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Queens Chronicle

USTA honors Althea Gibson with statue

Tennis legend was the first African American to win U.S. championship

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Posted: Thursday, September 5, 2019 10:30 am

The US Open was open only to amateurs and was played in Forest Hills in 1957 when Althea Gibson became the first African American to win the U.S. National Championships.

On Aug. 26, the USTA paid tribute to Gibson, unveiling a statue outside of Arthur Ashe Stadium on the grounds of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

Gibson won 11 Grand Slam titles, including six in doubles competition. She was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1971 and was inducted into the US Open Court of Champions in 2007.

“Althea Gibson’s talent, strength and unrelenting desire to achieve made her a great champion,” said Patrick Galbraith, president and chairman of the Board of the USTA in a statement issued by the organization. “She made tennis a better place, by opening doors and opening minds, doing so with grace and dignity. She is receiving a recognition she richly deserves.”

“It’s simple. She’s the first African American to break the color barrier in our sport,” former USTA Chairwoman Katrina Adams said. “By doing so, she made it possible for every person of color after her to have a chance to achieve their goals in the sport. This is a tribute that’s long overdue — period.”

The USTA has even had personnel standing by at sculptor Eric Goulder’s creation statue to snap cell phone photos for tennis fans who frequently have been lined up for a look at the work.

Dr. Karen Casey was one of them on Aug. 29, visiting from Maryland with friends. While Casey has been to the Open before, she was not going to miss an opportunity to pay tribute to Gibson.

“I’m a tennis player, and we’re all tennis fans,” she said. “She’s my hero. She’s an inspiration.” And while Casey is a fan of Serena Williams, Gibson remains at the top of Casey’s pedestal.

“Without Althea, there is no Serena,” Casey said.

The statue is not the first artistic tribute to Gibson.

Since 2017 she has been depicted just down the street from the old Forest Hills tennis stadium on a mural beneath the underpass at the Forest Hills Long Island Rail Road Station.

The mural depicts Gibson using her entire 5-foot-11 frame in preparation for delivering her devastating serve with a wooden racquet that was standard issue for the day.

Also on the mural are King, known for her attack style of play, shown ready to receive a serve; and Ashe, from 1968 when he became the first African-American man to win the U.S. Championship.

While it was the first time the U.S. title was open to professionals, Ashe’s first-place prize money went to runner-up Tom Okker — Ashe needed to maintain his amateur status as he was serving in the Army at the time. Also pictured is Douglaston native John McEnroe, though Johnny Mac’s visage has been all but obliterated by water leakage.

Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills) helped coordinate creation of the mural along with community organizations. His office said Wednesday that they are working with the LIRR and others in an effort to clean and preserve the mural.

In an email the LIRR told the Chronicle that the damage is from groundwater, which it called a common occurrence on concrete bridge abutments.

It requires that approved projects be put on panels, as was done recently under the overpasses on Yellowstone Boulevard and Ascan Avenue.

The railroad said it is looking at ways to resolve the situation with the mural, but does not have details at this point.

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1 comment:

  • Buster57 posted at 10:54 am on Sat, Sep 7, 2019.

    Buster57 Posts: 79

    It's about damn time!!!