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Althea Gibson wins Wimbledon

On this day in 1957, Althea Gibson defeats Darlene Hard 6-3, 6-2 to become the first black player ever to win Wimbledon.

Gibson was born in South Carolina on August 25, 1927, and raised in Harlem. She started playing tennis in 1942 at the Cosmopolitan Tennis Club under the tutelage of Fred Johnson. In 1950, Gibson caused a sensation when she became the first black player to compete in the U.S. Open; she became the first black to play Wimbledon the following year.

After rising to the number seven ranking on the ladies’ tour in 1953, Gibson’s play became inconsistent. She lost in the first round of the U.S. Open in 1954 and in the third round in 1955. Her early promise seemed to be slipping away, and she contemplated retirement before agreeing to participate in a U.S. State Department-sponsored tennis-clinic tour of Southeast Asia. The trip rejuvenated her and, when she returned home, her game showed a newfound maturity. She won the French Open in 1956, and in 1957, set her sights on Wimbledon.

Gibson cruised through the opening rounds of the 1957 Wimbledon without losing a set. The final was similarly uneventful, as Gibson’s vicious ground strokes flustered Hard in every game. The entire match took only 50 minutes. After Queen Elizabeth presented the new champion with the trophy, Gibson, overcome with emotion, could only say “At last! At last!” Later that day, Gibson and Hard teamed up to capture the ladies’ doubles championship, thrashing Mary Hawton and Thelma Long of Australia, 6-1, 6-1.

Althea Gibson won both the Wimbledon and the U.S. Open titles in 1957 and 1958, and was named Female Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press in both years. She was the first black woman ever to win the award. In 1975, Gibson became the New Jersey State Commissioner of Athletics, a job she held for 10 years. She died in 2003 at the age of 76.

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