February is black history month in the USA and here at troll we want to show our appreciation for the exceptional players who are black. They have affected the game way more than you think and in all areas. One thing they do share is coming through adversity and I am sure that their struggles have only befitted them when it comes to success on the court. Here are a few of the greatest who ever were.
- Althea Gibson
Althea Gibson was not only a ground breaker for women’s tennis, but black tennis. She was the first ever black player (of any colour in fact) to win a grand slam. Although born in South Carolina, Gibson learned to play paddle tennis in the streets of Harlem, New York. She worked her way through incredible prejudice to make it as a professional tennis player and in 1956 at the French Open won her first grand slam. She ended her career with 11 in total. Robert Ryland, who coached the Williams sisters claimed that Gibson would beat both of them! Venus herself has appreciated what the great woman did for her race as well as her gender, “Her accomplishments set the stage for my success, and through players like myself and Serena and many others to come, her legacy will live on”. That is the word to remember when talking about Althea Gibson – Legacy. She forged a path for others to follow.
- Arthur Ashe
No List of black players can be attempted without Arthur Ashe. The champion from USA was not only the first famous black tennis player of note, but he was also an exceptional tennis player black or not. His three Grand Slam Titles were even more impressive when you consider where he came from. Living in segregated Richmond Virginia in the 60’s Ashe was not allowed to play his Caucasian counterparts, or was allowed in the indoor courts to practise, which were closed for black people at the time. He was forced to move to St. Louis, where he finally flourished and started on what would be an almighty climb up the tennis ladder.
Tragically Arthur Ashe contracted HIV in a heart operation and died of an AIDS related illness in 1993. He will never be forgotten, and not just for his titles, but his pioneering achievements in breaking through prejudice to become one of the world’s greats.
- Gael Monfils
One of the most exciting players on the planet, Gael Monfils is probably the most successful black tennis player of modern times. An incredible athlete, he wows crowds with his patent sliding technique. He holds a devastating forehand and with his speed and penchant for diving, Monfils anyone who plays against him a run for their money. His highest world ranking was7th as well as a semi-final position at the 2008 French Open. He cites Arthur Ashe as his favourite player ever which shows the great man’s true impact on black tennis. No Ashe, no Monfils. (I would have been especially sad as he is my favourite player outside of the top four, to watch)
- Serena Williams + Venus
Serena Williams is not only the greatest black tennis player, but also perhaps the greatest female player too. While she is still competing at the top of her game, and attempting to equal Stefi Graf’s record 22 Grand Slam titles, with French Open her next target, Serena has already accumulated a dominating array of achievements. 21 Grand Slam titles and the 3rd in the all-time tennis player rankings. She has career earnings of $75,630,291 before even considering her huge endorsement deals. A sex symbol as well as a great player, Serena epitomises not only female black tennis, but black sport itself.
Venus also ushered in a completely new era for women’s tennis, and it was not just on the court. Her biggest effect on the sport was her promotion of equality in pay for women at the majors. She once sat down with both the heads of the French Open and Wimbledon alone and also wrote a public letter to Wimbledon. Her activism got her plaudits from all sides. In an almost perfect twist to the tale Venus was the first woman to benefit from the new equality that came in 2007, when she won Wimbledon (again).
- Dustin Brown
Coming through adversity symbolises Dustin Brown’s career. Born to half Jamaican and half German parents, he yo-yoed between the countries learning his Tennis. He only had access to broken public courts and old equipment in Jamaica. When he returned to Germany his parents bought him a VW Campervan with which to tour European tournaments with. This allowed him to avoid paying for accommodation.
His memorable appearances at Wimbledon have found him a new fan base and while at 133rd in the world he will never have the success of the others, he has popularity that will be the envy of many better players. Recently video showing a trick shot from Brown went viral, adding to his cult following.
Black players have had a massive effect on Tennis is most areas. The important thing to remember with black players as with all minorities in any sport is to make sure that the sport is accessible and youngsters do not deem any sport as being for one race or social class. One thing is for sure in black tennis is that they have many players to look up to!