In the past decade, the world of tennis has witnessed a shift toward creating a culture of inclusivity within the sport, particularly for players from the Black community. From initiatives aimed at providing access to underrepresented communities, to inspiring stories of players breaking barriers, tennis is making strides towards becoming a more welcoming and diverse space.
The Mubadala Citi DC Open 2023, hosted at Northwest, D.C.’s Rock Creek Park Tennis Center, stands as a testament to the sport’s evolving landscape for players from the Black community.
Mark Ein, a driving force behind the tournament and chairman of the Washington Citi Open, shared his deep connection to its rich history.
“The legacy of this tournament is at the heart and soul of what it is today,” he told the Informer, recounting its origins as a visionary initiative by D.C. native Donald Dell and John Harris in 1969.
Their decision to place the tournament in a public facility, rather than an exclusive private club, was a significant step towards inclusivity. This gesture was seconded by tennis legend Arthur Ashe, an iconic African American player. Ashe insisted on having Black ball kids for his matches, further underscoring the importance of representation in the sport.
Ein’s commitment to preserving the tournament’s legacy and continuing to provide opportunities to young talents from the Black community is rooted in his own experience. As a child, he served as a ball boy during the early years of the tournament and witnessed Ashe’s insistence on Black ball kids.
The chairman’s personal connection motivates him to honor Ashe’s vision and maintain the event’s community-driven essence. The stadium, adorned with Ashe’s image and historical references throughout the venue, reminds everyone of the event’s history and purpose.
Working Towards Inclusivity and Accessibility in Tennis Today
Felix Auger-Aliassime, the 12th-ranked singles player in the world and rising star on the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) Tour, emphasized the significance of inclusivity beyond the tournament’s borders.
“Playing in different regions and places beyond Europe, America, Australia, and Canada, can give kids examples and role models they can relate to,” Auger-Aliassime told the Informer.
Canadian Auger-Aliassime, who is of Togolese descent, understands the importance of representation and accessibility to tennis in countries with limited resources. He shared that making tennis more inviting to diverse communities is crucial for the sport’s growth and inclusivity.
The 12th-ranked singles player acknowledged that tennis has often been perceived as a sport for the privileged, and he strives to change this perception. He said the sport’s individual nature can pose challenges — as team sports often offer more camaraderie and accessibility for players from diverse backgrounds. To bridge this gap, Auger-Aliassime stressed the importance of creating community-based initiatives that break down barriers and provide opportunities for aspiring talents from underprivileged regions.
Beyond his own success on the court, Auger-Aliassime is deeply invested in promoting tennis in his father’s homeland, Togo. Through his father’s tennis academy, he aims to enhance tennis infrastructure and coaching in the country, providing a pathway for young talents from diverse backgrounds to pursue their dreams in the sport.
Local organizations such as the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center, (SETLC), founded by D.C.’s former first lady Cora Masters Barry, also works toward the spirit of inclusivity in tennis.SETLC has been pivotal in providing tennis opportunities to young people, particularly those from underprivileged backgrounds in the Black community.
The Southeast D.C.-based organization serves as a hub for tennis and a platform to nurture young talents. With Barry’s leadership and guidance over the years, the center has become a beacon of hope for aspiring players, promoting diversity and inclusivity in the sport.
Getting to the Pros
In addition to promoting inclusivity and access to the sport, some African American tennis players, such as Alycia Parks, also celebrate the accessible pathway to playing professionally in comparison to other athletic fields.
In the National Basketball Association (NBA), prospective players must meet specific age and education requirements, including being at least 19 years old and one year removed from high school graduation to be eligible for the draft. Conversely, tennis does not impose such barriers on young talents.
“I skipped college and went straight pro,” said Alycia Parks, a young African-American tennis prodigy from Atlanta.
Parks, a 22-year-old who embodies the spirit of determination that has driven her to the top of the game, emphasized the importance of perseverance for Black girls aspiring to make a mark in tennis.
“Anything is possible. You just have to keep at it. Don’t give up, because it wasn’t easy for me,” Parks said.
Source: Washington Informer