Monday, May 14, 2012

52 Week 20: Althea Gibson - The Hard Court

For the love of the game

Tennis was my first sport. It was the first sport I played and the first that I watched with an avid interest. It was the early ‘90s and truth be told, there were very few players of colour to look up to. Tennis has a reputation (not unlike golf) of being a ‘country-club’ sport, for people far removed from the worries of day-to-day survival. I suppose that was true in my case, as we were the few among my circle of friends that could afford to play the sport. 

I’ve always thought that there was something pure about the sport. It is a one-on-one battle of wits and wills between you and your opponent. Ultimately, a combination of lack of skill and gravitation to more plebeian pursuits (football) put an end to my playing days, but I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for tennis. It’s gotten a lot easier lately with the increasingly large numbers of players of color plying their trade in the game.
Of course, in Women’s tennis, the figures of the Williams’ sisters loom large, but before the Williams’ Sisters, there was Althea Gibson. Just like Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Baseball, she broke the Tennis color barrier that had long separated the races in the sport. She was the daughter of a sharecropper, but didn’t let hear early difficulties hold her back. She paved the way for other Black tennis players such as Arthur Ashe and the Williams’ sisters.

She was the first African-American woman to compete on the tennis world tour and in 1957, she was the first Black woman to win at Wimbledon. She has been inducted into the International tennis hall of fame and was honoured at the 2007 US Open for her contributions to the sport. Despite the fact that she is not as widely known, this has no bearing on the nature of her accomplishments. 

Greatest quote:
I hope that I have accomplished just one thing: that I have been a credit to tennis and my country

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