People who like to underestimate the sport of tennis can’t seem to look past the often bright clothing and skorts.
Real appreciators of the sport can see that there is a ton of strength, skill, power, and passion behind tennis and its players.
Black women have been paving their way through professional tennis for nearly a century now.
From Althea Gibson to Serena Williams to Naomi Osaka, here are 11 Black female tennis players who have made tons of strides and experienced major achievements in the sport.
While Althea Gibson might have also been known as a professional golfer, she solidified her place in sports history through her talents in tennis.
As a child of two sharecroppers in the 1920s south, she came from humble beginnings.
In her youth, her family moved north to the Harlem neighborhood of New York City where she would begin cultivating her craft.
An area of her neighborhood was barricaded so children could play organized sports during the day, and this is where Gibson picked up paddle tennis.
It wasn’t long before she was beating opponents, especially when she became New York City’s women’s paddle tennis champion at the ripe age of 12.
She went through some tough experiences of street fighting and even spent some time living in a shelter for abused children, but eventually she would persevere and come out on top.
Her neighbors would raise and help finance her training at a tennis club which would lead to her winning her first tournament, the American Tennis Association New York State Championship.
Throughout her career, she would win five Grand Slam Singles titles, five Grand Slam Doubles titles, and one Grand Slam Mixed Doubles title.
With her first title, a Singles win at the French Championships in 1956, she became the first Black athlete to win a Grand Slam title.
When I first hear the name Sloane Stephens, I instantly think of the 2013 Australian Open where the then 19-year old managed to beat Serena Williams.
While this might be one of the highlights of her career, that is not her entire story.
Stephens comes from an athletic background.
Her mother is recognized as Boston University’s greatest swimmer and was the first Black woman to be named first-team All-American swimmer in Division I history.
John Stephens, Sloane’s father, was a professional football player with the New England Patriots.
Sloane’s tennis career began in 2002 when she began playing tennis at a local club.
After being recognized for her skill by the head of the tennis club, Stephens moved to Florida two years later to focus on improving.
Her professional debut was in 2007, at the young age of 14.
Since then, she has improved her ranking into the top 100 and top 50 before peaking at #11.
This achievement for her came the same year that she bested Serena William, who was the No. 3 ranked player.
Although she struggled with her career after this success, she managed to push herself to win the US Open Grand Slam Singles title in 2017 against Madison Keys.
Coco Gauff is a new name to the world of tennis, but her name is quickly circulating.
As of 2020, she is the youngest player ranked in the top 100 by the Women’s Tennis Association.
Gauff was originally inspired to play tennis by Serena Williams, when the then four-year old watched the athlete win the 2009 Australian Open.
After deciding that she wanted to pursue tennis professionally, Gauff’s parents made it happen.
She began training at the Mouratoglou Academy in France, a training school headed by Patrick Mouratoglou, a coach of Serena Williams.
The young athlete began her junior career in 2016 before making her debut into the women’s circuit in 2018.
After she participated in a number of matches, Gauff’s name began to grow after she beat No. 44 Venus Williams in the opening round of Wimbledon 2019.
Since then, the teen athlete has qualified for several other Grand Slam and as of 2020, sits at No. 51.
Madison Keys is another name in tennis that has been rising in prominence in the last few years.
Hailing from Rock Island, Illinois, Keys is the daughter of two attorneys.
Her desire to play tennis didn’t come from being inspired by the players.
It was originally inspired by the outfits.
When she witnessed Venus Williams playing at Wimbledon in a white tennis dress, Keys asked her parents for a similar one.
They said “yes,” but with a stipulation.
She could get the dress if she started playing tennis, and the rest is a part of her athletic history.
While she had a successful junior career, joined the WTA at the age of 14.
She experienced several losses and wins that would help push her career to being ranked in the Top 10.
Although Keys has yet to win her first Grand Slam, the athlete made it to the 2017 finals of the US Open where she lost to Sloane Stephens.
Ora Washington is a name that could have more well-known if it weren’t for the racism and segregation of the early 1900s.
Washington was born in 1899 in Virginia, and after her family experienced the death of her mother and financial hardships, they moved north.
The athlete would begin playing tennis in the early 1920s and would go on to win city championships in singles, doubles, and mixed doubles in Wilmington, Delaware.
Her first national title came in 1925 when she won the American Tennis Association’s national doubles tournament.
She would continue to collect eight more titles before 1937.
Washington had a dream of playing in the United States Lawn Tennis Association, but was prohibited because of segregation.
The organization wouldn’t integrate until 1948, more than a decade after Washington’s retirement from the sport.
Zina Garrison is one of the few Black female tennis athletes who has won both a Grand Slam title and an Olympic medal.
Her career began in 1973 at ten years old.
Garrison would go on to enter her first tournament at 12 before winning her first title two years later.
At 18 years old, she won both the Wimbledon and US Open junior titles before her career made the switch into professional women’s tennis.
Throughout the first few years of her professional career, Garrison was battling with bulimia, a coping mechanism she began after the death of her mother.
Even so, she managed to push herself to the semi-finals of both the Australian Open in 1983 and Wimbledon in 1985.
The athlete didn’t win any Grand Slam singles titles throughout her career, but she won three Mixed Doubles.
Her first was in 1987 at the Australian Open followed by 1988 and 1990 wins at Wimbledon.
Garrison also went to the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul where she won bronze in women’s singles and gold in women’s doubles.
The name Katrina Adams is known in the tennis world not only because she was a player, but also because she would later become a tennis executive.
Adams’ career began at the young age of six where she joined a tennis program.
This would lead to her playing the sport in both high school and college, the later of which she played for Northwestern University.
Voted All-American twice, she won the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) doubles title in 1987 alongside her partner Diane Donnelly.
She made it to the quarterfinals of many Grand Slams, but her furthest was the semifinals of 1988 Wimbledon.
After she retired from the sport, she became a commentator for the Tennis Channel and a contributor to CBS Sports Network.
Eventually she would become the President, Chairman, and CEO of the United States Tennis Association in January 2015.
Not only did this make her the first former professional tennis player to do so, but it also made her the youngest and the first Black President of the organization.
There are tons of family duos, but few with a name as recognizable as Venus and Serena.
One half of the duo, Venus is often recognized as one of the best female tennis players of all time.
Much of Venus’ career is tied to that of her sister’s.
Her career began at the age of 10 when her family moved from Compton, California, to West Palm Beach, Florida.
The move was made so she and her sister could attend a tennis academy.
When Williams entered the United States Tennis Association junior tour, she had an impressive record of 63-0.
She debuted in 1994 and began collecting her wins in 1999.
Williams has an impressive six Grand Slam singles wins, 14 Grand Slam Doubles wins, and two Grand Slam mixed Doubles wins.
She also has four Olympic gold medals and one silver.
This makes her tied for the most Olympic medals won by any tennis player.
She is also the only tennis to have won a medal at four Olympic Games.
While Williams hasn’t had stellar performances at the last few tournaments, she doesn’t let that stop her love for the sport.
And even recent losses can’t sully the reputation of this historic athlete.
Another new name to tennis, Taylor Townsend started playing tennis at the age of six.
She would later move to Atlanta and then Boca Raton, Florida, to focus on playing tennis.
The athlete experienced many successes at the start of her career.
When she won the 2012 Australian Open junior tournament, she became the second American to do so.
She would then go on to win the grand Slam titles at the junior tournaments for Wimbledon and US Open.
Townsend would make her professional debut in 2010 at the age of 14.
She would then break into the top 100 in 2015.
While previously only making it into the fourth round of her Grand Slam events, her 2020 appearance at the US Open would be the furthest the athlete has made it.
The athlete most recently participated in the 2020 US Open.
While she might currently live in California, Naomi Osaka professionally represents Japan.
Born in Osaka, Japan, the athlete is Japanese and Haitian.
After moving to New York to live with her father’s family, her dad chose to teach and train her and her sister in tennis.
Osaka’s career would turn professional just before her sixteenth birthday.
She would go through a series of wins and losses before upsetting Angelique Kerber, the defending champion of the US Open, in her first round.
During this time, Naomi’s ranking began to rise, landing her within the top 50 in 2018.
The biggest win of her career so far came in 2018 when she bested Serena Williams at the US Open.
Later in 2019, she would become the No. 1 ranked female player.
Her most recent achievement is her 2020 win at the U.S. Open.
When it comes to tennis, Serena Williams is inarguably one of the best known names around the world.
While Serena’s career began alongside her sister, she has undoubtedly grown past the “Venus & Serena” references.
Although the sisters have experienced much success together, Serena Williams has solidified her career as a solo player well into her 30s.
Williams’ career holds many accolades.
She is a former No. 1 ranked player in women’s single tennis.
She has won an impressive 23 Grand Slam singles titles.
This is the second-most of all time.
Her record includes 39 Grand Slam titles in total.
They include 14 in women’s doubles, a feat she shares with her sister.
The star athlete has also held all four Grand Slam titles twice simultaneously.
This came during the 2002-2003 and 2014-2015 seasons where she won at the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, and US Open.
She also holds four Olympic gold medals, one in singles at the 2012 London Games and three in singles from the 2000, 2008, and 2012 Olympics.
As of 2020, she is ranked No. 8 in the world and is the first in all time earnings from the Women’s Tennis Association.
Top Black Female Tennis Players, Conclusion
While tennis doesn’t often get the same recognition as basketball, football, or baseball, few can deny the major athleticism required to play the sport.
Those grunts happen for a reason!
Black women have continued to break barriers in the Women’s Tennis Association.
There are no signs of stopping for them.
Althea Gibson, one of the first greats, helped pave the way for athletes like Serena Williams, who is easily recognized as possibly the best female athlete of all time.
She in turn has inspired tennis’ new generation of players like Naomi Osaka and Coco Gauff.
Black women have pushed themselves to excel at tennis.
They’re not the only ones working to make a name for themselves.
Black women everywhere are pushing the envelope on what’s to be expected.