By Nicholas J. Walz, USTA.com
"From what we get, we can make a living. What we give, however, makes a life." – Arthur Ashe
The United States Tennis Association remembers the passing of Arthur Robert Ashe Jr. 20 years ago today, on Feb. 6, 1993. Ashe was just 49 years old at the time of his death, and he lives on in the hearts and minds of tennis fans worldwide for his display of heart, courage and class—both on and off the court.
A member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, Ashe’s achievements in the sport include five career Grand Slam titles in singles and doubles, among them the first US Open men’s singles title in 1968—the first year of Open tennis. Ashe remains the only black man to win the singles title at the US Open, Wimbledon or Australian Open.
Before turning professional, Ashe was first African-American to play on the U.S. Davis Cup team in 1963 at the age of 20. He went on to attend UCLA on a tennis scholarship and won the 1965 NCAA singles and team national championships as a Bruin. The next year Ashe joined the army and served from 1966 to 1969. Ashe spent part of his service time at the United States Military Academy at West Point in New York, where he headed the academy’s tennis program.
A year after his US Open victory, Ashe joined forces with former UCLA teammate Charlie Pasarell and Dr. Sheridan Snyder to form the National Junior Tennis League (NJTL, now known as National Junior Tennis & Learning network), nationwide tennis and education program. NJTL continues its good work today, with 621 active programs and 316,025 participants across the country.
Bringing people together and overriding prejudice on a global scale was Ashe’s fierce passion and life’s work. Normally a reserved personality, Ashe was outspoken when it came to matters of race, utilizing his celebrity to bring light to social injustice when necessary. Already an established civil rights advocate at home, he also famously fought for racial integration in apartheid-plagued South Africa.
Ashe’s hometown of Richmond, Va., posthumously honored him with a statue on the city’s famed Monument Avenue, a progressive landmark placed in a row once reserved for statues of key figures of the Confederacy. The 12-foot bronze statue features Ashe hoisting two books high above his head in his right hand, representing education, and a tennis racquet in the left, representing athletics. The next summer, the USTA christened Arthur Ashe Stadium as the centerpiece of the US Open.
Now, 20 years after his death, Ashe’s legacy remains strong and vibrant to all those who knew, remember me and celebrate his life and achievements to this day.
Here are some reflections: