As the Australian Open came to a conclusion with an imperious Novak Djokovic sweeping aside Andy Murray last weekend, tennis’ gaze has now turned to the French Open.
But today, February 6, is a day of remembrance as it marks the passing of a legendary figure within the game – Arthur Ashe.
Ashe passed away 22 years ago from AIDS-related pneumonia, believed to be contracted from blood transfusion after heart bypass surgery.
To this day he remains the only black man to win singles titles at Wimbledon, the US Open and the Australian Open.
Ashe dedicated his life to fighting inequality whether they were racial barriers, poverty, social class or, towards the end of his life, HIV/AIDS.
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) February 5, 2015
Born in Richmond, Virginia, Ashe began playing tennis at the age of 7 before he attracted the attention of Robert Walter Johnson, who funded the Junior Development Programme of the American Tennis Association.
Ashe moved from Richmond to St Louis in 1960 so as not be constricted by segregation, attending Summer High School in his senior year.
He was the first black player to be selected for the United States’ Davis Cup side in 1963 before capturing the US Open five years later.
In order to keep his amateur status and be able to compete in the Davis Cup Ashe had to waive his $14,000 prize-money, collecting only daily expenses.
His second open title came in 1970 when he beat Dick Crealy in straight sets to win the Australian Open.
Ashe competed in the first ever all-American Wimbledon final in 1975 seeing off strong favourite Jimmy Connors in a match memorable for an ongoing legal dispute between the pair.
He retired in 1980, aged 36, with a record of 51 titles after undergoing heart surgery.
Ashe dedicated his retirement to various media roles and was a passionate civil rights campaigner, however his life took a different path in view of his health issues.
— Citi Open (@CitiOpen) January 29, 2015
After suffering a heart attack in 1979 Ashe underwent a quadruple heart bypass before needing corrective surgery in 1983.
In 1988, after experiencing paralysis in his right arm, tests revealed Ashe was HIV positive with doctors believing he contracted the virus during the second bypass procedure.
After coming out to the world with the news in 1992, Ashe worked to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS especially in shattering misconceptions that the virus was only an issue for gay men.
Ashe passed away a year later and was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton.
With his glorious one-arm backhand and composed playing style Ashe was a true legend of the game and it’s fitting that the Arthur Ashe Stadium opened in 1997 to honour the great man.
Image courtesy of The Connecticut Forum via YouTube, with thanks