It has been a pleasure watching Chanda Rubin grow as an analyst on Tennis Channel. She adds a wonderful blend of insight and perspective to the network’s match commentary.
Yet, as I tried to connect Rubin’s keen knowledge of the rigors and nuances of professional tennis with her own career, I realized I had forgotten how accomplished a player she was during her career.
Thanks to the Black Tennis Hall of Fame for reminding me!
Rubin was among 11 inductees into the BTHF this summer, and her resume shows her selection was well deserved.
During her 16 years on the Women’s Tennis Association tour, Rubin won seven singles titles and was a three-time French Open quarterfinalist. In 1996, she advanced to the semi-finals of the Australian Open and three months later reached a career-high ranking of No. 6 in the world.
Rubin also posted a stellar doubles record, topped by an Australian Open championship in 1996. Overall, she won 10 doubles titles and was ranked as high as No. 9 in the world.Embed from Getty Images
Three days after Rubin was inducted on June 22, along with her coach Benny Sims Jr., one of her Tennis Channel colleagues congratulated her on air. Rubin quickly shifted attention to the Black Tennis Hall of Fame for its efforts to promote and preserve the history of black tennis.
“It was a special moment,” she said of her induction and acceptance speech, “but even more important for me was to highlight the efforts of the Black Tennis Hall of Fame. Some may ask why we need the Black Tennis Hall of Fame… that blacks have the same opportunities now (as whites). Well, that’s true, but it wasn’t always the case.”
She singled out Bob Ryland, a Chicago native who became the first black professional tennis player in 1959. The 2009 BTHF inductee also was the first black to play in a National Collegiate Athletic Association tennis tournament while a student at Wayne State University in Detroit.
But perhaps Ryland’s most noteworthy victory was against Jimmy Evert, father of Hall-of-Famer Chris Evert, on his way to winning the 1939 Illinois State High School Championship.
“He came before Althea Gibson; he came before Arthur Ashe,” Rubin said. “He was the bridge. But you wouldn’t know of him, we wouldn’t be speaking of him, if it wasn’t for the efforts of the Black Tennis Hall of Fame.”
I was so struck by Rubin’s homage that I called Black Tennis Hall of Fame founder Dale Caldwell, a New York City entrepreneur and the first black to head the United States Tennis Association’s Eastern Section, for some background on how he got this thing off the ground.
It began, he said, with a letter in 2007 to Tony Trabert, then head of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, pointing out a need to recognize black tennis players. That led to the production of a traveling exhibit called “Breaking the Barriers,” chronicling the history of black tennis and the American Tennis Association, the oldest surviving black sports organization.
The exhibit includes a fascinating timeline that blends black tennis history with significant moments in general black history from 1877 when the first Wimbledon Championships were held through 1975, the year Arthur Ashe became the first and only black male player to win Wimbledon.
The exhibit includes photos and newspaper clippings and is highlighted by a nearly 25-minute video that can be found on the BTHF’s website, http://www.blacktennishalloffame.com. It is a must-see documentary for tennis fans everywhere.
Caldwell said “Breaking the Barriers” opened at the US Open in 2007 and was an instant success. But he wanted something more permanent. After consulting with black tennis historian Art Carrington and Robert “Bob” Davis, founder of the Black Tennis History Museum, Caldwell created the Black Tennis Hall of Fame.
The 2008 inaugural class of inductees included Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe, well-known for their pioneering feats as the first black woman and man to win a Grand Slam championship. The largest tennis stadium in the world, where the US Open is held, is now named after Ashe. And, as of this year, a statue of Gibson greets visitors at the entrance to Ashe Stadium.
“Most people are familiar with the tennis and life successes of Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe,” Caldwell said in his statement introducing the BTHF. “However, because of racial discrimination in tennis and many parts of the world, few people know the incredible story of the talented players of color who were not allowed to compete in major tennis tournaments because of their race.”
The BTHF is now accepting nominations for the 2020 class of inductees through the end of November. The categories are player, contributor, pioneer and regional legend. The latter category was recently created to honor those who have dedicated their lives to promoting tennis in their communities.
Bob Davis, who is president of the Black Tennis Hall of Fame, said this year’s regional legends “are singularly responsible for enriching the lives of hundreds of youngsters. They deserve to be lifted up for their herculean efforts.”
In his announcement unveiling the organization, Caldwell had this to say about his vision:
“My hope is that generations of future tennis players and fans of all races and backgrounds will be inspired by the unique ways in which inductees overcame personal and societal challenges to achieve extraordinary success in the sport.”
That is a goal we all can rally behind.