Monday, February 08, 2021

When Leslie Allen Made Tennis History 40 Years Ago Today

Nice to see this historic moment in tennis being remembered today, by none other than the woman who made it: American Leslie Allen -- who at 5-10 with an oversized Prince Pro -- was all legs and racket when I first saw her play as a kid.

She writes: 

Before Venus, Serena, or Naomi I made tennis history. With my historic victory at the Avon Championships of Detroit 40 years ago, on February 8, 1981, I became the first black woman to win a major tournament since Althea Gibson in 1958. At the time it was THE story in tennis. In 1981 I could only dream that black women would dominate tennis and never imagined we’d have the freedom to use our voice to highlight racial injustice. Proud to have played a role in changing the complexion and voice of tennis. 

The date of my victory, February 8, 1981, is seared in my mind not only for the historical significance -- it was also the opening night on Broadway and birthday for my mother who gave me my first tennis racquet. #TennisHistory #tennis #tennishistory #win4life

From HERE.

Note: This was not a cakewalk: Leslie beat Rosalyn Fairbank, 1978 French Open champ Virginia Ruzici, 1977 French Open champ Mima Jausovec, 1981 U.S. Open semifinalist Barbara Potter and the reigning (at the time)) Australian Open champ Hana Mandlikova to capture the title. 

It was fun that it happened at Cobo Hall in Detroit, where my family and I had attended the 1978 Virginia Slims and 1979 Avon Championships events before moving to Phoenix when I was 11. 

Longtime fans will remember that the Motor City was an annual stop on the famed indoor carpet circuit in the early days of professional women's tennis. 

Here's to Leslie -- who reached a career high of No. 17 in singles and was runner-up in the 1983 French Open mixed doubles* -- and all the other black tennis trailblazers of the previous generation, including Renee Blount, Kim Sands, Camille Benjamin and the late Andrea Buchanan.

Read what Allen had to say about Coco Gauff's activism HERE.


*What should have been a cause for celebration was the scene of one of the most vile and racist incidents I have ever heard of in professional tennis.

1 comment:

demc7 said...

Are you familiar with the story from the 1983 French Open mixed final?? She and partner Charles Strode were playing Barbara Jordan and Elliot Teltscher- they lost 63 62... At some point in the match, Teltscher called Allen the N word AND the C word. He was never fined or reprimanded in any way- in fact, he was later named USTA director of tennis operations in 2002.