On a glorious day at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center when the USTA unveiled an 18-ton granite statue of Althea Gibson, whom King called "the Jackie Robinson of tennis" for breaking through the sport's color barrier, the African-American athlete who has dominated the women’s game for nearly two decades began her quest for her 24th Grand Slam title.
Serena Williams commanded the spotlight Monday evening with her dominant performance against five-time Grand Slam winner Maria Sharapova, 6-1, 6-1. It was the 20th time in the 22 matches they’ve played each other that Serena beat Sharapova. Ironically, it was the first time they’ve met at the U.S. Open.
Asked if she could have imagined what Gibson must have gone through in the 1950s, Williams said, “Well, no, I can’t. It’s a different age and a different time. I read her book. I read her having to sleep in cars because they wouldn’t allow her to be in the hotels. Even finding doubles partners was difficult for her. It’s just different times. It’s obviously hard to imagine being in that position. But it’s also really important to be thankful and to know what she went through, to understand that’s why that statue is so important so others that are younger know what she went through.
"No matter what color you are, you can definitely learn a lot about her story, the opportunities that she helped bring to tennis.”
It was a great opening day at the U.S. Open. A great day to remind everyone about the importance of inclusion. A great day to recognize an athlete who deserves so much respect and admiration for breaking through and overcoming tremendous hardships. And a great day for young and old to appreciate the sport’s history and yet how far we still have to go in terms of race relations and equality for men and women.