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Final Service

By Paul Feinberg '85

Published Sep 14, 2018 8:00 AM

Things came full circle for Arthur Ashe, whose first and final victories took place in the very same tournament.


Arthur Ashe and Brian Gottfried were evenly matched: In the 15 times they faced each other, Ashe won eight matches, Gottfried seven. Photo courtesy of James Roark, Herald-Examiner Collection at the Los Angeles Public Library.

Forty years ago this September, tennis great Arthur Ashe ’66 achieved his final victory in the same tournament in which he had won his first some 15 years earlier. Making that final victory even sweeter was the fact that it took place in UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion.

In that final 1978 competition — then called the Arco Tennis Open — Ashe defeated Brian Gottfried, 6–2, 6–4, in about an hour and 15 minutes. The Los Angeles Times account of the match says that he gave Gottfried a lesson, “putting particular emphasis on the passing shot and the return of service.”

As time has passed, however, the legend of Arthur Ashe has become much more about the man than the tennis player. Throughout his life, the Richmond, Va., native worked tirelessly on behalf of a wide range of humanitarian causes.

In 1973, after having been denied several times previously, Ashe was granted a visa to enter South Africa to compete in a tennis tournament. That nation was still under apartheid, and Ashe hoped that the sight of a free black man competing with whites could inspire hope. His decision to play was controversial, both within and outside the sport.

“Problems such as these hurt tennis, but I enjoy my role,” Ashe said in an interview. “Like Martin Luther King’s role gave him pleasure, so does my struggle for equality. If it does good in the world, it is not a burden.”

Over the years, Ashe fought for justice for African Americans, served as spokesman for the American Heart Association, established tennis and educational programs throughout the U.S. and advocated for AIDS/HIV awareness at a time when the illness was misunderstood by most. In 1992, he was arrested outside the White House during a protest against U.S. policies toward Haitian refugees.

Of course, he also starred on the court.


Ashe in his last Pauley Pavilion tournament. Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive, Library Special Collections in the Charles E. Young Research Library.

When Ashe started playing tennis as a youngster, his skills caught the attention of instructor Ron Charity, one of the best black players in the country. As his game improved, Ashe battled discrimination as he was denied access to segregated courts, barring him from competing with white players. But he persisted, becoming the first African American to win the national junior tennis title.

That victory led to Ashe’s earning a tennis scholarship to UCLA, where he was coached by the legendary J.D. Morgan ’41. In 1963, he became the first black player selected to the U.S. Davis Cup team. Two years later, he won the NCAA titles for both singles and doubles (with Ian Crookenden ’70), and the Bruins took the national team title.

Ashe’s first win as a pro came in 1963 in Los Angeles, in what was then known as the Pacific Southwest Championships. He made the finals of seven major championships, winning five, including a 1975 match at Wimbledon, where he defeated fellow Bruin Jimmy Connors in the finals. He became the first African-American man to win Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, and the first to be ranked as the No. 1 player in the world.

Ashe died in 1993 from AIDS-related pneumonia, having contracted the HIV virus from a blood transfusion. After he went public with his illness, he founded the Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of AIDS. In 1993, President Bill Clinton awarded Ashe a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Twenty-five years after his death, Ashe’s contributions still resonate on the UCLA campus. For one thing, students can avail themselves of medical and educational services at the UCLA Arthur Ashe Student Health & Wellness Center, founded in 1997. And in 2017, Ashe’s widow, Jeanne Moutoussamy- Ashe, founded the Arthur Ashe Learning Center and made gifts establishing undergraduate scholarships. The center offers physical and online exhibits celebrating Ashe’s many accomplishments both on and off the tennis court.