In celebration of Black History Month, the International Tennis Hall of Fame (ITHF) released a digital exhibit, Breaking the Racial Barriers, which is a comprehensive look at the history of black tennis in America. The exhibit includes brief profiles of black tennis pioneers, former pros and current top pros, including tennis greats Serena and Venus Williams and Dr. R. Walter Johnson, who in 2009 was inducted into the (ITHF) as a contributor. Throughout the Australian Open, the dougsmithpost.com will recognize selected black pioneers and current players.
Leslie Allen joined the University of Southern California’s (USC) tennis team as a walk-on in her junior year and played No. 6 on its 1976 championship team. She graduated summa cum laude with a BA in Speech Communications and an eye toward testing her athletic talent on the World Tennis Association (WTA) pro tour.
Tennis great Billie Jean King helped her understand that playing was just one facet of being a pro. “She told me that I also had to interact with the fans, the media and the sponsors and I did that throughout my career,” Allen said.
Allen once told tennis great Althea Gibson that her goal was to play in the main draw of a WTA tour event. “Gibson’s response: ‘You need to be thinking about winning a WTA tournament,’ Allen said. “Althea gave me permission to believe I could do it.” The 5’10” right-hander reached a career-high world No. 17 and captured her lone WTA Tour title, the Avon Championships of Detroit in 1981, to become the first black since Gibson (1958) to win a regular WTA Tour event. After her retirement in 1987, Allen became a television broadcaster, member of the WTA Tour Board of Directors and U.S. Fed Cup chairperson. After retiring, she established the Leslie Allen Foundation, which includes the Win4Life program that challenges students to use the 4Ds (Desire, Dedication, Determination, Discipline) to succeed on and off the court. It also informs them of other career opportunities in tennis and other pro sports.