2020 Black History Month:

Garrison reaches Wimbledon final, 1990

Sally Milano  |  February 10, 2020
Zina Garrison, Black History Month

The long and storied history of tennis in the U.S. features a multitude of significant chapters authored by African-Americans. From the sport’s earliest days through its modern era, countless contributions to tennis’ growth and success have been made by players, coaches and administrators of color. Some helped tear down barriers; some have torn up record books. Several have transcended the sport they helped to build to become true American icons. All have been an inspiration, providing this sport, those who play it and those who revel in it, with myriad memorable moments.


As we celebrate Black History Month throughout February, recalls some of the most memorable of those important moments; milestones that helped to change the face of this sport—literally and figuratively—and inspire us all to raise our game. ADVERTISEMENT Today, we look at Zina Garrison's run to the 1990 Wimbledon final.


Zina Garrison already had success on the grass courts of the All England Club when she arrived at Wimbledon in 1990. As a junior, she won the girls' singles title in 1981, and four years later, in 1985, she reached the semifinals in the ladies’ singles draw.


But it was in 1990 that Garrison etched her name in the history books, as she became the first African-American woman to reach a Grand Slam final since Althea Gibson won consecutive titles at Wimbledon and the U.S. National Championships in 1957 and 1958.


Garrison entered Wimbledon in 1990 as the fifth-ranked player in the world and the No. 5 seed. She dominated Samantha Smith, Cecilia Dahlman, Andrea Leand and Helena Suková with straight-set wins in her first four matches, and then pulled out a come-from-behind, 3-6, 6-3, 9-7 victory over reigning French Open champion and No. 3 seed Monica Seles in the quarterfinals.


The 26-year-old Houston native next won what would be the biggest match of her career, against two-time defending champion and world No. 1 Steffi Graf. Heading into the semifinals, Garrison held a 1-5 record against Graf and had last defeated the German five years earlier, in the Ponte Vedra Beach quarterfinals in 1985.


On this cold, blustery, July 5th afternoon, with fans huddling together in 45-degree temperatures at Centre Court, Garrison stuck to her game plan, hitting to Graf’s backhand as often as possible and coming to the net at every opportunity. She won her first Grand Slam semifinal with a monumental, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 upset, ending Graf’s streak of consecutive Grand Slam final appearances at 13 by hitting an ace down the middle on match point.


“I think if you believe in yourself, that’s all that matters,” Garrison said after the match. “It was just made to be.”


Although she lost to Martina Navratilova, 6-4, 6-1, in the final, Garrison not only became the first black woman to reach the Wimbledon final in 32 years, but also the first to do so in the Open era. It would be another decade before another African-American reached the Wimbledon ladies’ singles championship, when Venus Williams captured the title in 2000.


Garrison retired from tennis in 1996 after a successful 14-year career in which she won 14 singles titles, 20 doubles titles, three Grand Slam mixed doubles titles, and a doubles gold and singles bronze medal at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea. She reached a career-high ranking of No. 4 in the world in November 1989, led the U.S. Fed Cup team to three titles, compiling a 22-5 overall record in 24 ties, and went on to coach both the U.S. Fed Cup team from 2004-08 and the women’s tennis team at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.


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