There are a few things Serena Williams has managed to achieve that Roger Federer has not. She has won 20 grand slam titles to Federer’s 17, she has won four majors in a row, while the Swiss has only mustered three… And she also had the privilege to meet the late Arthur Ashe, something Federer deeply regrets to have missed out on.
On the eve of the 40th anniversary of Ashe’s historic triumph at Wimbledon over Jimmy Connors, players paid tribute to the American legend, who was the first African American man to win a grand slam title and the only black man to win at the All England Club.
“It was amazing. My only wish is that I met him when I was a little older,” Williams said on Saturday of her meeting with Ashe. “Even though I was super young, he was doing a clinic, and I remember being in that clinic and just thinking ‘wow, I’m hitting with Arthur Ashe. This is so cool’.
“He was so nice. He took his time with all the kids that were there. He took a lot of time with me and with Venus. It was a great moment. It’s something that one never forgets.
“After 40 years, his legacy still lives on in one of the greatest ways. That was just an amazing match that he played. It was against Connors. It’s meant a lot for African Americans not just in tennis, but in all of sports in breaking barriers.”
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) June 26, 2015
Ashe, a three time grand slam champion and ex-world No1, left a great legacy behind him, having opened the door for so many people to enter the world of professional sport.
He died in 1993 after spending his final months raising awareness on the subject of AIDS.
“Without him, I don’t know if I’d be playing today,” said Britain’s Heather Watson.
Federer added: “He was before my time. Unfortunately I never got to meet him. But I’m aware what an influential and important person he was in our game, especially for many other people as well. He’s been a leader.
“It’s too bad I never got to meet the great man. But it’s an honour always playing on Arthur Ashe Stadium of course in New York.”
Williams will begin her quest for a sixth Wimbledon crown on Monday against Russian qualifier Margarita Gasparyan as she attempts to win a fourth consecutive major trophy.
The world No1 hasn’t made it past the fourth round on her last two trips to south west London, which she says will help take the pressure off her this fortnight.
“I think the fact that I lost so early the past couple years definitely makes me motivated. But I think that also gives me a little less pressure because I haven’t done well here in the past two years. It makes me feel like ‘okay, I’ll be fine. I have nothing to lose here. I don’t have many points to defend here’. So it’s just like trying to have fun, go through it,” said the 33-year-old.