1968 Wimbledon Tennis
As the world prepares for Wimbledon to begin on Monday, June 23, all eyes will be on the world's #1 player. Who is it? Despite an early exit in May's French Open, Serena Williams retained her #1 ranking in the world. She'll take on her American teammate Anna Tatishvili in the opening round. Looking at the other draws on the Ladies Singles site at Wimbledon.com, sister Venus appears to be sitting this one out.
Have any two Americans since Chris Evert and Billie Jean King done more to revolutionize the pristine, often stuffy game? When I was playing tennis in the 70's, the decorum of a tennis tournament was almost the same as Mass on Sunday. Quiet. Polite protestations if you disagreed with a call. Graciousness.
My local tennis pro, the late, great Nancy Dillon, a legend in the Oak Park-River Forest community, taught us all at the River Forest Park District to attack the net, to be aggressive. I don't recall politeness as the key component of her game. She was the antithesis of what I saw on television. When I watched "Breakfast at Wimbledon, " and the US Open matches, I really don't remember any knock-down, drag-out arguments with the judges on the women's side of Wimbledon. Just the zany, boyish, loud antics of John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors, which actually made five-hour matches a treat to watch.
Slowly, the women's tournament revolutionized with Martina Navratilova's sheer physicality and iron will, Steffi Graf's one-handed backhand, Monica Seles' grunts. Slowly, the women's game got louder and more boisterous. And, to the detriment of American women everywhere, dominated by Europeans. Lindsay Davenport, where are you?
It's worth remembering that Venus and Serena Williams weren't the only African-American players in all of the history of tennis. The late, and great Arthur Ashe, who died way too young of AIDS after contracting it from a blood transfusion, was a personal hero of mine. He made his name as the victor in the US Open in 1968 and Wimbledon in 1975, the first African-American male to break through the color line.
But even Ashe, as great as he was, wasn't the first African American Wimbledon champion. I don't know how many people remember the late Althea Gibson, the "Jackie Robinson" of women's tennis, as she is sometimes called. She won Wimbledon in 1957 and 1958, in the middle of the Civil Rights era.post-Plessy vs. Ferguson of 1954, but pre-Civil Rights Act of 1965. Also, pre-Title IX. And a forgotten hero to the larger community.
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1968 Wimbledon Eighth Day Tennis Program