View Full Version : Althea Gibson watches, keeps advice to a minimum

Jun 11th, 2002, 05:34 AM
Karen Crouse, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 9, 2002

Gibson watches, keeps advice to a minimum

As the soul sisters played for the French Open title, their sole sister watched with unadorned pride. The pioneer Althea Gibson never misses a chance to behold her playing progeny

The telecast that will serve as the historical record of Serena Williams' 7-5, 6-3 victory over older sister Venus -- a trumpet call heralding Serena's arrival this week at No. 2 in the world behind Venus -- was delayed.

Tell Gibson about it.

In 1956 Gibson became the first woman of color to win the French Open, as part of a transcendent stretch that saw her win 16-of-18 tournaments she entered.

"Althea was saying the other day that she didn't think she'd ever win the French,'' said a friend, Fran Clayton Gray. "The clay surface didn't suit her game. She didn't think she had enough patience.''

If the Williams sisters of Palm Beach Gardens used to think the same thing, well, it figures. Gibson was an amalgam of Serena and Venus. She had Venus' tall, lean carriage and long reach and Serena's aggressive mind-set. The year after winning the French Open, Gibson added the Wimbledon and U.S. Open titles and became the first woman of color to ascend to No. 1 in women's tennis.

At 74, she wasn't sure she'd live to see something as wondrous as the Williams sisters' 1-2 punch to the gut of convention.

"She thought they could develop into players that could be 1 and 2,'' reported Gray, who watched Saturday's historic final with Gibson at the latter's apartment in East Orange, N.J. "She's very happy about them getting to No. 1 and 2."

Gibson grew up in hardscrabble Harlem. She had a wealth of athletic talent but money woes forced her out of the game in 1958, immediately after she successfully defended her Wimbledon and U.S. Open titles.

Gibson reached her prime 10 years before prize money spread to major tournaments. As she explained at the time of her retirement, "I am much richer in knowledge and experience but I have no money.''

No doubt Serena on Saturday didn't give Gibson much reason to talk to the television, as she is wont to do when Serena doesn't take advantage of her expanding arsenal of shots. Gray has watched matches with Gibson in the past in which Gibson has implored Serena to kindly remove herself from the baseline and mix up her shots.

Serena played as if she had Gibson in her ear, charging, hitting lobs and drop shots for winners. Their playful demeanor afterward suggested Saturday's match was a win-win situation for its combatants.

"Althea,'' said Gray, "is very proud of those girls.''


Dawn Marie
Jun 11th, 2002, 06:13 AM
Great article, it's always nice to hear about Althea.:) It's nice to know that Althea knows about Venus and Serena's accomplishments. I am glad she is here with the tennis fans to witness this dream come true.

I know Arthue Ashe is looking down and smiling.:)

Jun 11th, 2002, 11:01 AM
Thanks, Choco. It's always good to hear from or about the trailblazer. :)

Jun 11th, 2002, 11:06 AM
"Serena played as if she had Gibson in her ear, charging, hitting lobs and drop shots for winners."

Jun 11th, 2002, 04:09 PM
Thanks everyone.

If I'm not mistaken, Venus, Serena and members of their family have appeared at several functions in support of Althea Gibson.

That's what I love about the girls. They have a good sense of tennis history, and recognize the struggles of people like Athea Gibson.

One Love

Jun 11th, 2002, 05:35 PM
thanks Choco, really nice article. I remember when Serena won the US Open '99 there was an article about how happy Althea Gibson was for them because she'd always wanted to see another African American woman win it in her lifetime. Althea - one of the game's true greats :hearts:

Jun 11th, 2002, 07:29 PM
CLASS!!!!!! :)

Brian Stewart
Jun 11th, 2002, 09:22 PM
Althea was a model for not just black players, but for generations of serve/volleyers which would make up the majority of the top ten for over 30 years. Bueno, Court, King, Goolagong, Navratilova, and the majority of their peers at the top. It also set a standard for the style of play of virtually every black player that followed until, ironically, the Williamses. Allen, Blount, Sands, Garrison, McNeil, Adams. Chanda won her junior Wimbledon title as a serve/volleyer and, when healthy, loves to attack the net. Alexandra plays S/V. The sisters have the potential to do so, and could reignite it as a major playing style.

As for the article itself, it should be required reading for the tennis writers before they wrote their stories about the RG final.

Jun 12th, 2002, 12:10 AM
Nice article!:)

Jun 13th, 2002, 02:52 AM
Nice article! Always good to read about the great Althea!

Dawn Marie
Jun 13th, 2002, 04:33 AM
Right on Brian!!

Althea was a awsome tennis player and women and should be aknowledged for that more often and not only when Serena and Venus win a slam.:)