Arthur Ashe’s legacy, activism in tennis, and the Bryan Brothers’ 119 titles on tour


Hello and welcome to the 17th issue of Tennis inbox. Since the US Open is on, this week we’ll take a back seat and deliver you a slightly shorter issue. We’re hoping you’re enjoying the smorgasbord of tennis that’s available (finally!). In this issue we’ll learn a little about Arthur Ashe’s legacy, and take a look at some of the statistics of the greatest doubles pairing to ever grace the game.

We also want to share our profile of Australian Chris O’ Connell again. O’ Connell will play perhaps the biggest match of his fledgling career against #5 Daniil Medvedev in the second round of the US Open tomorrow. O’ Connell’s journey to the highest level of tennis has been far from easy. In this profile, he recounts his time working retail and cleaning boats to fund his professional career.

Read the profile.

Onwards to the rest of the issue.

Arthur Ashe, remembered

Now seems to be a good time to talk about Arthur Ashe. The US Open is on, and its stadium court (the largest tennis stadium in the world) is named after him. He was also a pivotal member in the founding of the Association of Tennis Professionals, otherwise known as the ATP, and, of course, Novak Djokovic just resigned from his position as President of the ATP Player’s Council. Djokovic’s hope is to launch the Professional Tennis Players Association (PTPA), a feat he wants to accomplish with Canadian Vasek Pospisil by his side. According to Pospisil, the new association “did not emerge to be combative, to disrupt, or to cause any issues within or outside the tennis tour. Simply to unify the players, have our voices heard and have an impact on decisions being made that [affect] our lives and livelihoods.” Whether the new association can achieve their goals will be seen in the next few months—or maybe even years.

Given all of this, we think it’s relevant to bring Arthur Ashe up again. But we can’t quite compete with how The Tennis Podcast hosts Catherine Whitaker, David Law, and Matt Roberts have covered him. In an episode released on 29th August, the hosts recount Arthur Ashe’s childhood, his unique, race-related struggles of growing up as a black tennis player in the 60s, and his life as a humanitarian.

Leslie Allen, John McEnroe, and James Blake all make guest appearances to give their thoughts on Arthur Ashe’s impact on their lives and careers, too. What stuck with us most from this podcast is when Leslie Allen recounts that she and Ashe had to grow up learning to play tennis by another set of rules. They had to learn to control their emotions, be stoic, and respectable athletes because black athletes were held to a different standard than their white counterparts.

We also enjoyed learning about the tactics Arthur Ashe used to win his Wimbledon title in 1975 against Jimmy Connors. Normally an aggressive, assertive player, Ashe used a combination of “hacking,” and lobbing to unsettle Connors. Kind of like the play you would see at your local courts from a wily veteran. The podcast episode is fascinating listening for the tennis fan.

Listen on Acast.
Listen on Spotify.
Listen on Apple Podcasts.

The Bryan Brothers finally retire

Finally? Finally. Not that we were waiting for them to retire or anything like that. But the Bryan Brothers have had an amazingly long career. Perhaps it is easier to do so on the the doubles tour, which, physically at least, is a lot less demanding than the singles tour (sorry doubles lovers, don’t get mad. We just mean in terms of the physical stress of movement, etc.) Anyway, at age 42, they’re finally retiring, so we thought we’d recap some of their amazing statistics and accomplishments:

  • A 22-year professional career
  • 16 Grand Slam titles
  • 30 Grand Slam finals
  • #1 as a team for a total of 438 weeks
  • 119 titles on tour
  • Davis Cup Winners
  • Gold Medalists—London, 2012
  • Bronze Medalists—Beijing, 2008

That is a seriously impressive career.

We also want to bring up this funny little trailer for a 60 Minutes episode. At the time of the making of the documentary, the Bryan Brothers shared a house, cars, bank accounts, and sometimes even… toothbrushes. Guess they took the whole twin thing very seriously.

Goodbye and farewell to the Bryan Brothers!

Activism comes to tennis

In the last few years at least, tennis as a sport has stayed fairly quiet on the activism front. This is in contrast to the NBA and NFL, which often features players protesting in various manners. It’s probably because tennis is such a global sport. But now that the tour is in its (admittedly short) North-American swing, it’s understandable how players might be focusing on the conversation taking place in America right now.

For this reason, it’s worth taking a look at Naomi Osaka’s tournament-stopping withdrawal at the Western & Southern Open. Osaka withdrew in protest of the “continued genocide of Black people at the hand of the police.” Her move prompted the tournament to join the NBA in halting play on Thursday 27th August.

Though Osaka withdrew, she released a statement soon after saying:

“As you know, I pulled out of the tournament yesterday in support of racial injustice and continued police violence. I was (and am) ready and prepared to concede the match to my opponent. However, after my announcement and lengthy consultation with the WTA and USTA, I have agreed at their request to play on Friday. They offered to postpone all matches until Friday and in my mind that brings more attention to the movement. I want to thank the WTA and the Tournament for their support.”

Many viewers and commentators saw this as a backflip from Osaka. How was she allowed to play after she withdrew? What about her opponent, Elise Mertens, who probably thought that she’d just gotten a walkover into the final? But her agent provided an interesting justification for her actions:

Osaka went on to defeat Elise Mertens in the semifinals 6–2, 7–5 (5) but then withdrew before the start of her match against a resurgent Victoria Azarenka in the final, citing a hamstring injury.