Black History Month Robert Walter Johnson

Over  the past two years, I profiled several black mathematicians, many of which had an indirect influence on my own career.  I’ve been very busy taking care of family issues as of late, so blogging has gone off my personal radar.  Even so, I recently realized I have yet to profile a single black contributor to the sport of tennis.

Modern players like Blake and Monfils capture the public eye with their incredible talent.  Who has not heard of the Williams sisters?  Some of us may even remember greats such as Arthur Ashe and Althea Gibson, the first male and female black winners at Wimbledon.  Whatever the Williams sisters achieve on the road of success, that road was paved by athletes such as Gibson.  In 1950, she was the first black woman to compete at the US Open. Gibson achieved the same status at Wimbledon in 1951.

But the history goes back even further than that.  Black tennis players have a godfather whose achievements paved the way for players like Gibson and Ashe.  Both these players were coached by Robert Walter Johnson.  Johnson was a physician by trade, but an intense tennis player.

Due to segregation, black tennis players in the South had no access to public courts and often little if any money for lessons.  Johnson established a tennis camp for African-American children where expenses and instructor fees were paid.  In some cases, blacks were denied access to hotels, so Johnson offered his house as lodging to distinguished African-Americans passing through the Lynchburg, VA area.

In 2002, the house and tennis court were added to the National Register of Historic Places and in 2007, Dr. Johnson was nominated for inclusion in the International Tennis Hall of Fame to which he was inducted in 2009.

While you enjoy the success of modern black players in the time, I hope you also make time to search the web for more on “Whirlwind” Johnson, the person on whom much of the foundation of black tennis can be firmly pinned.

Aussie Open Wrapup

Well, this was a really good tournament.  On the mens side, I’m always pleased with a Federer win.  Last year, he seemed to be weighted down with the effort to match Sampras’ slam record.  Running into an inspired performance by Nadal, his serve broke down in the crucial fifth set.  This year, he seemed very relaxed and held off a strong challenge from Murray in the third set.  Some will say that the win did not come against Nadal, however, the hyper-physical style of play that lead to much of Nadal’s success has now come back to haunt him.  At  that level of physical intensity, the window of time to play at one’s absolute peak is very small.

Speaking of wear and tear, it seems like the grind of the tour has really caught up to Roddick.  I had higher hopes for him coming off the prior tournament win, but the two-week format of a major championship does not bode well for injuries, especially to your playing arm.

Also on the US mens side, I had hoped for slightly more depth from John Isner, but he ran headfirst into a strong performance from Murray, who seems well on his way to becoming the first Brit since Fred Perry to win a slam.  If Murray continues to improve at his current pace and remains fit, it’s truly only a matter of time.  I do believe he needs to learn how to adjust to a more aggressive level of play.  Had he come into the net more, it might have been a different final.  Federer was playing lights-out from the baseline, although he did not appear to be hitting passing shots all that well.  Murray was winning a very high percentage of points at the net when he did come in throughout the entire tournament.  When pressed, he seems to revert to his more comfortable role as a baseline counter-puncher.  Get beyond that and we should see several majors from Murray.

Congrats to the Bryan brothers on regaining the doubles championship.  Interesting move by their coach to switch court coverage for the brothers.  Seemed to work well, though, and the result speaks for itself.

Speaking of results, how about those Williams sisters!  When Serena serves the way she’s capable of, it’s pretty much a question of whether or not she will beat herself, not whether her opponent will beat her (unless someone on the women’s side every matches that serve).  Great performance by Venus to put the singles loss behind her and take the lead in an impressive doubles championship.

Great tournament to start a new year.