became global in nature in 1905 when an American joined the play. In 1907, Norman Brooks, an Australian, was the first foreign winner and since that time, only two Brits have won the title.

Today, there are crowds of about 500,000 in attendance and millions more follow the game via television, the Internet, the press, and radio. Players from 60 nations regularly compete. It is truly a worldwide event. There are five main events: Gentlemen’s Singles, Ladies’ Singles, Gentlemen’s Doubles, Ladies’ Doubles, and Mixed Doubles. There are four evens for juniors, mixed doubles are not included for this age group. There are four invitational events as well.

The gentlemen’s matches are best-of-five sets while the ladies’ and mixed doubles are best-of-three. Most events are single-elimination tournaments. Prior to 1922, the previous year’s winner were granted byes into the final round allowing for many repeat winners due to their rested state. Since 1922, the title holders have had to play from the start of the championships.

“I have always considered tennis as a combat in an arena between two gladiators who have their racquets and their courage as their weapons.” – Yannick Noah

“Good shot, bad luck, and hell are the five basic words to be used in a game of tennis, though these, of course, can be slightly amplified.” – Virginia Graham, Say Please, 1949

“But that won’t give me a free hand to hold the beer.” – Billy Carter, while being taught a two-handed backhand shot

“The primary conception of tennis is to get the ball over the net and at the same time to keep it within bounds of the court; failing this, within the borders of the neighborhood.” – Elliot Chaze

“In tennis the addict moves about a hard rectangle and seeks to ambush a fuzzy ball with a modified snow-shoe.” – Elliot Chaze

Also on this day, in 1843 the SS Great Britain was launched, the largest ship in the world at the time.

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