Ora Wash­ing­ton wins eighth Amer­i­can Ten­nis As­so­ci­a­tion sin­gles ti­tle

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Women's Sport Monthly -

It is an in­struc­tive in­sight into the marginalis­ed lives of pioneer­ing black women in the United States that Ora Wash­ing­ton, a se­rial cham­pion in two sports, had no birth cer­tifi­cate to record her en­trance into the world around the turn of the 20th cen­tury nor, when her time fi­nally came to be in­ducted into the Black Ath­letes Hall of Fame in 1976, did the or­gan­is­ers re­alise that she had been dead for five years.

In­stead there was an empty chair at the cer­e­mony in New York while her list of ac­com­plish­ments was read out: eight Amer­i­can Ten­nis As­so­ci­a­tion sin­gles ti­tles, 12 women’s and three mixed dou­bles cham­pi­onships; as a cen­tre, lead­ing scorer and cap­tain she won one Col­ored Women’s Bas­ket­ball World Cham­pi­onship with the Ger­man­town Hor­nets be­fore mov­ing to the strong­est team in the coun­try, Philadel­phia Tri­bune in 1932, where she ac­crued 11 more in suc­ces­sive sea­sons.

As far as we can tell, Wash­ing­ton was born in Virginia in 1899 and moved to Philadel­phia in the Great Mi­gra­tion dur­ing the sec­ond decade of the new cen­tury. Work­ing as a maid, she took up ten­nis first at the Ger­man­town YMCA, a club re­served for non-white women, as late as 1924. She started se­ri­ous tour­na­ment play in 1925, win­ning the ATA women’s dou­bles at her first at­tempt with Lulu Bal­lard. In 1929 she won the first of seven suc­ces­sive sin­gles ti­tles at the ATA, es­tab­lished in 1916 be­cause the US Lawn Ten­nis As­so­ci­a­tion re­fused to al­low black play­ers to com­pete, and, hav­ing suc­cumbed to sun­stroke in 1936 re­cov­ered to win it back one last time the fol­low­ing year.

Lit­tle footage ex­ists of her ten­nis ca­reer, but con­tem­po­rary re­ports de­scribe a unique grip, hold­ing the racket high up the han­dle, and a game based on a heavy slice with fore­hand and back­hand, speed around the court and dom­i­nant over­head strokes. Arthur Ashe wrote that “she may have been the best fe­male ath­lete ever” but be­cause of seg­re­ga­tion, re­ceived al­most no cov­er­age out­side the AfricanAme­r­i­can news­pa­pers, which anointed her “The Queen of Two Courts”.

Wash­ing­ton, along with her great ATA ri­vals Isadore Chan­nels, Lucy Slowe and Bal­lard, all fought for the recog­ni­tion they felt they would only re­ceive by beat­ing He­len Wills, win­ner of eight sin­gles ti­tles at Wim­ble­don, four French Opens and seven at the US Na­tion­als (now known as the US Open), from which they were barred. Wills al­ways re­fused, claim­ing in the years be­fore her death that she turned down of­fers to play Wash­ing­ton at Madi­son Square Gar­den to pro­tect her am­a­teur sta­tus.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.