It was ten years ago yesterday (Feb. 6, 1993) when Arthur Ashe died from AIDS-related pneumonia.
Today, he must be smiling from the heavens.
Earlier this morning, rising American tennis star, James Blake, who is ranked in the top 25 in the world rankings, took to the court as he led the United States Davis Cup team in a first-round match against Croatia.
It is easy to see the influence that Ashe’s legacy has had on Blake, the highest-ranking African-American man in the ATP rankings.
In 1969, Ashe co-founded the USA Tennis National Junior Tennis League, a program to provide economically disadvantaged youth the opportunity to learn tennis.
Today, the program continues to flourish as a training ground for young stars. In fact, Blake honed his game while playing in the Harlem Junior Tennis Program. After turning pro in 1999, Blake won his first professional tournament last year, defeating Andre Agassi on his way to the title.
Other stars such as Serena and Venus Williams, who are ranked one and two in the world respectively, also took part in the NJTL when they were learning how to play tennis.
“Arthur Ashe is truly a role model in every sense of the word to all people, not just tennis players,” Blake said. “He overshadowed his amazing tennis career with being a much more admirable person and that is a goal I believe that any person can look up to and aim for.”
Ten years after his passing, the mention of Ashe still elicits feelings of reverence and reflection. His name, synonymous with integrity, dignity and class, graces the stadium at the USTA National Tennis Center in Flushing, N.Y. His USA Tennis NJTL program is flourishing and Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day presented by Aetna has evolved into an annual star-studded kickoff to the US Open, raising more than $2.5 million over the past six years.
Ashe was one of tennis’ greatest ambassadors both on and off the court. He was the first African-American man to win the US Open in 1968 and went on to win 33 titles in his career including the Australian Open in 1970 and Wimbledon in 1975.
Off the court, Ashe worked tirelessly to eliminate racism and poverty around the world, particularly in segregated South Africa. He also devoted countless time and effort to creating tennis opportunities for youngsters from all backgrounds.
As long the successful USA Tennis NJTL program continues to teach and inspire the tennis stars of the future, Ashe’s legacy and spirit will live on forever.
The Life and Times of Arthur Ashe
1943 Ashe is born in segregated Richmond, Va. to Arthur Ashe, Sr. and Mary Cordell Cunningham Ashe. Their father raises Ashe and his younger brother Johnnie, after Mary Ashe dies in 1950.
1959 At the age of 16, Ashe makes his debut at the U.S. National Championships at Forest Hills (later known as the US Open). He is defeated in the first round by Australian Rod Laver.
1963 Ashe makes his U.S. Davis Cup team debut. He goes on represent the U.S. in Davis Cup in 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1975, 1977 and 1978. He career Davis Cup singles record is 27-5 and 28-6 overall. Ashe helps the United States win the Davis Cup three times during his career.
1965 Ashe becomes the first African-American to win the NCAA singles crown when he captures the title as a junior at UCLA. Ashe graduates from UCLA in 1966.
1968 Ashe win the first U.S. Open, the first time that the U.S. National Tennis Championships were open to both professionals and amateurs. Ashe becomes the first African-American man to win a grand Slam men’s singles title. Ashe, a 25-year-old lieutenant in the U.S. Army, was an amateur and thus not eligible to receive $14,000 in prize money. The New York Times calls Ashe’s victory, “the most notable achievement made in the sport by a Negro male athlete.”
1969 Ashe helps establish the National Junior Tennis League, a tennis program designed to provide tennis opportunities to economically disadvantaged youth. In 2002, the NJTL offers over 900 tennis programs to nearly 200,000 children nationwide. The program served as the first organized tennis program for Venus and Serena Williams.
1970 Ashe gains his second career Grand Slam singles title when he wins the Australian Open men’s singles title.
1973 After being turned down for a visa on three previous occasions, Ashe travels to South Africa for the first time and becomes the first black man to compete in the South African Open, winning the doubles title.
1975 Ashe pulls off one of the greatest upsets in tennis history when he defeats top-seeded Jimmy Connors to win the Wimbledon men’s singles title. He becomes the first black man to win the singles title at the All-England Club.
1978 Ashe plays in his final US Open, reaching the fourth round in singles before losing to Mexico’s Raul Ramirez. Notably, Ashe teams in doubles with 18-year-old Yannick Noah, a Frenchman of African-descent. Ashe discovered Noah seven years earlier while visiting Cameroon and calls the French Tennis Federation to help in Noah’s development. Noah goes on to become the most successful black tennis player since Ashe by winning the French Open singles title in 1983.
1979 Ashe is forced to retire from professional tennis when he suffers a heart attack. He concludes his career with 33 singles titles and 18 doubles titles. His highest career ranking was No. 2 in the world in 1976.
1981 Ashe wins his debut as captain of the U.S. Davis Cup team as the United States defeats Mexico 3-2 at the La Costa Resort and Spa in Carlsbad. He leads the U.S. to Davis Cup titles in 1981 and 1982. He serves as Davis Cup captain until 1985.
1985 Ashe is inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. He is also arrested while protesting against apartheid in front of the South African Embassy in Washington D.C.
1988 Ashe publishes the book, Hard Road Glory: A History of the African American Athlete. It is regarded as the authority on the history of African-American Athletes. After brain surgery that year, Ashe discovers he is HIV-positive, having likely been infected during either his 1979 or 1983 surgeries.
1990 Ashe establishes the Athlete Career Connection, an association to assist athletes after they finished college.
1992 On the eve of the US Open, the United States Tennis Association holds the first-ever Arthur Ashe AIDS Day, an event Ashe described as, “one of the brightest days, literally and metaphorically, of my life.” The event, a fund-raiser for the Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of AIDS, becomes an annual tradition at the US Open and has grown into what is now called “Arthur Ashe Kids Day.” Sports Illustrated names Ashe “Sportsman of the Year.” Ashe addresses the UN General Assembly and urges increased funding for AIDS research.
1993 Ashe dies of AIDS related pneumonia at the age of 49.
1996 The city of Richmond erects The Arthur Ashe Monument on Monument Avenue, surrounded, ironically, by the city’s heroes of the Confederacy, The statue features Ashe holding tennis racquets and books over his head with the books raised slightly higher than the racquets as a symbol of Ashe’s emphasis on education.
1997 The USTA dedicates “Arthur Ashe Stadium,” the main stadium for the US Open Tennis Championships and the largest tennis stadium in the world.
Entries Now Being Accepted For Arthur Ashe Essay Contest
White Plains, New York The United States Tennis Association and National Junior Tennis League have launched the fifth annual Arthur Ashe Essay Contest to help commemorate Ashe’s legacy, 10 years after his passing on Feb. 6, 1993.
The essay contest, previously open only to USA/NJTL participants, is open to entries from all school children across the nation for the first time.
“Arthur Ashe lived an exemplary life, donating his time to underprivileged youth and growth of the game,” said Barbara Wynne, NJTL Committee Honorary Chair and originator of the Arthur Ashe essay contest. “We are thrilled to honor Arthur’s achievements and contributions to both tennis and disadvantaged youth through this national essay contest.”
Contest winners will receive an all-expense paid trip to New York from Aug. 22-24, 2003 and will be guests at Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day presented by Aetna on Saturday, Aug. 23, preceding the 2003 US Open. Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day is a daylong festival of kids’ tennis activities including interactive games, musical entertainment and free clinics.
To enter, children, 18 or younger, must write an essay in 300 or less on “Why Arthur Ashe a sports legend?” All entries must be submitted on 8½ X 11½ paper and mailed to the USTA by July 10, 2003. Winners will be notified by July 31, 2003. Ten national winners will be selected, one boy and one girl from each of five age groups and awarded round trip coach air transportation to New York for themselves and a parent/legal guardian and two nights at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Manhattan.
Essays should be mailed to the following address: United States Tennis Association, C/O Alex Palombo, 70 West Red Oak Lane, White Plains, NY 10604.