On August 31, tennis stars Naomi Osaka and Cori “Coco” Guaff had a stellar tennis match in the third round of this years’ U.S. Open. While the #1 rated Osaka defeated Guaff in straight sets, it is an amazing accomplishment to see a 15 year old African American compete on such a grand stage.
In the world of sports, it is often easy to overlook African American women. Names such as Stephen Curry, Aaron Judge, and Odell Beckham Jr, among countless others are names that reign at the top of their sports and in popularity around the country. However, the ranks of professional tennis holds some of the greatest athletes in the world who are not given enough credit.
The rich history of African American women in tennis is often overlooked, but these women have achieved some of the greatest feats seen in sports. According to The Undefeated, Lucy Diggs Slowe became the first black woman to win a collegiate national championship in any sport, by winning the American Tennis Associations National Tournament in 1917.
When asked about the role of Black female tennis players, senior pre-veterinary major Terrell Hills stated, “Over the years, the number of African American women tennis players have increased. Not only does that encourage young African American girls, but it also helps bring positivity and motivation into the world of sports.”
One of the true trailblazers for black women in tennis is Althea Gibson. In 1956, she won the French Open and Wimbledon, becoming the first African American to win a grand slam. The following year she became the first black woman to win the U.S. Open.
When asked about how black women are perceived in the world of tennis, sophomore civil engineering major Courtlynn Thomas stated, “Being in the spotlight, these women are not just tennis players but pioneers of a new era. They do not just show off athletic ability but their confidence and ambition to influence the next generation of black tennis players.”
Diggs and Gibson paved the way for the stars of today, most notably the Williams sisters (Venus and Serena) who became the face of women’s tennis throughout the 2000s.
Venus and Serena went on to accomplish many things in the world of tennis, individually and as a duo. In 1999, at Wimbledon, Venus Williams showed off her immense power by becoming the first woman to hit a 125 mph serve.
A few years later, Serena became the first African American woman to win a grand slam championship since Althea Gibson did so 40 years ago. These are only a few of the countless accomplishments the two have achieved, while popularizing the game.
Senior criminal justice major Khadijah Dean commented that at one point, tennis wasn’t something black girls thought about playing. “The role black women tennis players play in the world of sports, is that they made it a possibility to be included in such a highly competitive sport and honestly I think the black girls made it more fun.”
While the Williams sisters continue to compete at a high level despite nearing the age of 40, new African American tennis stars such as Naomi Osaka, Coco Guaff and Sloane Stephens have emerged, and are bound to continue proudly representing black women the sport.