• Short Summary

    In the world of professional sport, there are few men or women capable of matching physical agility on the field of play with intellectual ability away from the sporting arena.

  • Description

    In the world of professional sport, there are few men or women capable of matching physical agility on the field of play with intellectual ability away from the sporting arena.

    But there are a few -- and one of them is Arthur Ashe, the black American tennis professional. For despite the grinding commitment to what is now an all-year-round sport, Ashe has been an active leader in the fight against the indignities of apartheid and for the rights of tennis players to participate in the organisation of the sport throughout the world.

    Arthur Ashe was born in Richmond, Virginia in 1943, the son of a policeman. From early on he combined a natural ability at sport with the ability to learn He won a scholarship to the University of California and after graduation, joined the United States Army where he achieved the rank of lieutenant.

    It was while still in the army that Ashe made his first big breakthrough in international tennis, winning the U.S. Open in 1968. As an amateur, he was unable to accept the prize money, but since then, as a professional, he has earned in excess of 120,000 dollars a year from the globe-trotting tennis circuit.

    Ashe was not the first American black to hit the headlines in tennis. Althea Gibson did that when she won Wimbledon in 1957 and 1958. But Ashe was the first to combine his prestige as a champion with a determination to attack the colour bar wherever it existed.

    In 1970, he applied to play int he South African championships -- one of the world's major tennis tournaments -- and was refused. The result was to bring South Africa's apartheid policies into collision with the ruling bodies of world tennis and South Africa was isolated from the rest. Ironically, his most avid supporter was South African Cliff Drysdale. It took Ashe four years to make an impact on apartheid, but he succeeded. In 1973, he played in the South African championships last November and was losing finalist in Johannesburg.

    Ashe is regarded as one of the top ten players in the world. A right-hander with a devastating service, he has the gift of intense concentration which never allows him to become flustered during play. He is, as other professional say, the man you have to beat if you want to win the title. Today, he is a member of the World Championship Tennis Circuit.

    Such admiration for Ashe's play runs parallel with the respect he has earned from other professionals for his par tin furthering their cause during confrontations with the administrators of international tennis. Such clashes arose in the 1960's when professional players were seeking acceptance into what had always hitherto been an amateur sport.

    They won that fight, but a more serious principle was challenged at the time of last year's Wimbledon championships. A fellow professional, Yugoslav Niki Pilic had been suspended for refusing to play in his country's Davis Cup team, and thereby barred from Wimbledon, the world's premier championships. In sympathy with Pilic, most other professionals withdrew and, once again, it was Arthur Ashe who led the fight.

    During his career, Ashe has always been at, or near, the very top. Besides the U.S. championship, he has won the Australian title and been semi-finalist at Wimbledon twice.

    Ashe says that his ambition, when he eventually gives up competitive tennis, is to be writer of perhaps some kind of ambassador to one of the many African countries he has visited. In the meantime, he devotes his free time to coaching young players -- black and white.

    But whatever he does, Ashe is already known not only as a champion of tennis -- but a champion of individual principle.

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    Reuters - Source to be Verified
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