Black Tennis Players

Black TenAs the U.S. Open gets underway in New York this week, we spotlight some of the sport's leading Black players past and present.
ESSENCE.COM Sep, 06, 2011

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As a 13-time Grand Slam singles champ, two-time Olympic gold medalist and four-time Wimbledon champ, Serena Williams clearly needs no introduction. With her sister Venus, Serena is one half of one of the most important tennis dynasties of our time.

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Credited with helping to spark a resurgence of interest in the sport (along with lil’ sis Serena), Venus is one of the most accomplished players ever to touch the court.

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Tennis became a passion early on for Black, 29, who hit the courts as a youngster with his brother. After playing two years at Harvard, the New York native went pro in 1999. He’s currently ranked 63 and was listed at 4, a career high, in 2006.

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Once dubbed a “phenom,” Donald Young’s days as a tennis pro seemed numbered when he didn’t fulfill his potential. But a new man showed up to the 2011 U.S. Open to prove the negative press wrong. Young is all anyone is talking about after he beat two seeded players to reach the fourth round.

“Everybody’s light comes on at their own time,” says the 22-year-old. “Hopefully, mine is coming on now.”

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This new kid on the block says Venus and Serena Williams were her biggest inspirations for pursuing a career in tennis. The New York Times calls Sloane, 18, “the fastest-climbing teenager in the women’s tennis world rankings.”

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Currently ranked as number 11, this French native is considered one of the most athletic tennis players.

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All eyes were on 16-year-old Madison Keys after a career-changing game at the 2011 U.S. Open. Hers is a name to remember.

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Ranked 7th in the world, Frenchman Gael Monfil is considered one of the most physically agile players of the game.

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Call her the barrier breaker. In 1950, at the age of 23, Gibson was allowed to play at the U.S. Nationals, becoming the first African-American to compete in the tourney. She would go on to break more records, winning a 11 Grand Slams events and earning her a spot in the International Tennis Hall of Fame and the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame.

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A dominating force on and off the court, Ashe defined sportsmanship, while making unprecedented strides along the way. Before his untimely death (he died of AIDS-related pneumonia in 1993 at age 49 after a faulty blood transfusion), the Richmond, Virgina, native was captain of the U.S. Davis Cup Team in 1981, inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame in 1985, Named Sports Illustrated Sportsman of Year in 1992, and awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1993 for his tireless fight against South African apartheid.

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Though she was a phenomenon on the court—thrilling fans when she became the first Black woman since Althea Gibson to reach a Grand Slam final since Althea Gibson 32 years earlier—her greatest achievement, she says, is overcoming bulimia. These days the 46-year-old lends part of her time to the Zina Garrison Academy in Houston, Texas.

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Playing with great zeal, Noah elevated to France’s most prominent tennis hero in 1983, becoming the first Frenchman in 37 years to win the French Open. He would later put down his racket to pursue music full time, releasing albums such as “Charango” and “Destination Ailleurs.”

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Since retired from the sport, Washington enjoyed a successful career. He ranked 11, a career high, in 1992, and holds a record of 254-184. And he was selected as one of Top 50 Most Beautiful People in World by People pagazine in 1994.

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This 33-year-old Flint, Michigan, native has been doing her thing as a pro on the court since 1995. Currently residing in Houston, Texas, Washington’s career prize money totals in the neighborhood of $925,000, according to

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Left-handed player Haynes, 24, hails from Bellflower, California, and holds a career record of 214-181.

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Stevenson, a childhood friend of the Williams sister since age 8 who learned the game on the hardcourts in Southern California, went pro in 1999. She recently reunited with her father, NBA great Julius Erving.

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This powerhouse needs no introduction. She’s won a title in all four Grand Slam tournaments. And in early August she and big sis Venus bought a stake in the Miami Dolphins. The athlete, 27, shares her story in the new memoir “On the Line,” out now.

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As the U.S. Open gets underway in New York this week, we spotlight some of the sport’s leading Black players past and present.

By Zharmer Hardimon


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