Arthur Ashe

A top-ranked tennis player during the 1960s and 70s, Arthur Ashe was the first African-American male tennis player to win a Grand Slam tournament.

He was born on July 10, 1943, in Richmond, Virginia.

In 1953, one of the best black tennis players in the nation and part-time coach Ronald Charity introduced Ashe to Dr. Walter Johnson. He would become Ashe’s lifelong coach and mentor.

By the late 1950s, Ashe was making a name for himself. He had won multiple junior tennis tournaments around the nation and was featured in the December 12, 1960, issue of Sports Illustrated as a Face in the Crowd. The University of California, Los Angeles offered him a full scholarship to attend college there.

He played on the U.S. Davis Cup team as its first African-American player until 1970, and then again in 1975, 1976 and 1978. As a sophomore at UCLA, he was again featured in Sports Illustrated’s Faces in the Crowd as an up-and-coming athlete of some note. Ashe graduated in 1966 with a degree in business administration, the first member on the paternal side of his family to graduate college.

After college, Ashe served in the U.S. Army from 1966-68.

He is the only African-American man to ever win the U.S. Open title. Ashe triumphed over Tom Okker of the Netherlands on September 9, 1968.

In 1969, he co-founded the National Junior Tennis League with Charlie Pasarell. The program was designed to expose children to tennis who might not otherwise have opportunities to play while fostering a sense of discipline and attention to academics. He actively campaigned against apartheid.

Ashe won the Australian Open in 1970, the second of his three career Grand Slam singles titles. He’s the first and only black man to win the Wimbledon singles title. In 1975, Ashe defeated the heavily favored Jimmy Connors in four sets. That same year he also attained the #1 men’s ranking in the world.
After suffering a heart attack and undergoing quadruple-bypass surgery in 1979, Ashe decided to retire from tennis in 1980 with a career record of 818 wins, 260 losses and 51 titles.

In 1983, he received a blood transfusion to accelerate his recovery after a second bypass surgery. That transfusion resulted in Ashe contracting human immunodeficiency virus or HIV. He was formally diagnosed with HIV in 1988, though the information was kept private at the time. By 1992, he announced to the world he had contracted AIDS.

In the last year of his life, he founded the Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of AIDS, which raised money for research into treating, curing and preventing AIDS, the end goal being the eradication of the disease. That year, Ashe was named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year, an honor bestowed upon “the athlete or team whose performance that year most embodies the spirit of sportsmanship and achievement.”

Ashe died on February 6, 1993, of AIDS-related pneumonia in New York at the age of 49.

Read more about Arthur Ashe at his website here.

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