Originally published in February 2005:
Althea Gibson's 1950 Appearance at the U.S. Championships Named Top Moment in Black Tennis History
Top 10 Most Influential Moments Selected by Blue Ribbon Panel That Includes Zina Garrison, MaliVai Washington, The Honorable David N. Dinkins, and others
Arthur Ashe’s 1968 US Open Championship and Formation of the American Tennis Association Also Voted Top Moments
Announced by the USTA, Althea Gibson’s appearance at the 1950 U.S. Championships was ranked the No. 1 moment in black tennis history. Gibson broke the color barrier when she entered the U.S. Championships in 1950, becoming the first African-American to be allowed to enter -- forever changing the sport.
Gibson’s achievement was unique and courageous, extending well beyond her significant accomplishments on the tennis court. Over an exquisite three-year period, she won 11 Grand Slams, including five singles titles -- two at the U.S. Championships in 1957 and 1958. A pioneer, Gibson blazed a trail for tennis players -- Arthur Ashe, Leslie Allen, Zina Garrison, Venus and Serena Williams -- and inspired countless others in all walks of life.
Arthur Ashe’s accomplishment of becoming the first African-American to win at the US Open (1968) was ranked as the No. 3 moment and his being named U.S. Davis Cup captain in 1981 was ranked No. 5. The founding of the American Tennis Association (1916), the first black sports organization in the United States, earned the No. 2 spot on the list.
Gibson was voted No. 1 out of 12 historic moments by a Blue Ribbon panel of former players, commentators, coaches and administrators including, Katrina Adams, Leslie Allen, Martin Blackman, The Honorable David N. Dinkins, Zina Garrison, Rodney Harmon, Lori McNeil, Bryan Shelton, Benny Sims and MaliVai Washington.
TOP MOMENTS IN BLACK TENNIS HISTORY
1. 1950: Althea Gibson becomes the first black player to compete at the U.S. Championships. In 1956, Althea Gibson becomes the first black player to win a Grand Slam title, winning the French Open. Gibson would add a Wimbledon and U.S. Open singles title the following year.
2. 1916: The American Tennis Association is founded and becomes the first black sports organization in the United States. The first ATA Championships are held a year later at Druid Hill Park Courts in Baltimore, Maryland.
3. 1968: Arthur Ashe becomes the first black man to win the US Open. He would later become the first black man to win Wimbledon in 1975.
4. 1948: Oscar Johnson wins the National Public Parks Championships, becoming the first black player to win a United States Lawn Tennis Association sanctioned event.
5. 1981: Arthur Ashe becomes the first black player to captain the U.S. Davis Cup team and coaches the United States to victory over Argentina in the Davis Cup final. Ashe was also the first black player to play Davis Cup for U.S., in 1963.
6. 1990: Zina Garrison reaches the singles final at Wimbledon becoming the first African-American woman to reach the final of one of the four major championships of tennis since Althea Gibson. In 2003, Zina became the first African-American captain in Fed Cup history.
7. 1983: Frenchman Yannick Noah becomes the first black man to capture the French Open singles Grand Slam title, upsetting defending champion Mats Wilander in three sets.
8. 1997: Venus Williams reaches the US Open women's final - the first African-American woman to reach the final since Gibson in 1958. Arthur Ashe Stadium is dedicated at the
9. 1996: Mal Washington joins Arthur Ashe as the only African-American men to reach the Wimbledon final and later becomes the first African-American man to represent the United States in Olympic tennis.
10. 1999-2000: The Williams sisters each win their first Grand Slam singles titles Serena, the 1999 US Open and Venus, Wimbledon in 2000. Venus also becomes the first African- American player to win an Olympic gold medal in singles at the 2000 Olympic games in Sydney, Australia. The sisters also teamed up to win the Gold in doubles.
BLUE RIBBON PANELISTS
Adams enjoyed a 12-year career on the WTA Tour, ranking as high as No. 67 in singles and No. 8 in doubles. She captured 20 doubles titles. Adams is currently a USTA Director at Large and is also USTA Board Liaison to the Professional Council and a member of the USTA Board Budget Committee.
Allen played on the WTA Tour for ten years, achieving a singles ranking of No. 17 in the world. In 1981, she won the Avon Championships, becoming the first African-American woman to win a major tennis tournament since Althea Gibson’s 1958 U.S. Open victory. Allen is now the USTA Chair for the Fed Cup.
During his five-year pro career, Blackman won nine titles and appeared in all four Grand Slams from 1991-1994. Currently, Blackman is Director of Tennis for The Tennis Center at College Park and USTA Director at Large. He is also USTA Board Liaison to the Youth/Collegiate Council.
The 106th Mayor of the City of New York, Dinkins began his career in public service in 1966 in the New York State Assembly and became mayor in 1989. Dinkins is currently serving as USTA Board Liaison to the Operations Council and is also a member of the USTA Board of Directors of the USTA Tennis & Education Foundation. Dinkins has been a USTA Director At Large for six consecutive years.
Garrison is the Captain of the U.S. Fed Cup team and served as the coach for the U.S. women’s tennis team at the 2004 Summer Olympics. She is the first African-American to hold these positions. Garrison retired from tennis in 1997 after a successful 15-year professional career, winning 37 pro championships (14 singles, 20 doubles, 3 mixed doubles).
During his professional tennis career, Harmon became the only African-American man besides Arthur Ashe to reach the quarterfinals at the US Open (1982). Harmon was also a three-time NCAA All American and NCAA Doubles Champion (with Mel Purcell) at the University of Tennessee. Currently, Harmon is Director of Men’s Tennis for USA Tennis High Performance.
McNeil played 19 years on the WTA Tour (1984-2002), reaching a career-high singles ranking of No. 9 in the summer of 1988. A winner of 10 WTA singles titles and 32 doubles titles, McNeil represented the U.S. in Fed Cup competition in 1988 and 1989. McNeil is a member of the coaching staff for the Women’s Tennis High Performance program.
Shelton spent nine years on the ATP Tour, winning two singles and two doubles titles before retiring after the 1997 U.S. Open. Shelton spent a year and a half as a USTA national coach and is currently on the USA Tennis High Performance Committee Board.
Professional tennis coach Sims coached Chanda Rubin to her highest-ranking in 2003, No. 9 in the world. Sims, an avid tennis player, trained with late, great Texas Southern University tennis coach, Herbert “The Big Bopper” Provost.
MaliVai Washington began playing tennis at the age of five and turned pro at 20. He played professional tennis on the ATP Tour, reaching a career-high rank of No. 11 and the finals of Wimbledon in 1996. Washington is currently a tennis analyst for ESPN.