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By Nicholas J. Walz, USTA.com
MaliVai Washington has followed up a decorated professional career by serving as an advocate for youth tennis in the city of Jacksonville, Fla.
Washington began playing tennis at the age of 5, after his family moved to Michigan. As a teenager, he played on the junior circuit and competed in the USTA national junior championships, and then attended college at the University of Michigan, where he was the top-ranked college player in the U.S. at the end of his sophomore season. He turned pro after that year, in 1989.
Then the No. 11-ranked player in the world, in 1992 Washington was part of the U.S. Davis Cup-winning team and also captured his first ATP singles title, in Memphis, Tenn. In 1996, he reached his only Grand Slam final, at Wimbledon, losing to Richard Krajicek. IN doing so, Washington became the first African-American man to reach the Wimbledon final since Arthur Ashe in 1975, and he is currently the last African-American man to reach a major final. Washington would retire after a decade-long career in 1999 with 254 wins, four ATP titles and three Davis Cup appearances. He also was a member of the 1996 U.S. men’s Olympic tennis team.
In 1994, Washington started the not-for-profit MaliVai Washington Kids Foundation in Jacksonville. He put a large percentage of his career earnings as a player toward building tennis in what is statistically one of the poorest inner cities in the country. Fourteen years later, the foundation opened the MaliVai Washington Youth Center at Emmett Reed Park – a $3 million facility complete with eight tennis courts, three youth courts, a basketball court, library, classrooms, teen room, multimedia center, fitness room and kitchen, as well as the MWKF administrative offices. The foundation drew great interest and recognition around the community and from civic leaders, and it found honors at the national level as well, being named by the USTA as a National Junior Tennis & Learning (NJTL) Chapter of the Year.
Washington also found joy in volunteering and mentoring youth tennis players in Jacksonville-area Boys & Girls Clubs. For his efforts, he received the 1997 Boys and Girls Clubs of America CARE Award and, later, the 1999 Boys and Girls Club Man and Youth Award. He was also recognized by the ATP with the Arthur Ashe Humanitarian of the Year Award in 2009.