On this day in 1975, Arthur Ashe defeats the heavily favored Jimmy Connors to become the first black man ever to win Wimbledon, the most coveted championship in tennis.
Arthur Ashe began playing tennis as a boy in his hometown of Richmond, Virginia. After winning a tennis scholarship to UCLA, Ashe was taken under the wing of tennis star Pancho Gonzales, who recognized the young player’s potential. In 1968, Ashe became the first black man to win the U.S. Open. Two years later, he captured the Australian Open for his second Grand Slam title. Over the next seven years, Ashe won his share of tournaments, but no more majors, and, frustrated, he set his sights on victory at Wimbledon, one of the most celebrated championships in tennis.
Arthur Ashe was 31 years old in 1975, and seemingly well past his prime, so his advancement to the 1975 Wimbledon finals came as somewhat of a surprise to the tennis establishment. While Ashe’s best finishes at Wimbledon had been losses in the semi-finals in 1968 and 1969, his opponent, the brash 22-year-old Jimmy Connors, was the defending Wimbledon champion. In their three previous meetings, Connors had handled Ashe easily. Furthermore, Connors was coming off an impressive semi-final win against Roscoe Tanner, whose intimidating serve observers called the hardest hitting ever at Wimbledon.
Though many thought he didn’t have a chance, Ashe formulated a game plan for the match: hit nothing hard. He planned to serve strongly and then give Connors nothing but “junk” as Ashe himself described it. Connors won the first game of the first set, but then dropped the rest of the set in just 20 minutes, 6-1. Although Connors won just one game off Ashe in the second set, he took the third set 7-5. His confidence restored, Connors strutted around the court, while Ashe closed his eyes between sets, concentrating on the moment at hand. Finally, with the shocked crowd cheering him on, Ashe finished Connors off in the fourth set, 6-4.
Ashe retired from competitive tennis in 1980 after suffering a heart attack. For his career, he won 51 tournaments. In retirement, Ashe wrote the three-volume book A Hard Road to Glory, first published in 1988, which detailed the struggle of black athletes in America. In 1983, after double-bypass surgery, Ashe was infected with HIV during a blood transfusion. After revealing his disease to the world in 1992, he set about educating the public about HIV and AIDS. He died of AIDS-related complications on February 6, 1993. In 1997, the U.S. Open’s new home court was named Arthur Ashe Stadium.