Citizen Ashe: The quiet heroism and triumph of a tennis champion

A new film looks at Arthur Ashe’s US Open and Wimbledon triumphs. And how he responded to pressure to speak out on civil rights issues

Confidence fueled Arthur Ashe’s success in tennis. If he was confident enough, he said, he could hit the ball backwards. In 1968, he had plenty of forward momentum, going two months without losing a match. At that year’s US Open, he defeated Tom Okker to become the first Black man to win a men’s grand slam singles title. Meanwhile, Ashe had been facing both external and internal pressure to speak out on civil rights. After growing up in the segregated South, he had been concerned about a violent backlash. But after winning the US Open, he was ready to become more vocal, according to a new documentary, Citizen Ashe, directed by Rex Miller and Sam Pollard.

In the film, Ashe’s brother Johnnie recalls his sibling saying, “I’m a champion now. People will listen to what I have to say. I’m the first Black man to win the US Open. I’m going to be sought out.”

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