Picked off the street from playing paddleball in 1940, Althea Gibson eventually climbed to become the best female tennis player in the world.

She began in the American Tennis Association, the black counterpart to the United States Lawn Tennis Association (USLTA). Having won the ATA Nationals since 1947, the USLTA invited her to participate in some of their tournaments beginning in 1950.

Her USLTA ranking steadily improved to 9 in 1952 and 7 in 1953. She won the 1956 French Open title in singles and doubles, the first black player ever to win a Grand Slam event. She continued on to Wimbledon where she won doubles. In 1957 she was the number one ranked women’s player in the world. She won the Wimbledon singles title followed by the Nationals at Forest Hills and repeated that performance the next year in 1958. She retired soon after but was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1971.

Photo courtesy of Hard Road to Glory, LeRoye Productions