Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Soul of the US Open: Gibson, Ashe Remembered as Three American Women of Color Make Semis

Althea Gibson
Althea Gibson

*Flushing, NY – “Made in the USTA” could easily be the slogan for the remaining few days of the US Open … at least on the women’s side.

Thanks in part to Serena Williams being with child, for the first time since 1981, the sacred grounds of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center’s featured stadium, Arthur Ashe, will feature two all-American semifinals.

And what makes this time different than the last?  Three of the women playing for a chance to hoist the Champion’s trophy are women of color.  We’ve seen Serena and Venus represent by claiming the big win many times before, but they were usually working alone. THIS is unprecedented.

American tennis needed this to happen to truly demonstrate that barriers have truly been broken down in the sport.  Venus and Serena Williams made gigantic strides in diversifying the sport, building on the sacrifices made by pioneers Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe – Grand Slam winners, but things were never easy. Today, the progress can’t be denied.

This is exactly what Ashe and Gibson fought for and, ironically, their iconic legacies are being evoked this year.  2017 marks the 20th anniversary of the building of Arthur Ashe Stadium, the largest tennis venue in the world, and it’s the 60th anniversary of Althea Gibson winning Wimbledon.  Befitting to say the least.

Arthur Ashe holds aloft the trophy after defeating Jimmy Connors at Wimbledon Mens Singles Final - 05-07-1975
Arthur Ashe holds aloft the trophy after defeating Jimmy Connors at Wimbledon Mens Singles Final – 05-07-1975

And to punctuate the results of what the aforementioned ladies and  the gentleman have done for the cause of diversity, did you know that the president of the USTA is, for the first time, a black woman, Katrina Adams?  Now, how’s that for fruit bearing?

USTA President, Katrina Adams (center), cheers for Venus Williams during quarterfinal match. (photo credit: Margot Jordan)

So, what we have between today and Saturday are the results of several courageous and determined people working together to make positive change.  Whether is was for diversity in general or equal prize money for women in the sport, things are looking up in American tennis, to say the least.

As for the semifinal matches, with Serena Williams being out, the would-be-champions who are good but aren’t quite at her level have the open door to steal a Grand Slam.

Outside of Venus, none of the ladies remaining in the draw, Sloane Stephens, Madison Keys and Coco Vandeweghe, have advanced beyond the quarters at a Slam in general, let alone at the US Open, so the odds are high the there will be a first time Slam winner, on home soil this go’round.

sloane stephens
Sloane Stephens

Madison Keys

Venus and Sloane had secured their semifinal slots as of press time on Tuesday, but Madison Keys still had a date with Estonian Kaia Kanepi and CoCo Vandeweghe with world no. 1 and 2016 Czech runner up, Karolina Pliskova, to close the door for anyone not American to make it to the final four.  They both got ‘er done in convincing fashion – in straight sets – on Wednesday.

Venus Williams expresses joy during US Open press conference after claiming semifinal spot (photo credit: Margot Jordan)

Venus has been at this rodeo before, but Serena has had a choke hold on the major titles for the Williams family in New York since her first win in 2002. It may just be her turn this time – as the oldest woman in the draw – and what a story that would be.  She will face off against Sloane Stephens … and Madison Keys will face off against CoCo Vandeweghe – who has also won our hearts.

Ashe and Gibson would be proud if they could see how their efforts have culminated today and that their labor wasn’t in vain.  But though aren’t here in the flesh, they definitely are here in spirit. A film about Gibson’s life, will be screened today on the grounds of BJK.  It being shown while just before three black women competing on Arthur Ashe court for a chance at the grandest of Glam Slam titles is nothing short of a fairytale.

 

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