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Arthur Ashe

Ranked Number One

Professional tennis players who'd experienced Ashe's topspin backhand or powerhouse serve knew he was a competitor with the makings of a champion. Though still an amateur, he'd won numerous tournaments against the sport's best players, and his Davis Cup team performance was admirable. But he hadn't taken a single Grand Slam event. No one knew better than Ashe himself that in 1968-his college years behind him, his two years of army service complete-he would have to put everything he had into tennis if he wanted to be successful as a professional.

Upon leaving the military Ashe was in excellent physical condition, and he was mentally prepared to be a winner. That summer he played well at Wimbledon, though he fell to Rod Laver in the semi-finals. But he was victorious in both the U.S. Nationals men's singles title and the first U.S. Open, a feat no man had ever accomplished. In addition, his Davis Cup team took the title from the Australians, a win Ashe cherished above all others. He once said he never lost sleep over any tournament other than the Davis Cup. To Ashe, there was an enormous difference between losing as an individual and losing as a representative of the United States.

The first black man to win a Grand Slam title and now the top-ranked player in America, Arthur Ashe had achieved true celebrity status. Photographs of him appeared on magazine covers, his name appeared on tennis-related products, major corporations signed him on as spokesman, and he offered tennis clinics for American Express and Coca-Cola. He was appointed tennis director at the Doral Resort and Country Club in Miami, Florida, and even made the tabloid gossip pages when he dated fashion models and stars such as singer Diana Ross.

Ashe put his hard-won fame to use. He turned professional in 1969 and immediately began to work to protect players' rights and interests. With his colleagues he created the International Tennis Players Association, acting first as treasurer and later as the union's vice-president. (The association was renamed the Association of Tennis Professionals in 1972, and two years later Ashe was elected ATP president.) He repeatedly spoke out against the apartheid policies of the South African government and succeeded in having South Africa expelled from Davis Cup competition. With his stature, Ashe's public outcry garnered world attention to the oppressive rule of apartheid, and in 1970 Ashe was selected to act as goodwill ambassador to Africa. The U. S. Department of State sent him to Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda, where he met with government leaders, students, and diplomats. The following year, as a member of a delegation of tennis players, Ashe visited Cameroon, Gabon, Senegal, and Cote d'Ivoire. It was at a tennis club in Cameroon where Ashe noticed the young, talented Yannick Noah, who he arranged to have sent to France for tutelage under the care of the French Tennis Federation.

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Famous Sports StarsTennisArthur Ashe Biography - Growing Up, Early Lessons, The Amateur Years, Chronology, Ranked Number One, Center Court