5 Outstanding Black Women Tennis Champions

Althea Gibson at Wimbledon
Althea Gibson went from Wimbledon legend to the LPGA Tour.

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Black women contributed greatly to the game of tennis. Whether they were breaking racial or gender barriers, Black women on the tennis court have been remarkable. We'll profile the top five Black woman tennis players from the early 20th century until today.

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Ora Washington: The Queen of Tennis

Ora Mae Washington

John W. Mosely / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 1.0

Ora Mae Washington was once known as the “Queen of Tennis” for her prowess on the tennis court. 

From 1924 to 1937, Washington played in the American Tennis Association (ATA). From 1929 to 1937, Washington won eight ATA National Crowns in women’s singles. Washington was also the women’s doubles champion from 1925 to 1936. In the mixed doubles championships, Washington won in 1939, 1946, and 1947.

Not only an avid tennis player, Washington also played women’s basketball throughout the 1930s and 1940s. Serving as a center, leading scorer, and coach for the Philadelphia Tribune’s women’s team, Washington played in games throughout the United States against men and women, Black and white.

Washington lived out the rest of her life in relative obscurity. She died in May of 1971. Five years later, Washington was inducted into the Black Athletes Hall of Fame in March of 1976. 

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Althea Gibson: Breaking Racial Barriers on the Tennis Court

Althea Gibson and Angela Buxton
Tennis players Angela Buxton (left) of Great Britain, and Althea Gibson (1927 - 2003) of the USA, at London Airport (now Heathrow), 27th May 1958.

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In 1950, Althea Gibson was invited to compete in the United States National Championships in New York City. Following Gibson’s match, journalist Lester Rodney wrote, “In many ways, it was an even tougher, personal Jim Crow-busting assignment than was Jackie Robinson’s when he stepped out of the Brooklyn Dodgers dugout.” This invitation made Gibson the first African American athlete to cross racial barriers and play international tennis matches.

By the following year, Gibson was playing at Wimbledon and six years later, she became the first person of color to win a Grand Slam title at the French Open. In 1957 and 1958, Gibson won at Wimbledon and the U.S. Nationals. In addition, she was voted "Female Athlete of the Year" by The Associated Press.

In total, Gibson won 11 Grand Slam tournaments and was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame and the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame.

Althea Gibson was born on August 25, 1927, in South Carolina. During her childhood, her parents moved to New York City as part of the Great Migration. Gibson excelled in sports—especially tennis—and won several local championships before breaking racial barriers in the game of tennis in 1950.

She died on September 28, 2003. 

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Zina Garrison: Not the Next Althea Gibson

Zina Garrison at Wimbledon, 1990

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One of Zina Garrison’s most notable achievements is becoming the first African American woman to reach a grand slam final since Althea Gibson.

Garrison began her professional career as a tennis player in 1982. During her career, Garrison’s victories include 14 wins as well as a 587-270 record in singles and 20 wins, Garrison has won three Grand Slam titles including the 1987 Australian Open and the 1988 and 1990 Wimbledon tournaments.

Garrison also played in the 1988 games in Seoul, South Korea, winning a gold and bronze medal.

Born in 1963 in Houston, Garrison began playing tennis at the age of 10 at the McGreagor Park Tennis program. As an amateur, Garrison reached the finals in the U.S. Girls National Championship. Between 1978 and 1982, Garrison won three tournaments and was named the International Tennis Federation Junior of the Year for 1981 and the 1982 Women’s Tennis Association Most Impressive Newcomer.

Although Garrison officially retired from playing tennis in 1997, she has worked as a coach for women’s tennis.

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Venus Williams: Olympic Gold Medalist and Top-Ranking Tennis Player

Venus Williams in 2013

Lalo Yasky / Getty Images

Venus Williams is the only female tennis player to win three career gold medals at the Olympic Games. As one of the top-ranking female professional tennis players, Williams’ record includes seven Grand Slam titles, five Wimbledon titles, and WTA tour victories.

She began playing tennis at the age of five and became a professional player at the age of 14. Since then, Williams has made major moves on and off the tennis court. In addition to her many wins, Williams was the first female athlete to sign a multi-million dollar endorsement. She is also the owner of a clothing line and has been ranked in Forbes Magazine on the “Power 100 Fame and Fortune” list in 2002 and 2004. Williams has also won the ESPY “Best Female Athlete award in 2002 and was honored with an NAACP Image Award in 2003.

Williams is a founding ambassador for the WTA-United National Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Gender Equality Program. 

Venus Williams was born in 1980 in California and is Serena Williams' older sister.

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Serena Williams: Serving Up Serena's Slam

Serena Williams

Tatiana / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 2.0 

As the reigning champion of the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, U.S. Open, WTA Tour Championships as well as the Olympic women’s singles and doubles, Serena Williams is currently ranked no. 1 in women’s singles tennis. Throughout her career, Williams has held this ranking on six separate occasions.

In addition, Serena Williams holds the most major singles, doubles, and mixed doubles titles for active players—regardless of gender. In addition, Williams, along with her sister Venus, have won all four Grand Slam women’s doubles titles between 2009 and 2010. Together, the Williams sisters have not been beaten in Grand Slam tournament finals.

Serena Williams was born in 1981 in Michigan. She began playing tennis at the age of four. When her family moved to Palm Beach, Florida in 1990, Williams began playing in junior tennis tournaments. Williams began her professional career in 1995 and has gone on to achieve four Olympic medals, sign numerous endorsements, become a philanthropist and a businesswoman. 

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Lewis, Femi. "5 Outstanding Black Women Tennis Champions." ThoughtCo, Jul. 29, 2021, thoughtco.com/top-african-american-women-in-tennis-45324. Lewis, Femi. (2021, July 29). 5 Outstanding Black Women Tennis Champions. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/top-african-american-women-in-tennis-45324 Lewis, Femi. "5 Outstanding Black Women Tennis Champions." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/top-african-american-women-in-tennis-45324 (accessed June 10, 2023).