I'm sure Venus & Serena will have comments that I will add here. It's a bit unsettling that Roger doesn't know more. I wish the reporters would have asked more players, not just black players. It would have been nice if the USTA provided a bio so that players like Roger and others could give informed statements, but from what I'm gathering, the USTA doesn't do much
DY's comments are the most interesting.
Edited to add article:
The New York Times
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August 28, 2007
After a Trailblazer Is Honored, Williams Carries on Her Legacy
By LYNN ZINSER
On her way to the court on opening night of the United States Open, Venus Williams seemed momentarily flummoxed. In the hallway from the locker room at Arthur Ashe Stadium, she was greeted yesterday by an array of stars, an eye-popping lineup of African-American women who came to honor the tennis icon Althea Gibson. Williams paused to kiss Jackie Joyner-Kersee, to say hello to Roberta Flack, seeming as if she wanted to hug every one of them.
For a rare moment near a tennis court, Williams seemed overwhelmed.
“I didn’t expect that,” Williams said. “I wanted to stop and say hello to everyone.”
The tennis part of the evening posed little in the way of a challenge for Williams, who turned the qualifier Kira Nagy into little more than a stage prop. Williams pummeled Nagy’s very first serve crosscourt for a winner and cruised to a 6-2, 6-1 victory that also featured Williams ripping a record 129-mile-an-hour serve in the second game.
“I am so excited to get that record,” Williams said.
The entire match — which was followed by her sister Serena taking on Angelique Kerber — took only 54 minutes, several minutes shorter than the opening-night ceremony that honored Gibson.
That came on the 50th anniversary of Gibson’s becoming the first African-American woman to win the United States National Championships, the tournament that would become the Open.
Gibson, who died in 2003, was inducted into the Open’s Court of Champions. On hand to honor her was a lineup of African-American pioneers that included Olympic stars like Joyner-Kersee (two-time heptathlon gold medalist), Debi Thomas (first to win a winter Olympic medal, in figure skating) and Vonetta Flowers (first to win a winter Olympic gold medal, in bobsled). The accomplishments stretched outside sports, to Dr. Mae Jemison, who was the first African-American female astronaut, and Carol Moseley Braun, the first to be elected to the United States Senate.
Taking special pride in the evening, though, was Zina Garrison, who is the first African-American woman to win an Olympic tennis gold medal, but someone who also provides tennis’s bridge from Gibson to the Williams sisters.
As a 15-year-old budding star, Garrison attended a tennis camp that had Gibson as the host. Gibson promptly told Garrison that she was not working nearly hard enough to become a professional player.
It was the kind of advice Garrison later passed along to the Williams sisters, whom she helped coach for a time and now watches with great pride. Garrison said she remained close to Gibson to the end of her life and was saddened that the honor did not come while Gibson was alive.
“I think we really needed to appreciate someone like her, not just as an African-American but as a strong woman, period,” Garrison said. “Because of the barriers that she broke, she broke barriers for women, period.”
Before Venus Williams played in her first final here, in 1997, Gibson had come to speak to her and wish her good luck. Last night, Venus said she watched the ceremony on television in the locker room waiting for her match.
“It was very special and emotional,” she said. “I just wanted to come out and live up to Althea’s legacy.”
The careers of the Williams sisters have often been interrupted by injury in recent years, but they remain two of the Open’s favorite stars. The crowd last night included Janet Jackson and Rachel Robinson, the widow of Jackie Robinson.
Venus Williams comes into the tournament seeded 12th, the result of an injury-plagued year but one that still had moments of brilliance. A year ago, she was merely a spectator at the Open, sitting out with an injury to her left wrist. This year, she bounced back to win Wimbledon for the fourth time in her career but was forced to pull out of a recent tournament in Toronto with tendinitis in her knee.
There was a momentary scare in last night’s opening match, when Venus slipped and skidded to the court trying to change direction. She quickly got up, bounced a bit on her ankle and continued to overpower Nagy.
The crowd rose to celebrate her victory, including the women who had come to honor Gibson and stayed to cheer two of the players who carry on her legacy.
“I’ve known them since they were 7 and 8 years old, so it’s like watching kids grow up,” Garrison said of the Williams sisters. “It’s just so amazing. The good and the bad, the ups and the downs, the one thing they’ve done is stay true to themselves. I think that’s what Althea stood for, being true to herself.”
Photos from Yahoo.