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Althea Gibson: The first black to win a Grand Slam

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Althea Gibson
Althea Gibson: The first black to win a Grand Slam. Photo/ History Hustle.
  • Althea Gibson set history in 1956 when she became the first black to win a Grand Slam title, the French Championships
  • She won eleven Grand Slam tournaments in her legendary tennis career
  • According to Bob Ryland, who is an icon in the tennis world, Althea Gibson would defeat the Williams sisters

Althea Gibson, the first black to win a Grand Slam, is one of the greatest tennis players who ever lived. She is a member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame and the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame.

Althea Gibson set history in 1956 when she became the first African American to win a Grand Slam title, the French Championships. She continued her impressive performance the following year, winning the Wimbledon and the US Nationals (which later became US Open).

Althea Gibson

Althea Gibson. Photo/ Lifetime.

In 1958, Gibson won both the Wimbledon and the US Open again. The Associated Press voted her the Female Athlete of the Year in 1957 and 1958.

Ten years after Gibson won the French Championship, Arthur Ashe became the first black man to win a Grand Slam singles title.

Althea Gibson won eleven Grand Slam tournaments in her legendary tennis career. According to Bob Ryland, who is an icon in the tennis world, Althea Gibson would defeat the Williams sisters.

Gibson has often been compared to Jackie Robinson. She is an inspiration to many, considering she achieved a lot at a time when black tennis players were despised.

She became the first woman to receive the Theodore Roosevelt Award, which is the highest honour from the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Her five Wimbledon trophies are displayed at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History.

Althea Gibson, the first black to win a Grand Slam, passed away on September 28, 2003, from complications that resulted from bladder and respiratory infections.

Early Life 

Althea Gibson was born in Clarendon County, South Carolina, on August 25, 1927. She was the first child of cotton farmers Daniel and Annie Bell Gibson. Her siblings were born in Harlem, the place where her family migrated after the Great Depression struck rural farmers.

Gibson’s family resided near the area where Police Athletic League was located, and that is where she learnt how to play tennis.

Young Gibson didn’t turn up to school regularly, but she had a passion for sports. She became the New York City women’s paddle tennis champion in 1939 when she was 12 years old.

Career 

Gibson won the ATA national championship in the girl’s division in 1944 and 1945. She lost in the women’s final in 1946 but won ten straight national ATA women’s titles from 1947.

Gibson’s success in ATA enabled her to gain access to other significant competitions. She qualified for the quarter-finals in the 1949 National Indoor Championship, which had been organized by USTA.

The legend faced a lot of challenges while playing tennis because of being black. However, many tennis greats supported her.

Althea Gibson

Althea Gibson. Photo/ Official Site of the 2022 US Open Tennis Championships.

Alice Marble wrote an open letter to the tennis fraternity concerning the attitude shown to black players. The letter caused reactions and led to Gibson being invited to the US Open tournament.

Gibson’s participation at the US Open received a lot of hype both locally and internationally. She was the first black to participate in the US Open and Wimbledon the following year.

Althea Gibson registered her first international win in 1951 at the Caribbean Championship. She rose steadily and was ranked among the top ten players in the US the following year.

Althea Gibson won the French Open in 1956, making her the first black to win a Grand Slam. In 1957, Gibson won both the singles and doubles titles in Wimbledon.

She also won the US Open that same year and triumphed at the US Mixed doubles and Australian doubles events. She finished as runner-up in the Australian Singles, US Doubles and Wimbledon Mixed Double events.

In 1958, Gibson defended her US Open, Wimbledon singles and Wimbledon Doubles titles. She retired from amateur tennis at the age of 31, with her national and international wins tallying 56.

Since tennis players were not entitled to prize money before the Open era, Gibson had to play exhibition matches and take up promotional events to keep herself afloat.

Althea Gibson

Althea Gibson. Photo/ History Hustle.

Althea Gibson made history once again in 1964 when she became the first African-American woman to participate in golf.

Abraham Odhiambo is an avid sports fan who loves to write about football, boxing and wrestling. He's a big supporter of Manchester United. He's pursuing a bachelor's degree in Communication and Media at Egerton University.

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