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Ashe's Wimbledon win is tops in black history

By KEITH NIEBUHR
Published February 15, 2005


To commemorate Black History Month, a blue ribbon panel that included Zina Garrison , MaliVai Washington and former New York Mayor David Dinkins (an avid player and fan) recently convened to select the most memorable moments in black tennis history.

Talk about a tough call.

Arthur Ashe and Althea Gibson captured majors. So did Frenchman Yannick Noah . Garrison and Washington reached the singles final at Wimbledon. And, of course, one can't forget about the Williams sisters, who have been, you know, pretty good.

This is the group's top five:

1950: Gibson, a Florida A&M alumnus, becomes the first black player to compete at the U.S. Championships.

1916: The American Tennis Association is founded and becomes the first black sports organization in the United States.

1968: Ashe becomes the first black man to win the U.S. Open.

1948: Oscar Johnson wins the National Public Parks Championships, becoming the first black player to win a U.S. Lawn Tennis Association sanctioned event.

1981: Ashe becomes the first black player to captain the U.S. Davis Cup team and coaches the United States to victory over Argentina in the Davis Cup final.

Now for my No. 1. It came at Wimbledon in 1975, when Ashe stunned the seemingly invincible Jimmy Connors 6-1, 6-1, 5-7, 6-4 in 125 minutes to shock the tennis world and become the first black man to win Wimbledon. Ashe's U.S. Open title was big, but this was huge. Against a much stronger field than he faced in New York (where he beat Tom Okker in the final) and playing in the world's most prestigious event, Ashe's dismantling of Connors was easily his greatest triumph.

There's more to the story.

Two weeks earlier Connors, who at the time was largely unpopular because his antics on and off the court, announced a $5-million libel suit against Ashe for having criticized Connors' refusal to join the U.S. Davis Cup team. Connors, the defending champion, hadn't lost a set in the tournament and was a 3-20 favorite. After the match, Ashe had this to say: "He hardly ever put the ball beyond the baseline - that's a sign of choking."

COMING SOON: Each of the top 78 men in the ATP rankings have committed to playing in the Nasdaq-100 Open at Key Biscayne. The tournament, considered the next big thing after the Grand Slams, also boasts a strong women's field, with one major exception. No. 1-ranked Lindsay Davenport , the Australian Open runnerup, is not expected to appear. Davenport, who has had limited success in 11 appearances in the event, has played in it just twice since 2000. She retired with an injury both times. For ticket information call 305 442-3367 or go online to www.nasdaq-100open.com The event begins March 23.

ODDS AND ENDS: In a recent interview with the New York Times , former great Guillermo Vilas claimed technology is partly to blame for the abundance of player injuries. "These rackets they use today, you can go to the moon with them," he said. "You can do anything you want with them. You have so many choices, but the whole body has more chance of getting injured because every shot is possible from every position." ... Roger Federer no longer will be Roger Federer's only coach. The world's top-ranked player is working part time with legendary player Tony Roche .

LAST WORD: "We saw him go from maybe seven or 10 in the world to No. 1. We saw him win tournament after tournament, win the U.S. Open. If it wasn't for Roger (Federer) having the incredible year, we would have seen him have the same sort of year again. Seemed to me like a lot of good decisions were going on there." - Andre Agassi on Andy Roddick 's recent coaching change, which saw Roddick dump Brad Gilbert in favor of Dean Goldfine . Gilbert once was Agassi's coach.

--Information from other news organizations was used in the report.