Who is Althea Gibson, the tennis player who made history and source of inspiration for Serena Williams

In an interview a couple of years ago, Serena Williams revealed that her inspiration is Althea Gibson. A name that may sound unfamiliar to many and for this reason today we tell you who she is and why she is considered one of the tennis players who made history.

Althea Gibson, the life of the legend

For me she was the most important tennis pioneer. She was black, like me, and she opened a lot of doors for all African Americans in sports. She was one of the most influential people to ever step onto a playing field“.

These are the words of Serena Williams in an interview a couple of years ago. The 23-time slam champion was referring to her role model rather than her tennis lifestyle, Althea Gibson. A name that may sound little known to many and, for this very reason, today we tell you the story of her.

Althea Gibson was one of the absolute stars before the Open era, despite being ostracized by the American Tennis Association (ATA). The first invitation to a slam event was in 1950 at what was called the United States National Championship (now the US Open).

By participating in the tournament (she will lose in the second round to Wimbledon champion Louise Brough), Gibson becomes the first African American to take the field in a slam.

The following year she becomes the first African American to participate in the Wimbledon tournament at the All England Club and reaches the third round.

In 1953 she reaches the quarter-finals in Flushing Meadows, but it is at Roland Garros 1956 that everyone notices her. With the number 3 seed she manages to defeat Angela Mortimer (number 1 seed) in the final and becomes the first African American woman to triumph in a slam. In addition to her title in the singles, in the same edition she also takes home the doubles cup with Angela Buxton.

The following year she won both Wimbledon and the US Open, becoming the first African American to do so. In 1958 she defended both titles and was named Female Athlete of the Year (both seasons).

Althea will also become the first black woman to land on the covers of Sports Illustrated and Time. Before retiring in 1958, she had 56 titles on her board, including five slams in singles, five in doubles and one in mixed doubles.

The professional career

Players prior to the Open Era did not receive prize pools for their achievements. So it was that Althea decided to go professional to support herself. However, her successes are in short supply and even the All England Club forbids her from entering her fields, despite the fact that she was a champion of the tournament.

In 1964, therefore, she changes sport and becomes the first black woman to join the women’s golf circuit (LPGA), reaching the best ranking of number 27 in the world.

He died in 2003 at the age of 76.

The accolades for her, however, do not end there. She was inducted into both the Tennis Hall of Fame and the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame. Additionally, she is on Sports Illustrated’s list of 100 Most Influential Female Athletes in History. In 2019, a statue (the second in the entire facility) was erected in her honor within the Flushing Meadows complex.

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