My First Sports Hero: Arthur Ashe

There are many heroic people in history, but my hero is Arthur Ashe. He overcame prejudice to be the best in his sport. He was often underestimated and put down. Yet nothing stopped him from achieving his goal. Arthur Ashe is the first African American to win the men’s singles at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, and the first black American to be ranked #1 in the world.

Younger Years

Arthur Robert Ashe Jr. was born on July 10, 1943, in Richmond, Virginia. The oldest of Arthur Ashe Sr. and Mattie Cunningham’s two sons, Arthur Ashe Jr. blended finesse and power to forge a groundbreaking tennis game. Ashe would go on to achieve a number of African-American “firsts,” including becoming the first African-American male player to win the U.S. Open (1968) and Wimbledon (1975), the first African-American player to be ranked №1 in the world, and the first black American man to be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame (1985).

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In 1963, Ashe became the first African American to be recruited by the U.S. Davis Cup team. Thereafter, he continued to refine his game, gaining the attention of his tennis idol, Pancho Gonzales, who further helped Ashe hone his serve-and-volley attack. The training all came together in 1968, when the still-amateur Ashe shocked the world by capturing the U.S. Open title — becoming the first, and still the only, African-American male player to do so. Two years later, he took home the Australian title.

In 1975, Ashe registered another upset by beating Jimmy Connors in the Wimbledon finals, marking another pioneering achievement within the African-American community — becoming the first African-American male player to win Wimbledon — which, like his U.S. Open victory, remains unmatched. That same year (1975), Ashe became the first African-American tennis player to be ranked #1 in the world. Ten years later, in 1985, he would become the first African American man to be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

For Ashe, however, success also brought opportunity and responsibility. He didn’t relish his status as the sole black star in a game dominated by white players, but he didn’t run away from it either. With his unique pulpit, he pushed to create inner city tennis programs for youth; helped found the Association of Men’s Tennis Professionals, and he spoke out against apartheid in South Africa — even going so far as to successfully lobby for a visa so he could visit and play tennis there.

Ashe was plagued with health issues over the last 14 years of his life. After undergoing a quadruple bypass operation in 1979, he went under the knife again in 1983 for a second bypass. In 1988, he underwent emergency brain surgery after experiencing paralysis of his right arm. A biopsy taken during a hospital stay revealed that Ashe had AIDS. Doctors soon discovered that Ashe had contracted HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, from a transfusion of bad blood that he was given during his second heart operation. Arthur Ashe passed away on February 6, 1993.

There are numerous awards, scholarships, and grants on behalf of Arthur Ashe. In addition to his pioneering tennis career, Ashe is remembered for a number of inspirational quotes, including my favorite quote, “One important key to success is self-confidence. An important key to self-confidence is preparation.”

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