RICHMOND, Va. – Arthur Ashe began playing tennis at Richmond’s Battery Park when he was 7. Now the park is honoring one of the city’s most prominent athletes with a large mural adorning a tunnel leading to the tennis courts.
Born and raised in Richmond, Ashe would grow up to change the game of tennis. Humanitarian, trailblazer and icon are a few descriptions attached to Ashe.
He achieved many firsts. The first African-American male player to win the U.S. Open (1968) and Wimbledon (1975), the first African-American man to be ranked No. 1 in the world (1975), and the first African-American man to be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame (1985).
He died in 1993 from AIDS-related pneumonia attributed to a blood transfusion.
Fast-forward to 24 years later, the community wants to bring his love for the game of tennis to today’s young players.
The Upholding Networking Inspiring Togetherness in Celebration of Yesterday street project painted the outside and inside of the tunnel with quotations from Ashe as well as a timeline of his life and career to commemorate what would have been Ashe’s 74th birthday on July 12.
“Arthur Ashe basically paved the way for tennis players like me,” Toni McDonald, a tennis instructor at Battery Park, said. “These were his courts. This is very special for me to be able to play here and teach tennis here is an honor.”
Victor Rizzi, tennis coordinator for the Richmond Parks and Recreation Department, is making sure that tennis continues to grow in Richmond. During the summer, he hires tennis instructors to spend nine weeks teaching tennis at 17 different sites throughout the city. Each site has between 50 and 90 young students.
“Here in Battery Park, this is not a fee-based camp,” Rizzi said. “We want to expose tennis to every child for free. If they don’t have a tennis racquet, we will provide one. It’s important to just expose them to the sport.”