On This Day

Arthur Ashe, Arthur Ashe wimbledon, Arthur Ashe wimbledon trophy, Arthur Ashe 1975
Associated Press

On This Day: Arthur Ashe Wins Wimbledon

July 05, 2011 05:00 AM
by Denis Cummings
On July 5, 1975, Arthur Ashe became the first black man to win Wimbledon, defeating Jimmy Connors in a shocking upset.

Ashe Upsets Connors in Wimbledon Final

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Arthur Ashe accomplished a great many firsts in his tennis career. He was the first African-American to win the National Junior Indoor tennis title and the first to be selected to the U.S. Davis Cup team. In 1968, he became the first black man to win the U.S. Open, doing so as an amateur in the first year the tournament allowed professional players.

In 1975, the 31-year-old entered Wimbledon the No. 6 seed. He managed to advance through the draw, but not without some difficulty. He needed four sets to win his first, fourth and quarterfinal round matches, the last against Swedish great Bjorn Borg, who was hindered by a groin injury. In the semifinal, Ashe needed the maximum five sets to beat Australian Tony Roche.

In the final, Ashe met Jimmy Connors, the brash defending champion who had yet to drop a set in the tournament. Shortly before the tournament, Connors had sued Ashe for libel after Ashe said he was “seemingly unpatriotic” for refusing to play in the Davis Cup. Ashe took to the court wearing his Davis Cup jacket, “perhaps to needle Jimmy,” noted Sports Illustrated’s Joe Jares.

Connors entered the match a heavy favorite. “That match was the biggest of my life,” recalled Ashe in his memoir “Days of Grace.” “It was also one that just about everybody was sure I would lose, because Connors was virtually invincible. I was the sacrificial lamb.”

Ashe had lost his three previous career matches against Connors, and he knew that he couldn’t try to out-hit his younger, stronger opponent. Instead, he decided he would try to frustrate Connors with a variety of soft shots. “He approached it almost as though he was going to play Connors at chess with a strategy deeply considered and carefully rehearsed,” wrote David Gray in The Guardian.
Ashe had developed the necessary repertoire of shots in his days at UCLA, where mentors Pancho Gonzalez and Pancho Segura had encouraged him to experiment on the court. “At one time,” wrote The New York Times in his obituary, “Ashe accumulated 16 variations of the backhand in his stroke repertory.”

Ashe’s strategy worked brilliantly against Connors, as he won the first two set easily, 6-1, 6-1. “Ashe confounded him,” described Fred Tupper in The New York Times. “He threw ‘junk’ at Jimmy, he chipped and dinked, mostly to the backhand. He tossed up lobs. He served solidly all the way through, and his forehand volley, admittedly his weakness, was a tower of strength at the infighting around the net.”

Connors rebounded to win the third set and took a lead in the fourth. “The avalanche seemed to be starting,” wrote Jares. “But Ashe, as cool as ever, broke back twice to take the set and match.”

Biography: Arthur Ashe

Learn more about the life of Arthur Ashe, including his social activism in South Africa and his battle with AIDS, in his findingDulcinea profile.
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