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Althea Gibson: Harlem Tennis

3/23/2014, 4:13 p.m.
Photo Credit: TIME Magazine Cover Boris Chaliapin

Before Venus and Serena, there was Althea Gibson. Raised in Harlem in the 1930s, in 1950 she became the first African American to compete at the U.S. National Tennis Championships. By 1956, Gibson had integrated Wimbledon and made history as the first black woman to win the French Open. Within a few years, she won 56 tournaments, including five Grand Slam singles titles.

How did she do it? The 5’ 11” right hander overpowered her opponents with a blistering serve and commanding athletic talent. In 1957, she was the first black to be voted by the Associated Press as its Female Athlete of the Year and won the honor again in 1958.

After nabbing her second U.S. Championship, she turned professional. One year she earned a reported $100,000 in conjunction with playing a series of matches before Harlem Globetrotter basketball games. After retiring, Gibson was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame and also had a career as a professional golfer. She died in 2003.

To learn more about Gibson, check out this Q&A with the tennis legend.