How Arthur Ashe went Beyond his Tennis Triumphs

American Arthur Ashe is the first man of African-American descent to win a Grand Slam and was much more than a tennis player.

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Arthur Ashe is the man after whom the centre court at Flushing Meadows, where the US Open is held every year, is named. The first and only black player to have ever won the Wimbledon, US Open, Australian Open and also feature in the US Davis Cup team, Ashe is a Hall-of-Famer who made an immense contribution to humanitarian causes during his lifetime.

EARLY LOSS OF MOTHER

Tragedy struck early in Arthur’s life as he lost his mother at the age of 7, after which he was raised by his caring father, who held a humble job. It was around this time when he started playing tennis, wherein his talent was spotted on the court and eventually groomed. The discipline ingrained by his dad, and the encouragement imparted went a long way in his son's development as a professional player.

KEEP CALM AND PLAY TENNIS

That discipline, along with his inputs from his coach and mentor, made Ashe's on-court persona. His behaviour was always composed, exuded sportsmanship, and carried himself like a gentleman athlete, tenets which became idiosyncratic to Arthur. He never argued with the umpire, and his armoured politeness worked in his favour in shaking over-aggressive and flailing opponents.

FIGHT AGAINST RACISM

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He first encountered racial discrimination at the age of about 12, when he was denied playing in a tennis tournament in Richmond. He grew up to fight against such profiling, using sport as a weapon. During the apartheid, he relentlessly pursued an invitation to the South African Open in 1973 to steer the media towards the problem citing "small concessions incline toward larger ones." He hoped his success could sow the seeds of change. He then upped his fight through institutions.

Arthur had gained so much recognition for his efforts, that he was the first American Nelson Mandela preferred to step foot in South Africa following his release from prison after 27 years.

SERVING THROUGH THE MILITARY

As a member of a college-based officer training program, he was required to join the armed forces post his graduation, rising up to be second lieutenant. The stint allowed him to finance for tuition. Later, as a part of the United States Military Academy, he headed its tennis program.

$20 A DAY FOR A GRAND SLAM WIN

Arthur had to keep an amateur status during his time in the military to keep himself eligible for the Davis Cup. He won the US Open the first of the Open era after having won the amateur title the same year, becoming the only player ever to do so. Due to his amateur status, he had to forego his $14,000 first-prize money, and had to make do with only $20 daily expenses to show for his triumphs. And this was in 1968!

HEALTH AND EDUCATION PROMOTER

Not only was he a good student during his time in college - graduating with a degree in business administration, but he also went on to become an astute citizen. Ashe established an institute to ‘help address issues of inadequate health care delivery to urban minority populations' and after his bypass surgery, he led the campaign or the American Heart Association. He was also an advocate of learning and cited education as the key to growth and productivity among the youth.

SPREADING THE WORD ABOUT AIDS

Arthur Ashe died on February 6, 1993 at the age of 49 due to AIDS-aggravated pneumonia. He had been inflicted by HIV believed to have been acquired during a blood transfusion, which he needed during a heart bypass surgery in the early '80s. But rather than retreating, he championed to educate masses, dispel misconceptions and raise awareness about the dreaded virus through his foundation. “I must seize these opportunities to spread the word,” he had said.

TO SUM IT UP

“True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.” – Arthur Ashe.

Josh Rinehults / iStock Photo

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