The Past, Present, and Future U. S. Opens

 @authorhm on September 02 2012 11:46 AM

Some things still seem the same as when I started playing in 1959 trying to emulate Maria Bueno, the national winner that year.  My first U. S. Open was in 1971, the 91st year of the event, as a 16 yr. old trying to play on the grass courts of Forest Hills in Queens, NY and be the next Evonne Goolagong. I ran into Althea Gibson figuratively and literally. She was nice as I rambled on giving me the moniker of "Little Girl." Until she died she never called me anything else. I went in with Althea that day as she talked more about golf than tennis reminding me that, "No matter what accomplishments you make, somebody helps you," as we sat outside the door of the club's kitchen.

Alice Marble penned a poignant appeal in "American Tennis Magazine" to let Gibson play the 1950 U. S. Lawn Tennis Association (USLTA) National Championships, the amateur precursor to the U. S. Open. Gibson was allowed to enter losing in the 2nd round. Seven years later she won back to back women's singles titles. Later in 1968, Arthur Ashe playing as an amateur won the first U. S. Open. Next year he turned pro and went on to win several other events but never another Open. Not until 1999 did another African-American, Serena Williams, win the US Open, then Venus won from 2000-01, and Serena won again in 2002 and 2007.

Clubs like the Chicago Prairie Tennis Club (CPTC) were founded in 1912 and organizations like the American Tennis Association (ATA) were organized in 1916 because Blacks were not allowed to play in the USLTA. The first inter-racial match was in 1940 when Don Budge beat the ATA champ, Jimmie McDaniel 6-2, 6-1.  Later the U. S. Tennis Association (USTA) gave the ATA winners a wild card into the U. S. Open Qualifying Tournament. 

Presently, we are still looking for the next great American champion, and fortunately there is hope with some new talent emerging every year. Though pragmatically navigating through the system to develop a champion seems to have gotten more convoluted and laborious.

Here's hoping for a new day.  If we can have a Black President of the United States after 232 yrs., why not of the USTA after 133 yrs. Maybe then we would not to have to talk about diversity and inclusion, and there would be no need for the USTA department.

In the future we would see American men and women in the semis and finals of every Grand Slams singles. We would see the USTA's first minority president presiding over the U. S.  Open. She would be Katrina Adams, currently its Vice President.

Not only would Adams be the first African-American woman, but the first person of color, and the third women behind Jane Brown and Lucy Garvin. Yes, it would mean things have come full circle from the time those of color could not play in the U. S. Open and had to play in the ATA Championships. Adams, a former ATA champ, if nominated and elected this Sept. will be the USTA's 1st Vice President putting her in the enviable seat of predecessors to become the next USTA Chairman of the Board and President two years later.

If this wasn't enough, Ms. Adams, although earning over a million in prize money, would be the first non-millionaire business person to be elected, and one of the USTA's highest ranked former professional players (#8 in doubles and #69 in singles) on the job. Maybe her rally cry and goal would be, "One American in every Grand Slam or Tier I Final."

The future might have show court #17, the Hon. David Dinkins Stadium, instead of his name just on a circle outside the tennis center. There would be a roof over Ashe Stadium in spite of marshland and its awkward size and structure.

Potentially there would be no echoes of the usual "luck of the draw;" questionable practices; unequal opportunities; too many national coaches let go because of "going in a different direction;" lawsuits by staff of color; executives resigning out of the blue because of a "glass ceiling;" or far too little minority players playing tennis unrepresentative of the American population.

Well, this is my tennis tale for Labor Day that might turn into reality, where we all hope to be judged by our hearts and the fruit of our labors. The best results for the USTA and U. S. Open would come with a person at the helm who has worked in all facets of the sport and been through all of the ardors of training and playing professionally. She would remember being driven around in a lime green 280 ZX, free lessons at Garfield Park, donations from CPTC, a leg up from the ATA, and how much this would mean to the many who came before her. Mostly, she would know how it took and still takes a community to raise a champion and good leader.