Born on July 10, 1943, in Richmond, Virginia, Arthur Robert Ashe learned the game at the Richmond Racket Club, which had been formed by local black enthusiasts. Dr. R. W. Johnson, who had also served as an adviser and benefactor to Althea Gibson, sponsored Ashe's tennis career, spending thousands of dollars and a great deal of time with him.
By 1958 Ashe reached the semi-finals in the under-fifteen division of the National Junior Championships. In 1960 and 1961 he won the Junior Indoors Singles title. Even before he finished high school, he was ranked twenty-eighth in the country.
In 1961 Ashe entered UCLA on a tennis scholarship. He was on his way to winning the U.S. Amateur Tennis Championship and the U.S. Open Tennis Championship, in addition to becoming the first black man ever named to a Davis Cup Team.
In 1975 Ashe was recognized as one of the world's great tennis players, having defeated Jimmy Connors at Wimbledon as well as taking the World Championship Tennis (WCT) singles title over Bjorn Borg. At Wimbledon he defeated Connors 6–1, 5–7, 6–4.
In 1979, at the age of thirty-five, Ashe suffered a heart attack. Following quadruple bypass heart surgery, he retired from playing tennis. He began writing a nationally syndicated column and contributed monthly articles to Tennis magazine. He wrote the book Advantage Ashe (1967), a tennis diary, Portrait in Motion (1975), and his autobiography Off the Court (1981). In addition, he compiled the historical work A Hard Road to Glory: A History of the African American Athlete (1993).
Ashe was named captain of the U.S. Davis Cup team in 1981. He was a former president and active member of the board of directors of the Association of Tennis Professionals, and a co-founder of the National Junior Tennis League. Late in his career he also served as a television sports commentator.
In April 1992 Ashe announced that he had contracted AIDS as the result of a tainted blood transfusion during heart-bypass surgery. He died on February 6, 1993.
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