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Ashe influenced tennis, society

Wednesday, November 19, 2003
Ashe was first African-American male to win a Slam
By Bob Carter
Special to

Signature Match
Sept. 9, 1968 - It was the first U.S. Open, the first time pros were eligible to compete in the most prestigious tournament in this country. The top four seeds were all Australian pros. But in a surprise, American amateur Arthur Ashe won the tournament, becoming the first African-American male to capture a Grand Slam event with his 14-12, 5-7, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 victory over eighth-seeded Tom Okker of the Netherlands.

"The triumph [is] the most notable achievement made in the sport by a Negro male athlete," Dave Anderson wrote in The New York Times.

It took the fifth-seeded Ashe, who served 26 aces, two hours and 40 minutes to win in a half-filled Forest Hills Stadium.

"Nobody can imagine, unless they've been through it, what agony you face in a close, five-set match, especially in scorching weather," Ashe said. "Fifth sets of tennis matches separate the great from the good."

Because of his amateur status, the 25-year-old Ashe, a lieutenant in the Army, was ineligible to receive the first prize of $14,000 in the $100,000 event, at the time the richest tournament in tennis history. Instead, the slender American collected $280 in expenses, at $20 per diem for 14 days. But Ashe, the first American to win the U.S. title since Tony Trabert in 1955, wasn't upset. He favored history over economics.

"It was the first U.S. Open," Ashe said years later. "As long as the game was played, whether at the West Side Tennis Club or the National Tennis Center, there would be only one first U.S. Open."

Odds 'n' Ends

  • As a youngster, Ashe sharpened his game in the summer at the Lynchburg, Va., home of Dr. Robert Walter Johnson, a wealthy African-American player and teacher who ran tennis camps. Ashe became one of Johnson's star pupils.

  • At 18, Ashe won the National Interscholastic Tennis Championships while still in high school.

  • Ashe graduated No. 1 in his class at Sumner High School in St. Louis.

  • At UCLA, he studied business administration.

  • His first Davis Cup competition was a victory over Orlando Bracamonte of Venezuela in 1963. It was a "dead rubber" match, one played after the best-of-five series had been decided.

  • Ashe won the 1964 Johnston Award, given annually to a U.S. player displaying good sportsmanship and character and contributing to the growth of tennis.

  • In 1972, Ashe became the first American player to earn $100,000 in a year.

  • He was elected the president of the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) in 1974.

  • In the Open era, which started in 1968, Ashe had a 90-28 record in singles at the Grand Slam tournaments. He was 40-9 at the U.S. Open, 27-8 at Wimbledon, 25-8 at the French Open and 16-3 at the Australian Open.

  • Ashe won the 1971 French Open doubles title with Marty Riessen and the 1977 Australian Open with Tony Roche.

  • He won 18 doubles titles as a pro.

  • ATP rankings started in 1973. Ashe's highest was No. 2, which he first rose to on May 10, 1976. Jimmy Connors was No. 1.

  • Ashe's best year-end finish was No. 4 in 1975, with Connors, Guillermo Vilas and Bjorn Borg ahead of him.

  • Ashe earned $1,584,909 in career prize money.

  • On Feb. 20, 1977, he married Jeanne Marie Moutoussamy at the United Nations chapel in New York. Andrew Young performed the ceremony.

  • Their daughter Camera Elizabeth was born on Dec. 21, 1986 in New York.

  • Ashe succeeded Tony Trabert as the U.S. Davis Cup coach in September 1980. The Americans won the Cup title the next two years.

  • Ashe was voted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1985.

  • He spent almost $300,000 to pay a research team for work on a Hard Road to Glory, which was published in 1988.

  • In 1991, Ashe was part of a 31-member African-American delegation that returned to South Africa to note political changes in the country.

  • He was chosen as Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year in 1992.

  • In an interview with People magazine shortly before his death, Ashe said that race, not AIDS, was the greatest burden he had carried.

  • Tributes to Ashe came from all over the globe after his death. "Tennis needs a spokesperson for those we don't naturally include," said Pam Shriver. "He filled that role for a long time."

  • In February 1997, the USTA announced that the stadium at the National Tennis Center in New York would be named Arthur Ashe Stadium "because Arthur Ashe was the finest human being the sport of tennis has ever known," USTA president Harry Marmion said.

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