Black Women Make History at U.S. Open

Serena Williams, of the United States, returns a shot to Margarita Gasparyan, of Russia, during the third round of the U.S. Open tennis championships, Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Seven years before she was the youngest player at the 2020 U.S. Open – and a part of tennis history – Robin Montgomery entered an essay contest. The topic was what you would do if you could follow Arthur Ashe’s path and give back to the sport.

In her winning entry, Montgomery said she wanted to bring tennis to places such as Pakistan and Afghanistan, where girls have virtually no opportunity to compete in any sport. She would show parents that “it is important for girls to play tennis like boys because girls would learn important life skills.” She wrote about how the game has cultivated her resilience and an appreciation for hard work. Then 9-year-old Montgomery, of Washington, D.C., concluded:

“Just like Arthur Ashe stated in one of his quotes, ‘An important key to success is self-confidence. An important key to self-confidence is preparation.’ By playing tennis the young girls will be prepared for many future events in their life.’ ”

Montgomery turns 16 Saturday. She was the youngest player in the 128-person U.S. Open draw, a precocious left-hander with a big serve and forehand, and a deft net game, too. She didn’t escape the first round, but the larger story was not two dropped sets, but the dozen Black women who comprised 37.5 percent of the full contingent (32) of U.S. female singles here – a record number in an event that dates to 1881.

Two of those players – Serena Williams and Sloane Stephens – will square off in a hotly anticipated third-round match in Arthur Ashe Stadium on Saturday. Nobody is happier about it than Martin Blackman, the general manager, USTA player development, and a Black man himself.

A Stanford graduate and former player on the men’s tour, Blackman said his passion for the sport was ignited as a young child when he and his older brothers listened on the radio to Ashe’s victory over Jimmy Connors at Wimbledon in 1975. Blackman was 5, and still the memory of that crackly broadcast stays with him.

“People see themselves and imagine themselves doing the same thing,” Blackman told USA TODAY Sports. “When we’re talking about all the great African-American women who are coming into the game, everything starts with Venus and Serena Williams. The power of what they accomplished at such a young age, doing it with very little financial means, with their parents, Richard and Oracene, giving them what they needed to be champions, is just incredible.”

Stacey Allaster, the first female tournament director of the U.S. Open, agreed.

“They have inspired kids across our country, little girls, to play tennis,” Allaster said.

Montgomery was one of them. A year before she wrote her award-winning essay, Montgomery tuned into the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

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SOURCE: USA Today, Wayne Coffey