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EXCLUSIVE! Living Legend Richard Russell Of Jamaica Shares A Bit Of His History On And Off The Court, Occasionally Standing In For Friend Arthur Ashe

Monday, July 1, 2019

Jamaican Richard Russell (R) and American Arthur Ashe, Jr. (L)  (All media  property of Richard Russell)

Speaking with Richard Russell was sublimely gratifying. How I adored the peaceful pleasure emanating from that rich classic Jamaican accent. Given this conversation, I am so looking forward to doing it again.

Mr. Russell is a man of tremendous spirituality, inner peace and joy. He enjoys his life today with a tremendous depth of gratitude from all of his life experiences, with a special emphasis on his tennis journey. Some of his best times were spent with "look-a-like friend" Arthur Ashe, Jr.

He is a living legend and a member of the 2019 class of inductees into the Black Tennis Hall of Fame. Although he was unable to attend the induction ceremony, he is overjoyed and grateful for the induction.

Mr. Russell is the only Jamaican to qualify for and win matches at all Grand Slam Championships. He was the youngest national champion at age 16, a founding member of the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) and, in 1966 achieved the distinction of holding the record of winning a first round match at the Australian Open 6-0, 6-0, 6-0. He represented the Jamaican Davis Cup and had wins over Arthur Ashe and Charlie Pasarell.

CONVERSATION

How are you?  I so LOVED the photos that you shared with me that I had to speak with you.  Thank you, thank you, I am in good spirits.

So glad that you are being inducted into the Black Tennis Hall of Fame. It's a big honor, thank you very much.  

What are your thoughts on the induction? A year ago I was being inducted into the Jamaican Hall of Fame (Jamaica Cup Hall of Fame) and I got a call around 6:30 in the morning and it was someone that I hadn't spoken to in a year or two.  He said "Are you fine?" I said "Yeah I'm good." He said, "You sure you're okay?" I said, "Yes."  He said, "Well, my wife said to call you and congratulate you because I saw in the newspaper that you're being inducted into the Jamaican Hall of Fame, but we were so concerned, because usually when these things happen, you're either dead or dying.  I'm glad you're okay." That was so funny.

Richard, Arthur Ashe, Lance Lumsden
This is wonderful that you're being so acknowledged at this time, how's that working for you? Well, quite honestly, it's a huge surprise.  But I have to tell you, I spent many years walking the footsteps of Arthur Ashe, we were actually very good friends. In fact, in Australia we had a little music band together.  He was in Jamaica more than people thought, he had a Jamaican love. Arthur visited quite often.

When we were in Australia together he begged me, he said "Richard, I can't sign anymore autographs, can you sign some for me?"  The thing about it is this, when people would come to me, and the more I would tell then I'm not Arthur Ashe, the more they would think that I was pulling their legs. You see, in Australia, any Black person look alike to them, they can't tell one from the other.

That sounds like America too! That's funny.

But in cricket, we (Jamaica) have very good cricketers, all of them, when they would go to Australia, they were swamped, people all over them. And when I was there, they would think I was a Caribbean cricketer, they can't tell one from the other.

Quite honestly, Arthur and I, we kind of  had similar hair cuts.  In the Australian newspaper photo that I sent you where he and I are standing together, the Australian press couldn't believe it, the guy taking the picture said, "I can't tell one of you from the other! I can't tell which is Arthur Ashe and which is Richard Russell." I said, "I'm Richard Russell!" It was hilarious.

Life must have been something else at the time.  Oh, it was unbelievable.  Arthur was such a special person, who is gone too soon.  What an extraordinary human being.  You know, he kept so much inside of himself.  I went to Indianapolis to play, and one of the club members there who I became friends with said, "You know last year Arthur Ashe came with the Davis Cup team and he wasn't allowed to change in the official men's change room.  It was such an embarrassment.  Well, he came, he played, and he said nothing.  Nobody made a stink over it. That is outrageous.

This is going back to 1966-1968. I played in Pensacola, Florida, I didn't know that they had an emergency board meeting to decide whether for me to be able to play, or not to play. They decided that I'm not an American, I'm Jamaican, and those are the grounds on which they allowed me to play, cause it would have been a hell of a problem, because the Caribbean Circuit had been started,  the whole thing would've been turned upside down if they had said I couldn't play.  Arthur couldn't play there, and I was in shock, absolutely.  And there were other situations, very similar.  Just as in Washington D.C. where the mayor was Black, they had over 50% Black population, and I was staying as a guest, one block from the Washington Golf and Country Club, myself and Pancho Guzman of Ecuador, we were there to play their big tournament which is after Wimbledon.  The people who were members of the Club, one of them in particular said to me, "Listen, we have courts booked for you guys at the Club, but on second thought, I don't want anybody to be embarrassed, so you will probably need to go and play somewhere else."  He said, "Do you know that the mayor of Washington is Black, and he can't even come here." So we ended up going 20 minutes away to practice. The following year I went back there, and the same family insisted that I come and stay with them, and the first thing that was said to me was, "You know, when you left here, we cancelled our membership with the Washington Golf and Country Club.  We are now members of another club which is 15 minutes away. I just need for you to know that.  You being here made us realize that we cannot be a part of a situation like this. Having an international tennis player coming, and because you're Black, we cannot take you to the club - that's unacceptable."

TOTALLY!  So, very interesting times, the 60s and the 70s.

Unfortunately, here in America, not to much amazement, many aspects of those times exist today.  I realize that. When Arthur won Wimbledon he was given automatic membership, and the rules at Forest Hills were, if you win the U.S. Open you get automatic membership, and a year later Arthur Ashe still wasn't given membership.  They couldn't accept him, they had no Black members. It was about three weeks before the U.S. Open of the following year where the PTR and ATP were going to get involved and they were thinking about him even boycotting Forest Hills. But somebody in the Club really stepped up and granted him formally the membership prior to the event.  It took them one year to sort it out for him to get membership.

At the beginning of your career, did you even think that you would be as successful as you became, or did you surprise yourself?  I think my father, well, I had no intentions of being a tennis player, that was the last thing in my mind.  I was a cricketer - I was the youngest schoolboy cricketer in Jamaica.  Everything was pointing to me becoming a high rated cricketer for the Caribbean, for the West Indies.  My school teacher, the person in charge of tennis, had nobody to play on the tennis team, so he went on the field and took the best cricketers off and said "You're representing the school in tennis in two weeks times, so you have to come half an hour before you go to cricket and learn to play tennis. And then he entered me into the national championships and I got to the finals.

My father, who was saving up for four or five years to put in a swimming pool that the family wanted, when he saw me in the national championships, he went home and measured the front lawn and said he's putting in a tennis court. He put a wall in the tennis court and instructed me that I am not going to school unless I play tennis for half an hour against the wall every morning.

Wow... Much to the displeasure of my poor mother who had all of her imported roses in the front of the house, she now had to move them to the side of the house. And when I was late for school, she was in tears saying that I was late, and my father would say, "No he's not late, he's only missing chapel, he's not missing school."

My father apparently read in those days that all the top Australian players learned to play against the garage wall at their house, so my father had me, seven days a week, half an hour against the wall, and then I became the youngest national champion of Jamaica by 16.  And that started the whole thing.  He picked up the phone, called Australia, asked about the great Harry Hopman (didn't know him at all), and he got a hold of him and said "My son has just become the youngest national champion of Jamaica and I don't know what to do with him," and Harry Hopman said, "Put him on a plane and send him to me." And off I went, that was
the start of my whole development, spending a year with Harry Hopman in Australia.

Now that you had begun playing so well, even though that was not your intent, did you come to love the sport?    Well, absolutely I did, but I think the passion was my father's.  All of our entire family were all sports people, my father, his brothers, all very good sports people, they played all the sports.  My father said to me, "Son, we have played all the sports, and if you're going to get really good at any one sport, you have to focus on one, you can't play all the sports.  And it's easier for you to play tennis than play cricket.  So, we put in the tennis court, and we're going to do everything possible for you to improve your tennis."  So he was really the driving force until, at least, I got to a certain point where obviously "I" wanted to get better and improve.

Yeah, so now you began to personally enjoy it.  Exactly, but my father gets all of the credit initially for even getting me involved.

As you look back at your career now, what do you think about it?  Well, tennis has provided me every... single... thing... I have in life.  It is the most extraordinary sport of all time.  It has opened every door, and every business transaction that I've gone into.  Tennis just somehow... the doors were just opened.  I can't think of anything more fulfilling than my involvement in tennis over the years.

By extension, I got my sons involved in tennis and even at the expense of their school work at one point.  And one of my son's said to me, and I have never forgotten this in my life, he said "Dad, I want to say something to you.  I want to thank you for keeping me in tennis.  Dad, do you know that the particular academy where I am, I am over subscribed. I am full, and I have a waiting list.  Some of my closest friends, university graduates, can't get a job, or some of them, they're taking a job two levels below their qualifications, and here am I, over subscribed. Tennis is the greatest sport there is on earth." I said to myself, "Oh, thank God."  I said, "You know something, thank you very much for that."

My feeling is that education is for a lifetime, and I had a scholarship to Louisville, Kentucky and my father sent me to Australia - that was his decision. Looking back at it now, the education I got traveling the world, my interactions with people, the broadening of your whole horizon, you get this only from this wonderful exposure.  And to play a sport like tennis where you're literally traveling the world for free, playing different tournaments, meeting different ethnic groups, it is almost a dream, almost a fantasy world really, when you think about it.

Coming back home to Jamaica, it was like I ended up being a big fish in a small pond.  You go anywhere, I got into manufacturing.  My prime minister called me, Michael Manley, he also played tennis, he said, "Richard, I didn't know you had so many styles of shorts." Because what happened was, everybody didn't know what to give the prime minister, so you know what they did?  They gave him Richard Russell tennis shorts! He said, "I have all these different shorts from different people. I didn't know you had so many styles of shorts!" It was funny.

So many doors opened, it's gratifying even until today.  You go anywhere, people recognize you, people respect you, people love you, you give the love back and interact with people, you help out the young kids and you get satisfaction from helping people. I said to myself, "You know, the greatest satisfaction you get in life isn't from earning money, but the people you help, especially those less fortunate."  Stop and think about it for a little bit, and as you get older, you recognize this more and more.  And your legacy is for people to remember you for the good deeds that you've done for people.

Indeed, indeed, indeed.  That's your legacy - it's wonderful satisfaction.

Tell me this, in directing your tennis academy, what is the single highest priority in the lessons that you teach - what's the most important thing that you want them to learn?  Being able to get the kids on the court and for them to have fun, to enjoy the sport, to express to them that this may be the greatest sport in the world, especially recognizing young girls and the college opportunities that are available to them.  That this is the only sport in the entire world where there's equal prize money for men and women. I tell them you have no idea how special this sport is, the tennis scholarships, the opportunities.  By learning to play tennis, you can use it to further your education.  That's one of the main features, talking to the young kids and impressing upon the parents the opportunities that exist through a sport like tennis. We're here to help them move up the ladder, and maybe to consider tennis careers down the road.     

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BLACK HISTORY MONTH: Black Tennis - A Historical Perspective By Bob Davis

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Black Tennis Pro's Bob Davis Black History Month Minority Tennis - A Historical PerspectiveThis Black History Month perspective is a three-part article written by Bob Davis whom you will meet, and on some level come to know, through the words of his writing.  Each of the three parts are available in this post. 


At a time when Bob was a contributing editor for Tennis Life Magazine , he wrote this perspective that frankly, engagingly and historically captures the contributions, successes and struggles of Black tennis players and coaches in the world of tennis; it is still on point today.

It is always a true honor and pleasure to share the depth of historical knowledge and perspective that comes second nature to Bob. Without question I know that you will find it a must read also.

Years ago Bob was referred to me by his brother, Bill Davis, whose story is one of the most read posts here.

It is Bob's intention, along with others such as Arthur Carrington of Art Carrington Tennis Academy and Dale G. Caldwell of Black Tennis Hall of Fame to accurately preserve and present the history of Blacks in tennis. You will be able to see examples of what these gentlemen are doing to make this happen.

Bob stated to me that "The players today need to have an appreciation for the the likes of players such as Billy Davis and George Stewart and the people that pioneered the Black tennis world when we were not allowed to play USTA tournaments. Therein lay the value of The ATA (American Tennis Association), our only way to play tennis competitively."

In recounting some of the racial struggles that he, Arthur Ashe and other players endured as they entered the tennis world he said, "Something in me wishes all of these young players understood that it took that kind of perseverance, and that kind of exposure to enable them to just walk out there and send in an entry fee."

I was so captivated with my conversation with Bob that I could go on with those words and the offering would hold just as much interest. However, I will stop here and let you read his experiences and thoughts as presented in his perspective.

SYMBOLS OF CHANGE

MINORITY TENNIS – A HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
PART I
THE BEGINNING

Slavery was abolished in the United States in 1865. Nearly 15 years later, in 1880, the United States Lawn Tennis Association (USLTA) was founded (The name was later changed to USTA). Tennis was the dominion of the white, upper class and Blacks were neither interested, nor invited to participate. Segregation was rampant throughout America and an attitude of exclusion was pervasive in most areas of American society.

Blacks began to surface on tennis courts in about 1890 at Tuskegee Institute. Booker T. Washington, one of America’s great, black visionaries and leaders, founded Tuskegee. In his famous Atlanta Address of 1895, Booker T. Washington set forth the motivating spirit behind Tuskegee Institute. In a post Reconstruction era marked by growing segregation and disfranchisement of blacks, this spirit was based on what realistically might be achieved in that time and place. "The opportunity to earn a dollar in a factory just now," he observed, "is worth infinitely more than the opportunity to spend a dollar in an opera house." Because of Washington's extraordinary ability to work within the system and to maximize the possible, Tuskegee flourished to the extent only dreamed about when he met his first students on July 4, 1881.

By 1898, Blacks began to have inter-club matches with rival black clubs in New York, Philadelphia and a variety of other eastern seaboard cities. These inter-club rivalries were primarily networking opportunities; occasions for the black, college-graduated elite to commune with their colleagues from other cities. This group of clubs eventually grew in number until an organizational structure was needed. In 1916, the American Tennis Association (ATA) was created as the governing body of Black tennis in America. In the fifty years since slavery was abolished, 80% of the Black population became educated. Nearly 4 million people came out of slavery as legislated illiterates and by 1915, an elite middle-class had been formed. By today’s standards, this is a phenomenal accomplishment. When one considers the growing rate of illiteracy across America, illiteracy that transcends racial lines, we should look at this statistic with awe and wonder!

In any event, it was this continuing attitude of separation that caused a group of black professionals to form the American Tennis Association (ATA) in 1916. The primary mission of the ATA was the formation of a circuit of black clubs and tournaments across the country. This new organization permitted the black elite to travel from city to city, network amongst their peers and enjoy the game of tennis. These separate but unequal tennis societies continued without conflict for nearly 25 years. While blacks enjoyed the social and the networking opportunities provided by the ATA, the USLTA enjoyed the pristine, private, country club environment that offered the same opportunities to it’s constituency.

In many ways, this elite Black society was born of necessity. Blacks were determined to do for themselves what the segregated governing society refused to do for them. Significantly, these elite middle-class Blacks were graduates of Black colleges and universities and were educated in the Arts and Sciences. They became doctors, lawyers and educators and, because there was no access to professional sports at that time, went to college to develop the foundations for lifetime careers.

And so, Black business – and Black tennis flourished during the first quarter of the twentieth century. The ATA held its first national championship in 1917 in Baltimore, MD. Tally Holmes and Lucy Slowe emerged as the winners of that historic event. It was obvious that the ATA had gotten off to a resounding start and now emphasis was being placed on increasing the number of new clubs and the creation of junior development programs. By the mid-1930’s there were more than 100 member-clubs, many of them private, black-owned tennis and golf country clubs. This idyllic serenity was about to undergo a change as players began to improve and the desire to compete at the highest levels of the sport took on greater importance. The very first confrontation came in 1929 when Reginald Weir and Gerald Norman were denied entry into the National Indoors in New York City. Both paid their entry fees, but upon presenting themselves to play in the event, were denied the opportunity to participate. Formal complaints were filed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the following response was received from the USLTA: “….the policy of the USLTA has been to decline the entry of colored players in our championships… In pursuing this policy we make no reflection upon the colored race but we believe that as a practical matter, the present methods of separate associations should be continued.” Neither Weir nor Norman were permitted to play, but it was now clear that the cauldron was being stirred.


PART II
THE EMERGENCE OF A BLACK CHAMPION

Role models within black communities were also easy to find during the forty’s and fifty’s. Segregation prevented successful Blacks from moving into the white, suburban communities, so “inner-city” children resided alongside doctors, lawyers and other legitimate businesspeople. Bandleader Duke Ellington, lightweight boxing champion Beau Jack, New York Giants baseball player Hank Thompson and other world-class entertainers lived within one block of my family’s New York City apartment.

In 1940, Donald Budge, the finest white player in America, took it upon himself to go into Harlem, in New York City, to play an exhibition match at the Black owned Cosmopolitan Tennis Club. He played against the top black player of the day, Jimmy McDaniel. The fact that McDaniel lost the match handily is no more than a footnote to the significance of Budge's appearance. It was the first time that a black player was able to test his skills against a white player; to gauge his strokes, strategy and knowledge of the sport against the best in the world. A white player had taken a stand in support of equal opportunity. Players, you see, have never been the problem; it has always been the administration struggling to break with tradition.

In 1946, a crude, street-tough, 19 year-old named Althea Gibson attracted the attention of two physicians, Dr. Hubert Eaton and Dr. R. Walter Johnson. An arrogant teenager, Althea lost in the finals of the ATA Women’s National Championships but her strength and athletic prowess was undeniable. She won the junior national titles in 1944 & 1945 and now, in her first year playing in the adult division, immediately became a serious challenge to the best ATA women players. By 1949, more than 30 years after the formation of the ATA, Althea began to challenge the collective imagination of the Black tennis community. She was seen as one outstanding player who had the potential to break the color barrier. But, there were problems! Blacks understood that a flaw attributed to one colored athlete would be attributed to all people of color. And Althea had flaws! She had not graduated from high school and her social graces were severely lacking. To Althea, competition was WAR! A loss would see her head straight for the locker room; no handshake, no “nice-match”, no smiles or other generally accepted niceties typically associated with tennis. These “flaws” would need to be corrected lest those that would follow her be burdened with her baggage. In fact, it was generally believed that if her “flaws” weren’t repaired, no one would be allowed to follow her. At the urging of world boxing champion Sugar Ray Robinson, Althea moved to Wilmington, NC to live with Dr. Eaton and his family as she studied to secure a high school diploma. This proximity to Dr. Eaton would also provide an opportunity to instill the manners and perspective that she would need to succeed. Summers had been well spent in training at Dr. Johnson’s home in Lynchburg, VA. By this time, Althea had become the class-of-the-field. She began to raise national awareness when, as a high school sophomore, she won 9 ATA tournaments without a loss. The overall strategy worked and in 1949, at the age of 22, Althea received her high school diploma and her graduation ring (paid for by welter-weight champion of the world, Sugar Ray Robinson).

The recognition that she received would pressure the USLTA to accept her entries into the Eastern Indoors and the National Indoors in 1949. She reached the quarterfinals of both events and now hoped to play the grass court circuit that led up to the USLTA National Championships at Forest Hills, New York. (In the pre-U.S. Open era, the U.S. National Championships were held on grass courts not far from today’s National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows). But, the USLTA had not yet decided if it would allow this “colored” woman to be the first of her race to play in America’s most prestigious tournament.

Racial prejudice, to many people of color, is a very confusing experience. Many people wondered how Pancho Segura, a man of color from Guayaquil, Equador, stricken with Rickets during childhood, was so easily welcomed into this lily-white environment. He was considerably darker in color than Althea, yet his acceptance never questioned. His bout with rickets caused his legs to be severely bowed and he was quite pigeon-toed. In fact, Billy Talbert and Segura, ranked number one and three in America respectively, represented the USLTA in an exhibition in Harlem in 1945. Talbert disposed of Jimmy McDaniels 6-2, 6-1, while Pancho beat Lloyd Scott, 6-2, 6-2. Pancho thrilled the Cosmopolitan crowds with his two fisted (baseball-like) style. In spite of his infirmities, Pancho was quite a good player. His earliest success came as a student at the University of Miami, where he won the NCAA singles championships three times in a row (from 1943 to 1945), a feat not matched in the twentieth century. I mention this only as a point of interest because Althea held no animosity towards Pancho; or anyone else for that matter. His unconditional acceptance into the white, inner-circle, indeed his affiliation with the USLTA was, and remains, somewhat of a curiosity.

Now, a nearly two decades after Don Budge stood his ground and broke with tradition, one of America’s finest women players would stand up for Althea. Alice Marble, one of the finest white players in America would challenge the administration to allow her to compete. She wrote an impassioned letter to the American Lawn Tennis Magazine in 1950 that was primarily responsible for Althea’s ability to play in and win Wimbledon and the U.S. National Titles in 1957 & 58.

This letter, given the time, context and author eloquently exposed the prejudice more clearly as anything before or since.

The letter read:

“On my current lecture tours, the question I am most frequently expected to answer is no longer: What do you think of Gussie’s panties? For every individual who still cares whether Gussie Moran has lace on her drawers, there are three who want to know if Althea Gibson will be permitted to play in the Nationals this year. Not being privy to the sentiments of the USLTA committee, I couldn’t answer their questions, but I came back to New York determined to find out. When I directed the question at a committee member of long standing, his answer, tacitly given, was in the negative. Unless something within the realm of the supernatural occurs, Miss Gibson will not be permitted to play in the Nationals.

He said nothing of the sort, of course. The attitude of the committee will be that Miss Gibson has not sufficiently proven herself. True enough, she was a finalist in the National Indoors, the gentleman admitted – but didn’t I think the field was awfully poor? I did not. It is my opinion that Miss Gibson performed beautifully under the circumstances. Considering how little play she has had in top competition, her win over a seasoned veteran like Midge Buck seems to me a real triumph. Nevertheless the committee, according to this member, insists that in order to qualify for the Nationals, Miss Gibson must also make a strong showing in the major eastern tournaments to be played between now and the date set for the big do at Forest Hills. Most of these major tournaments – Orange, East Hampton, Essex, etc, - are invitational, of course. If she is not invited to participate in them, as my committee member freely predicted, then she obviously will not be able to prove anything at all, and it will be the reluctant duty of the committee to reject her entry at Forest Hills. Miss Gibson is over a very cunningly wrought barrel, and I can only hope to loosen a few of its staves with one lone opinion.

I think it’s time we faced a few facts. If tennis is a game for ladies and gentlemen, it’s also time we acted a little more like gentle people and less like sanctimonious hypocrites. If there is anything left in the name of sportsmanship, it’s more than time f\to display what it means to us. If Althea Gibson represents a challenge to the present crop of women players, it’s only fair that they should meet that challenge on the courts, where tennis is played. I know those girls, and I can’t think of one who would refuse to meet Miss Gibson in competition. She might be soundly beaten for a while – but she has a much better chance on the courts than in the inner sanctum of the committee, where a different kind of game is played.” In closing, Miss Marble wrote: “I am beating no drums for Miss Gibson as a player of outstanding quality. As I said, I have seen her only in the National Indoors, where she obviously did play her best and was still able to display some lovely shots. To me, she is a fellow tennis player and, as such, deserving of the chance I had to prove myself. I’ve never met Miss Gibson but, to me, she is a fellow human being to whom equal privileges ought to be extended. Speaking for myself, I will be glad to help Althea Gibson in any way I can. If I can improve her game or merely give her the benefit of my own experiences, as I have many other young players, I’ll do that. If I can give her an iota more of confidence by rooting my heart out from the gallery, she can take my ford for it: I’ll be there.”

This impassioned letter was singularly responsible for Althea’s acceptance into several qualifying tournaments and for her admittance into the 1950 U.S Nationals. Althea easily won her first round match and lost in the second round of the Nationals to Louise Brough, a three- time Wimbledon Champion and the 1947 United States Champion. The 9-7 third set loss to Brough put everyone on notice that a serious, new contender had arrived. Althea had broken the color barrier! She went on to win the French Open singles and doubles and the Wimbledon doubles titles in 1956. She became the undisputed best player in the world by winning Wimbledon and the U.S National singles titles in 1957 and 1958. Althea retired to pursue a career in professional golf and as an entertainer, but before leaving this page I want to say to Althea Gibson (whom I have known, admired, played tennis with and whom I have called a friend since I was a kid) “Althea, you did us proud!”




Althea was also a celebrity of world-class proportions in her adopted hometown of New York City. She became a product spokesperson for the Ward Baking Company and (At left) was greeted on the steps of City Hall by Mayor Robert Wagner. Like Jackie Robinson before her, Althea had finally become “somebody.” She won Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 1957 and 1958 – something that no Black woman has ever done before….or since.











PART III

THE THIRD GENERATION


At the end of Althea’s career, Dr. Johnson realized that his dream of helping to produce a world champion was successful. But, he had something else up his sleeve… For the past several years, he had been grooming other talented youngsters at his home in Lynchburg, Virginia. Each summer, a group of the most talented minority youth from across the country would gather at his home to train and play tournaments. I was selected as the northeastern candidate and this is how I met the next world champion, Arthur Ashe. We were a talented group but it soon became clear that Arthur was something special. He was a quiet, determined youngster and was developing a formidable tennis game. In Dr. Johnson’s opinion, Arthur was perfect to lead the charge because he was unflappable. Insults, flagrant cheating and verbal abuse would roll off of Arthur’s back without effect. The mission was clear; win quietly and respond to nothing but the tennis ball. It was further made clear that any of us that reacted to the bad calls; any of us that argued; any of us that responded to the verbal slurs or challenged the fairness of the situation, would be sent home immediately. Although none of us were sent home for violations of these rules, those of us from the big, northern cities had to bite our tongues. Arthur, on the other had was born and raised in the segregated south. His father was the public park attendant at the tennis courts across the street from his home and he couldn’t play on those courts because he was black. He seemed to understand that he was destined for greatness and that his icy-cool demeanor was a key to success. We were made to understand that an outburst by one of us, would be seen as a negative characteristic of the entire group. Tournament directors would be able to say, “See, I knew they’d act that way if we let them into the tournament!” There were many youngsters placed in that situation over the years, but, none of us ever allowed those words to be uttered.

After civil rights legislation was enacted in 1964, history would show that the black elite moved to exclusive, suburban communities. Some people believe that this suburban exodus was the beginning of the decline in the growth of black tennis as well as a slowing of the positive growth in the black community. Others believe that the ability to live beside and emulate positive role models, along with the forced creation of a homogeneous community, were positive aspects of segregation. Black businessmen, both legitimate and otherwise, were guaranteed to be successful - as a direct result of segregation. Any Black that opened a grocery store, produce stand or repair store was certain to capture the business of the local constituency, because those customers were not permitted to patronize white-owned stores. This environment provided fertile ground for entrepreneurs; legitimate businessmen and hustlers alike.

It is into this era that Arthur Ashe emerged as a standout tennis player. In some ways, Arthur was a most unlikely role model and world champion. He was slender, almost frail looking. He was mild-mannered; always appearing to be passive, unemotional and reserved. Did he possess the strength, focus and determination to overcome the alienation of segregation, along with the rejection and degradation that was sure to be in his future? Wouldn’t someone from the north - someone with a more aggressive personality - someone who would defy the system have a better chance to overcome the odds? History would show that Arthur was the perfect candidate. He was simply better than the rest of us. He was a likeable young man and if you were not a hard-core racist, you would find Arthur friendly, personable and non-confrontational. Even in his memoirs, “Days of Grace”, one can sense his absence of anger. Concerning his inability to play tournament tennis in his hometown of Richmond, Virginia, Arthur said: “I remember the kindly white tennis official, Sam Woods, who would not allow me to play in municipal tournaments in Richmond, and all the other not-so-kindly officials who barred my way so that I finally played in only one official tennis tournament while I was a junior in Virginia.”

His success as a Davis Cup player and his U.S. Open and Wimbledon titles are legendary. But, his recognition at tennis became the tool that he would use to challenge society to end the racial injustice that plagued the planet. He made several trips to South Africa (against the wishes of many Black leaders in America) to pressure the government to end apartheid. He marched on Washington in support of the fair treatment of Haitian refugees. His life was dedicated to the elevation of his people. He focused a great deal of his attention on education. He encouraged youngsters to become doctors and lawyers. He wanted youngsters to attend and graduate from college instead of putting all of their energy into athletics. He realized that less than 1% of varsity athletes ever signed a professional sports contract. At the same time, he made many attempts to create a system that produced a pipeline of young black players that could use tennis as a vehicle to take them to college. One such program was a collaboration with Nick Bollettieri. The Ashe-Bollettieri “Cities” Tennis Program (ABC) taught tennis to more than 10,000 children. The program attempted to impress upon them the value of preventive health education and the importance of staying in school. Hundreds from this program (which later became the Arthur Ashe Safe Passage Foundation) went on to college on either academic or athletic scholarships. It was one of the programs that made Arthur most proud. Before Arthur died, he got a glimpse of Venus and Serena Williams, two young girls that would, for a short time, take over the reins of leadership after his voice was silenced. But, Arthur would not live to see the emergence of James Blake. James possessed many qualities that would enamor him to the tennis community at large. He is handsome, articulate and Harvard University educated. More importantly, he is thoughtful, non-confrontational and non-threatening. James, if he is so inclined, will be the heir-apparent to Arthur’s throne; the voice of Black tennis. Because, you see, like Arthur, the voice of James Blake is the only one that is likely to resonate with the powers that be.


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Black History Month: Dr. John A. Watson And The Virginia State Senate Resolution That Celebrates His Life


Dr. John A. Watson
As the varsity tennis coach at Virginia Union University for 43 years, John Watson had many accomplishments, but his greatest contributions may have been what he did in his time off: teaching tennis to African-American kids on the Brook Field courts and becoming young Arthur Ashe’s practice partner.

“I probably saved a whole lot of people from going to jail,” he told the Richmond Times-Dispatch in 1999. “Just by putting a tennis racket in their hands and giving them some sneakers or clothes to wear so they could play, telling them this is your entry to a different life.” Watson, who died in 2006, maintained a close friendship with Ashe, acting as one of his loudest local supporters in Ashe’s final years battling AIDS.

“I’ll tell you about Arthur Ashe,” he recalled to The New York Times in 1992. “When I first remember him he was so eager to succeed that he would get out of bed every morning at 5 o’clock, winter and summer, rain and shine, and before breakfast he would hit 1,000 tennis balls. One thousand. Think about that.”  (Full article)



SENATE JOINT RESOLUTION NO. 292


Celebrating the life of John Andrew Watson, Jr. Agreed to by the Senate, March 9, 2006 Agreed to by the House of Delegates, March 10, 2006

WHEREAS, John Andrew Watson, Jr., was born in Greenville, South Carolina, lived a rich and

distinguished life, and full of years at age 85, entered into eternal rest on February 17, 2006; and

WHEREAS, at the age of two, his family left Greenville to settle in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where John Andrew Watson, Jr., was reared with his three brothers and two sisters; and

WHEREAS, John Andrew Watson, Jr., was educated in the Bethlehem Public Schools, and attended Howard University until he interrupted his studies to serve in the United States Army during World War II from 1943 to 1946, and was present when General George Patton's forces liberated Paris; and

WHEREAS, after the war, John Andrew Watson, Jr., returned to Howard University, where he

earned a bachelor's degree in Romance Languages, and the desire for higher education compelled him to return to France, where he earned the Certificate of Graduate Studies, the equivalent of a master's degree, in Romance Languages from the University of Paris; and

WHEREAS, John Andrew Watson, Jr., joined the faculty at Virginia Union University in 1948 as an associate professor of Spanish and French, and, for 10 years, he concurrently taught Spanish at Virginia State University; and

WHEREAS, while teaching at Virginia Union University and Virginia State University, John Andrew Watson, Jr., earned a doctorate in Spanish at Catholic University; and

WHEREAS, with impeccable and impressive teaching credentials, John Andrew Watson, Jr., served as a member of the faculty at Howard University and as chairman of his department at Virginia State University for more than 30 years, and also held the position of professor and chairman of the Department of Foreign Languages at Virginia Union University, where he served for more than 57 years until his death; and

WHEREAS, John Andrew Watson, Jr., was noted for two speeches, and for 58 years he drilled the first speech into his students in the Department of Foreign Languages at Virginia Union University, in which he stated that "the mind learns how to learn when it learns a second language, and if you do not learn a foreign language before you leave college, you have left something behind"; and

WHEREAS, while at Virginia Union University, he discovered a new passion––tennis––which he taught himself to play well enough to become the University's tennis coach in 1959; and

WHEREAS, John Andrew Watson, Jr., coached tennis at Virginia Union University for 43 years, and from 1959 to 1987, his team never had a losing season; and

WHEREAS, John Andrew Watson, Jr., delivered his second speech for 46 years each June to tennis players packed into the bleachers at Battery Park before the opening of the Southeastern Open Tennis Tournament, which he had directed since its inception, lecturing and demanding "the highest level of sportsmanship, no bad language, no throwing down your racquet in disgust, and no temper tantrums"; and

WHEREAS, John Andrew Watson, Jr., demanded that his team and tennis students be sportsmen and more than just tennis players; he had the reputation of stopping grown men during matches and pulling

players off the court for less than good sportsmanship conduct; and

WHEREAS, John Andrew Watson, Jr., equally well educated in the finer aspects of tennis, achieved a Virginia District #6 ranking, held rankings within the top three senior divisions of the American Tennis Association (ATA), and was a finalist in the senior division of the ATA Championships in Boston; and

WHEREAS, while playing tennis at the old Brook Field courts, the only place in Richmond at one time available to African American athletes, he met nine-year-old Arthur Robert Ashe, Jr., assumed the youth's tennis instruction from his previous coach, and helped the future champion to hone his early court skills; and

WHEREAS, John Andrew Watson, Jr., coached Arthur Ashe, was his constant practice partner until Arthur Ashe's departure from Richmond at age 15 to train with Dr. Walter Johnson (who also coached Althea Gibson), and is credited with turning Arthur Ashe into one of the world's greatest tennis players; and

WHEREAS, Richmond native Arthur Ashe won 51 titles during his tennis career, became the first African American player named to the United States Davis Cup team, the first African American to win the United States Open, and the first and only African American man to win Wimbledon; and earned respect and a reputation for impeccable sportsmanship, a quality he undoubtedly learned under the tutelage of John Andrew Watson, Jr.; and

WHEREAS, John Andrew Watson, Jr., also made a name for himself in local tennis competitions;

was among the first four African Americans to play in the Davenport City Tennis Championship when it moved to Byrd Park in 1967; served as the longtime president of the Richmond Racquet Club and first vice president of the American Tennis Association, the oldest African American sports organization in the United States; and was inducted into the Mid Atlantic Tennis Hall of Fame in 1992; and

WHEREAS, he was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., and was actively involved in

community service, volunteering for many years as a tennis coach for the Richmond Department of Recreation and Parks; and

WHEREAS, John Andrew Watson, Jr., believed that tennis was a sport for a lifetime, and through the game he touched the lives of many young people, saving many from a path of destruction by introducing them to tennis, a portal to a different life, and secured hundreds of scholarships for them during his tenure as director of the Southeastern Tennis Tournament; and

WHEREAS, he derived great personal satisfaction from knowing that so many children and youths of diverse backgrounds had benefited from his instruction and encouragement, and had developed into productive and successful citizens; and

WHEREAS, the lives of many have been enriched through the life of John Andrew Watson, Jr., and his family, friends, students, and colleagues and the people of Virginia mourn his loss, but will cherish his memory and legacy; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED by the Senate, the House of Delegates concurring, That the General Assembly hereby note with great sadness the loss of John Andrew Watson, Jr.; and, be it

RESOLVED FURTHER, That the Clerk of the Senate prepare a copy of this resolution for presentation to the family of John Andrew Watson, Jr., adopted son and distinguished educator and tennis coach, as an expression of the General Assembly's respect for his memory and gratitude for his service and contributions to the children and youth of this Commonwealth.





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TWITTER FILES: A Definite Must See! "Althea And Arthur" Documentary On CBS Sports Network Monday, February 18th

Tuesday, February 12, 2019


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Richmond, VA City Council Votes To Rename The "Boulevard" After Hometown Legend Arthur Ashe

Monday, February 11, 2019

The Boulevard in Richmond, VA shall now accompany the Monument Avenue statue in honor of legendary Richmond native Arthur Ashe.

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - City Council has voted to in favor of renaming the Boulevard after tennis great Arthur Ashe.

City Council voted eight in favor with one abstaining Monday on the proposal that was suggested last summer by the Scott’s Addition Boulevard Association.

“The name Arthur Ashe brings pride,” Ashe’s nephew, David Harris, said last year. “Things he did to create diversity and advance people regardless of their race, gender and educational background. If I could get your support, that would be great.”

Over the years, businesses hadn’t been in favor of a change, fearing confusion and the cost of changing signs, menus, stationery and websites.

Ashe won three Grand Slam titles and was the first black player selected to the U.S. Davis Cup team.


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BLACK TENNIS HISTORY: The Black Tennis Hall Of Fame

Tuesday, February 5, 2019


Mission Statement

The Black Tennis Hall of Fame is a non-profit, privately funded organization dedicated to preserving the history of African American tennis and honoring those who made exemplary contributions to the sport, with special consideration extended to those who overcame racial barriers.


Dr. Dale G. Caldwell, Founder

The Black Tennis Hall of Fame (BTHOF) was founded by
Dr. Dale G. Caldwell. He is the Founder and CEO of Strategic Influence, LLC and the creator of the “Intelligent Influence” framework for individual and organizational success. Dr. Caldwell graduated from Princeton University with a degree in Economics; received an MBA in Finance from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania; and, earned an Ed.D. in Education Administration from Seton Hall University. He has served on the Board of Directors of the United States Tennis Association (USTA), and as the USTA’s liaison to the American Tennis Association (ATA). He is a visionary that is determined to help the ATA return to its former status and to generate renewed interest in tennis in urban communities across America and elsewhere.

The BTHOF honors individuals who have broken through the barriers of race and class to achieve success in the wonderful sport of tennis.
 

Robert Davis, Executive Director
Tennis has become the world’s second most popular sport largely because of the geographic, cultural, stylistic and racial diversity of its professionals. The sport has developed passionate fans of different backgrounds because of this diversity. Unfortunately, diversity was not always encouraged by the sport’s leadership. Most people are familiar with the tennis and life successes of Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe. However, because of racial discrimination in tennis and America, few people know the incredible story of the many talented players who were not allowed to compete in major tennis tournaments because of their race.

 For over fifty years prior to Gibson’s victories, blacks had been competing in club and regional tournaments. Banned from entering segregated events, African American tennis enthusiasts in 1916 formed their own organization, the ATA, to provide blacks with the opportunity to play competitive tennis on a national level. Their struggle to gain equal access to tennis paralleled the struggle of all blacks to gain equal access to American society.

Presiding over the BTHOF is one of its own inductees, Mr. Robert Davis. If not for Davis, much of the early history of blacks in tennis (Black Tennis History) might have been lost. He has been relentless is preserving the history and the photos of the men and women who played the sport ... and fought for that right. And maybe the BTHOF might not be where it is today if not for the nurturing by Davis, who now serves as executive director. In this capacity, he has managed the day-to-day operations of this organization dedicated to recording and promoting tennis history. However, Davis could certainly play the game. He was a two-time ATA national champion and winner of numerous other titles. But it is what he has done in the background that has made the biggest impact. In more than 40 years dealing in the business end of the sport, Davis has a long history of working with children to provide guidance and opportunity in the game of tennis. He helped create, and served as National Program Director for the Ashe/Bollettieri “Cities” Tennis Program. A driving force of the program, and what later became known as the Arthur Ashe Safe Passage Foundation, Davis was instrumental in introducing more than 20,000 inner city children to tennis.

The Black Tennis Hall of Fame (BTHOF) was founded to honor the achievements of those individuals who achieved success in tennis and life in spite of the many barriers that they faced, as well as those who helped them achieve those successes. We honor these individuals by permanently inducting them into the Black Tennis Hall of Fame.


Source(s)

Black Tennis History
The Herald Tribune

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BLACK TENNIS HISTORY: The American Tennis Association (ATA)

Friday, February 1, 2019

Dr. Walter R. (Whirlwind) Johnson
Coach of Althea Gibson, Arthur Ashe and many others.
Tennis has its origins in the medieval era, but the modern form of lawn tennis was patented in 1874 by Walter C. Wingfield in Great Britain. The first Wimbledon tournament was played in 1877. The first tennis court in the U.S. was built in 1876, and the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association was formed in 1881. International competition began in 1900 with the first Davis Cup tournament between the U.S. and Great Britain.

African-American universities, including Tuskegee and Howard, offered tennis to students from the 1890s. Beginning in 1898 at Philadelphia’s Chautauqua Tennis Club, African-American tennis players from the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast competed in invitational tournaments. When the USLTA issued a policy statement formally barring African-American tennis players from its competitions, the Association Tennis Club of Washington, DC, and the Monumental Tennis Club of Baltimore, Maryland, conceived the idea of the American Tennis Association (ATA).

Tally Holmes
First ATA Singles Champion,1917
The ATA was born when representatives from more than a dozen black tennis clubs met in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 30, 1916, Thanksgiving Day. Dr. Harry S. McCard, Dr. William H. Wright, Dr. B.M. Rhetta, Ralph Cook, Henry Freeman, and Tally Holmes were among the ATA’s founding fathers. Holmes, of Washington, D.C., won the first two ATA men’s singles titles.

In August 1917, the organization held its first ATA National Championships, consisting of three events (men’s and women’s singles and men’s doubles), at Baltimore’s Druid Hill Park in August 1917.

Knowing that large groups of blacks would not be accommodated at most hotels, especially in the south, the early ATA National Championships were held at various Historically Black Colleges and Universities, including Hampton Institute (now Hampton University), Morehouse College, Central State and Lincoln University. These black campuses provided tennis courts and sufficient housing space. The college administrators were delighted to have so many prosperous and potential donors, affiliated with their campuses. The ATA national soon became one of the most anticipated social events of the year in the black community. Formal dances, fashion shows and other activities were planned during the week of play.

The wall of segregation in tennis began to crumble when white player, Don Budge, who became the first American to win the “grand slam” of tennis (French Open, Wimbledon, U.S. Open, and Australian Open) in 1938, competed at the ATA-affiliated Cosmopolitan Tennis Club in New York City on July 29, 1940. Budge played and won a singles match against Jimmy McDaniel, the ATA champion. He then paired in doubles with Dr. Weir against McDaniel and Richard Cohen. Weir again made history in 1948 when he competed in New York at the U.S. Indoor Lawn Tennis Championship.

Dr. Reginald Weir
First Black Man to compete in National USLTA Event
The USLTA color line was finally broken with prodding from within the association by Alice Marble and Edward Niles and from outside by the ATA. Dr. Robert Walter Johnson, Dr. Hubert Eaton and Bertram Baker were among the ATA officials were the key force behind negotiations that in 1950 led to the United States Lawn Tennis Association’s acceptance of Althea Gibson’s application to become the first Black to ever compete in the U.S. National Championship at Forest Hills.

During her first match a bolt of lightning struck and knocked a concrete eagle off the top of the stadium. Gibson thought, “It may have been an omen that times were changing.” Two years later, Reginald Weir and George Stewart would be the first African-American men to play at the U.S. Open at Forest Lawn, on August 29, 1952.

Between 1956 and 1958, Althea Gibson was the world’s dominant woman player. She won on clay at the French Open in 1956, as well as the All-England Lawn Tennis Women’s Single’s championship in 1957 and 1958 and the U.S. Open in both 1957 and 1958. She was also a finalist in the 1957 Australian Open.

Henry Freeman (L), Tally Holmes (R)
In subsequent years, Mr. Baker, ATA Executive Secretary from 1936 – 1966, hammered out an arrangement that enabled ATA champions to obtain a wild card entry into the prestigious event.
Dr. Walter Johnson was credited with founding the first formalized ATA Junior Development program designed to train talented young African American players at his home in Lynchburg, VA. Each summer, a group of the most talented minority youth from across the country would gather at his home to train and play tournaments. One of those outstanding players was Arthur Ashe. Dr. Johnson immediately recognized Ashe as the next equivalent to Althea Gibson. Ashe’s quiet and cool demeanor allowed him to stay focused on the game and not be distracted by insults, bad calls, cheating and verbal abuse.

​Ashe’s success as a Davis Cup player and his U.S. Open and Wimbledon titles are legendary. But, his recognition at tennis became the tool that he would use to challenge society to end the racial injustice that plagued the planet. He made several trips to South Africa (against the wishes of many Black leaders in America) to pressure the government to end apartheid. He marched on Washington in support of the fair treatment of Haitian refugees. His life was dedicated to the elevation of his people. He focused a great deal of his attention on education. He encouraged youngsters to become doctors and lawyers. He wanted youngsters to attend and graduate from college instead of putting all of their energy into athletics.

The ATA has produced several of the world’s top players and coaches. Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe, the first African Americans to be ranked No. 1 and to win Grand Slam titles, were sponsored and groomed by ATA officials and coaches.

Most African American professional tennis players were trained by ATA Clubs and played ATA Tournaments before turning pro. The list includes such greats as Zina Garrison, Leslie Allen, Lori McNeil, Chandra Rubin, Katrina Adams, and Mali Vai Washington to name of few.


Today the ATA continues its rich history of developing young tennis players and providing ATA members with the opportunity to compete in our National Championships. Plans are underway to develop a permanent home for the ATA that will serve as a National Training Facility and will house the ATA Tennis Hall of Fame.

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HAMPTONS MAGAZINE COVER: Venus and Serena Discuss Their "Sister Act"

Friday, August 19, 2011


When your sister is one of the greatest tennis players of all time, it can be difficult to get together with her for a little family time. When both you and your sister are world-caliber tennis stars—Olympic gold medalists and past US Open champions—it is nearly impossible. But when Venus, 31, and Serena, 29, find that time, it is filled with silliness and laughter, an easy, familial banter as quick as their on-court volleys. As the US Open approaches, both women are keen to hoist another trophy at center court in Arthur Ashe Stadium while at the same time laying the groundwork for their post-tennis careers, including college degrees, charity initiatives, an interior design company, fashion collections and the rightful ownership of a little dog named Harold—or is that Jerry? 

Read full article at Hamptons Magazine








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Blake and Safina Highlight Sony Ericsson Open Wildcards

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Black Tennis Pro's James Blake 2010 Sony Ericsson OpenMIAMI, Fla. (www.sonyericssonopen.com) – The 2011 Sony Ericsson Open announced its wildcard entries and this year it features former World No. 4 James Blake and former World No. 1 Dinara Safina. A total of five wildcard slots were granted to the men’s draw and also include Jack Sock, Ryan Harrison, Milos Raonic, and Bernard Tomic. While six were given on the women’s side which feature Heather Watson, Sorana Cirstea, Sabine Lisicki, Madison Keys, and Coco Vandeweghe.

Women’s main draw begins on Tuesday, March 22, while the men’s main draw kicks off the following day on Wednesday, March 23. The qualifying rounds will be held Monday and Tuesday, March 21 and 22.

Tickets to the 2011 Sony Ericsson Open are on sale now and can be purchased by phone (305-442-3367) or via internet at www.sonyericssonopen.com. An electrifying two weeks of tennis conclude with the women’s final on Saturday, April 2 and the men’s final on Sunday, April 3.

Blake will make his return to Miami, hoping to improve on his career-best quarterfinal showings in 2006 and 2008. Safina made her last appearance on the purple courts in 2009 as the No. 2 seeded player advancing to the third round. She recorded her career-best finish in 2008 when she advanced to the quarterfinals.

Blake, always a fan favorite, earned his first ATP win in 2002 becoming the fourth African American to win an ATP title in the Open Era. In 2005, Blake grabbed the national spotlight at the U.S. Open when he played a thrilling five-set match in the quarter finals against his idol, Andre Agassi. From there, Blake’s career blossomed tremendously as he reached his career-high of No. 4 in the world in 2006 becoming the first African American to crack the top-10 since his role model, Arthur Ashe.

Safina made her professional debut in 2002. The Russian star recorded a breakout season in 2008 winning a career-best four singles titles. In 2008, she was awarded the WTA Most Improved Player, and was the first player in history to defeat three reigning World No. 1s in the same season (Justine Henin, Maria Sharapova, and Jelena Jankovic). Safina reached a career-high rank of No. 1 in the world in 2009, and joined her brother Marat Safin as the first brother-sister combo to both achieve World No. 1 rankings.

In addition to Blake and Safina the tournament wildcards include many of the Tour’s next generation of tennis stars.

Men’s Main Draw Wildcards
James Blake
Jack Sock
Ryan Harrison
Milos Raonic
Bernard Tomic

Men’s Qualifying Wildcards
Gastao Elias
Filip Krajinovic

Women’s Main Draw Wildcards
Dinara Safina
Heather Watson
Madison Keys
Sabine Lisicki
Coco Vandeweghe
Sorana Cirstea

Women’s Qualifying Draw Wildcards
Michelle Larcher de Brito
Lauren Davis
Carina Witthoeft
Aleksandra Wozniak
Beatrice Capra
Sloane Stevens



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Black History Month: Dr. John A. Watson, Arthur Ashe Childhood Coach, Life Celebrated With Virginia Senate Resolution

Sunday, February 28, 2010

SENATE JOINT RESOLUTION NO. 292


Celebrating the life of John Andrew Watson, Jr. Agreed to by the Senate, March 9, 2006 Agreed to by the House of Delegates, March 10, 2006


Black Tennis Pro's Dr. John A. Watson, Childhood Arthur Ashe Tennis Coach Life Celebrated With Virginia Senate ResolutionWHEREAS, John Andrew Watson, Jr., was born in Greenville, South Carolina, lived a rich and
distinguished life, and full of years at age 85, entered into eternal rest on February 17, 2006; and
WHEREAS, at the age of two, his family left Greenville to settle in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where John Andrew Watson, Jr., was reared with his three brothers and two sisters; and
WHEREAS, John Andrew Watson, Jr., was educated in the Bethlehem Public Schools, and attended Howard University until he interrupted his studies to serve in the United States Army during World War II from 1943 to 1946, and was present when General George Patton's forces liberated Paris; and
WHEREAS, after the war, John Andrew Watson, Jr., returned to Howard University, where he
earned a bachelor's degree in Romance Languages, and the desire for higher education compelled him to return to France, where he earned the Certificate of Graduate Studies, the equivalent of a master's degree, in Romance Languages from the University of Paris; and
WHEREAS, John Andrew Watson, Jr., joined the faculty at Virginia Union University in 1948 as an associate professor of Spanish and French, and, for 10 years, he concurrently taught Spanish at Virginia State University; and
WHEREAS, while teaching at Virginia Union University and Virginia State University, John Andrew Watson, Jr., earned a doctorate in Spanish at Catholic University; and
WHEREAS, with impeccable and impressive teaching credentials, John Andrew Watson, Jr., served as a member of the faculty at Howard University and as chairman of his department at Virginia State University for more than 30 years, and also held the position of professor and chairman of the Department of Foreign Languages at Virginia Union University, where he served for more than 57 years until his death; and
WHEREAS, John Andrew Watson, Jr., was noted for two speeches, and for 58 years he drilled the first speech into his students in the Department of Foreign Languages at Virginia Union University, in which he stated that "the mind learns how to learn when it learns a second language, and if you do not learn a foreign language before you leave college, you have left something behind"; and
WHEREAS, while at Virginia Union University, he discovered a new passion––tennis––which he taught himself to play well enough to become the University's tennis coach in 1959; and
WHEREAS, John Andrew Watson, Jr., coached tennis at Virginia Union University for 43 years, and from 1959 to 1987, his team never had a losing season; and
WHEREAS, John Andrew Watson, Jr., delivered his second speech for 46 years each June to tennis players packed into the bleachers at Battery Park before the opening of the Southeastern Open Tennis Tournament, which he had directed since its inception, lecturing and demanding "the highest level of sportsmanship, no bad language, no throwing down your racquet in disgust, and no temper tantrums"; and
WHEREAS, John Andrew Watson, Jr., demanded that his team and tennis students be sportsmen and more than just tennis players; he had the reputation of stopping grown men during matches and pulling
players off the court for less than good sportsmanship conduct; and
WHEREAS, John Andrew Watson, Jr., equally well educated in the finer aspects of tennis, achieved a Virginia District #6 ranking, held rankings within the top three senior divisions of the American Tennis Association (ATA), and was a finalist in the senior division of the ATA Championships in Boston; and
WHEREAS, while playing tennis at the old Brook Field courts, the only place in Richmond at one time available to African American athletes, he met nine-year-old Arthur Robert Ashe, Jr., assumed the youth's tennis instruction from his previous coach, and helped the future champion to hone his early court skills; and
WHEREAS, John Andrew Watson, Jr., coached Arthur Ashe, was his constant practice partner until Arthur Ashe's departure from Richmond at age 15 to train with Dr. Walter Johnson (who also coached Althea Gibson), and is credited with turning Arthur Ashe into one of the world's greatest tennis players; and
WHEREAS, Richmond native Arthur Ashe won 51 titles during his tennis career, became the first African American player named to the United States Davis Cup team, the first African American to win the United States Open, and the first and only African American man to win Wimbledon; and earned respect and a reputation for impeccable sportsmanship, a quality he undoubtedly learned under the tutelage of John Andrew Watson, Jr.; and
WHEREAS, John Andrew Watson, Jr., also made a name for himself in local tennis competitions;
was among the first four African Americans to play in the Davenport City Tennis Championship when it moved to Byrd Park in 1967; served as the longtime president of the Richmond Racquet Club and first vice president of the American Tennis Association, the oldest African American sports organization in the United States; and was inducted into the Mid Atlantic Tennis Hall of Fame in 1992; and
WHEREAS, he was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., and was actively involved in
community service, volunteering for many years as a tennis coach for the Richmond Department of Recreation and Parks; and
WHEREAS, John Andrew Watson, Jr., believed that tennis was a sport for a lifetime, and through the game he touched the lives of many young people, saving many from a path of destruction by introducing them to tennis, a portal to a different life, and secured hundreds of scholarships for them during his tenure as director of the Southeastern Tennis Tournament; and
WHEREAS, he derived great personal satisfaction from knowing that so many children and youths of diverse backgrounds had benefited from his instruction and encouragement, and had developed into productive and successful citizens; and
WHEREAS, the lives of many have been enriched through the life of John Andrew Watson, Jr., and his family, friends, students, and colleagues and the people of Virginia mourn his loss, but will cherish his memory and legacy; now, therefore, be it
RESOLVED by the Senate, the House of Delegates concurring, That the General Assembly hereby note with great sadness the loss of John Andrew Watson, Jr.; and, be it
RESOLVED FURTHER, That the Clerk of the Senate prepare a copy of this resolution for presentation to the family of John Andrew Watson, Jr., adopted son and distinguished educator and tennis coach, as an expression of the General Assembly's respect for his memory and gratitude for his service and contributions to the children and youth of this Commonwealth.


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Black History Month: Minority Tennis - A Historical Perspective, Part III

Friday, February 26, 2010

Part I - The Beginning
Part II The Emergence Of A Black Champion



PART III

THE THIRD GENERATION


At the end of Althea’s career, Dr. Johnson realized that his dream of helping to produce a world champion was successful. But, he had something else up his sleeve… For the past several years, he had been grooming other talented youngsters at his home in Lynchburg, Virginia. Each summer, a group of the most talented minority youth from across the country would gather at his home to train and play tournaments. I was selected as the northeastern candidate and this is how I met the next world champion, Arthur Ashe. We were a talented group but it soon became clear that Arthur was something special. He was a quiet, determined youngster and was developing a formidable tennis game. In Dr. Johnson’s opinion, Arthur was perfect to lead the charge because he was unflappable. Insults, flagrant cheating and verbal abuse would roll off of Arthur’s back without effect. The mission was clear; win quietly and respond to nothing but the tennis ball. It was further made clear that any of us that reacted to the bad calls; any of us that argued; any of us that responded to the verbal slurs or challenged the fairness of the situation, would be sent home immediately. Although none of us were sent home for violations of these rules, those of us from the big, northern cities had to bite our tongues. Arthur, on the other had was born and raised in the segregated south. His father was the public park attendant at the tennis courts across the street from his home and he couldn’t play on those courts because he was black. He seemed to understand that he was destined for greatness and that his icy-cool demeanor was a key to success. We were made to understand that an outburst by one of us, would be seen as a negative characteristic of the entire group. Tournament directors would be able to say, “See, I knew they’d act that way if we let them into the tournament!” There were many youngsters placed in that situation over the years, but, none of us ever allowed those words to be uttered.

After civil rights legislation was enacted in 1964, history would show that the black elite moved to exclusive, suburban communities. Some people believe that this suburban exodus was the beginning of the decline in the growth of black tennis as well as a slowing of the positive growth in the black community. Others believe that the ability to live beside and emulate positive role models, along with the forced creation of a homogeneous community, were positive aspects of segregation. Black businessmen, both legitimate and otherwise, were guaranteed to be successful - as a direct result of segregation. Any Black that opened a grocery store, produce stand or repair store was certain to capture the business of the local constituency, because those customers were not permitted to patronize white-owned stores. This environment provided fertile ground for entrepreneurs; legitimate businessmen and hustlers alike.

It is into this era that Arthur Ashe emerged as a standout tennis player. In some ways, Arthur was a most unlikely role model and world champion. He was slender, almost frail looking. He was mild-mannered; always appearing to be passive, unemotional and reserved. Did he possess the strength, focus and determination to overcome the alienation of segregation, along with the rejection and degradation that was sure to be in his future? Wouldn’t someone from the north - someone with a more aggressive personality - someone who would defy the system have a better chance to overcome the odds? History would show that Arthur was the perfect candidate. He was simply better than the rest of us. He was a likeable young man and if you were not a hard-core racist, you would find Arthur friendly, personable and non-confrontational. Even in his memoirs, “Days of Grace”, one can sense his absence of anger. Concerning his inability to play tournament tennis in his hometown of Richmond, Virginia, Arthur said: “I remember the kindly white tennis official, Sam Woods, who would not allow me to play in municipal tournaments in Richmond, and all the other not-so-kindly officials who barred my way so that I finally played in only one official tennis tournament while I was a junior in Virginia.”

His success as a Davis Cup player and his U.S. Open and Wimbledon titles are legendary. But, his recognition at tennis became the tool that he would use to challenge society to end the racial injustice that plagued the planet. He made several trips to South Africa (against the wishes of many Black leaders in America) to pressure the government to end apartheid. He marched on Washington in support of the fair treatment of Haitian refugees. His life was dedicated to the elevation of his people. He focused a great deal of his attention on education. He encouraged youngsters to become doctors and lawyers. He wanted youngsters to attend and graduate from college instead of putting all of their energy into athletics. He realized that less than 1% of varsity athletes ever signed a professional sports contract. At the same time, he made many attempts to create a system that produced a pipeline of young black players that could use tennis as a vehicle to take them to college. One such program was a collaboration with Nick Bollettieri. The Ashe-Bollettieri “Cities” Tennis Program (ABC) taught tennis to more than 10,000 children. The program attempted to impress upon them the value of preventive health education and the importance of staying in school. Hundreds from this program (which later became the Arthur Ashe Safe Passage Foundation) went on to college on either academic or athletic scholarships. It was one of the programs that made Arthur most proud. Before Arthur died, he got a glimpse of Venus and Serena Williams, two young girls that would, for a short time, take over the reins of leadership after his voice was silenced. But, Arthur would not live to see the emergence of James Blake. James possessed many qualities that would enamor him to the tennis community at large. He is handsome, articulate and Harvard University educated. More importantly, he is thoughtful, non-confrontational and non-threatening. James, if he is so inclined, will be the heir-apparent to Arthur’s throne; the voice of Black tennis. Because, you see, like Arthur, the voice of James Blake is the only one that is likely to resonate with the powers that be.



The author, Bob Davis, currently owns and operates Coastal Tennis and Sports, LLC in Bradenton, Florida.


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