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U.S. Open: Venus Williams believes Althea Gibson statue is a fitting tribute

Venus Williams serves to Zheng Saisai during the

Venus Williams serves to Zheng Saisai during the first round of the U.S. Open on Monday. Credit: AP/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez

The USTA on Monday unveiled a sculpture that honors tennis great Althea Gibson. And that makes Venus Williams very happy.

“I would love if people knew her more,” said Williams after her 6-1, 6-0 first-round win over Saisai Zheng at Armstrong Stadium. “It wasn’t easy to be African-American in the ‘50s. It was actually, I wouldn’t even say easy, it was impossible to do that, and she did it and was a champion. I can’t even imagine what she went through.

“And because she went through that — she went through it so I didn’t have to. What she achieved, her story hasn’t been told, so that statue is the beginning of what we should be doing for Althea.”

The sculpture, created by Eric Goulder, is situated outside Ashe Stadium.

Gibson was the first African-American player to win the U.S. National Championships (now the Open) in 1957. She was the first African- American to win singles titles at the French Championships (1956) and Wimbledon (1957).

“It’s simple. She’s the first African-American to break the color barrier in our sport,” said former USTA chairman Katrina Adams. “By doing so, she made it possible for every person of color after her to have a chance to achieve their goals in the sport. This is a tribute that’s long overdue — period.”

“What people have to understand is how she persevered and what she means to our sport,” Billie Jean King said. “But not just to our sport, to all society, to everyone. I want the young generations to understand what she did for all of us, particularly people of color, but inspired all of us.”

Gibson was tall and lithe and athletic, and King had seen something of Gibson in Venus Williams from her very introduction into the game. “I always teased Venus for years since I first met her, ‘You’re like the 21st century Althea Gibson,’ is what I call Venus. I tease her. She gets a kick out of that.”

Barty overcomes errors

Ashleigh Barty, the French Open champion and the Open’s No. 2 seed, had to put out a brush fire in her opening match against Zarina Diyas at Ashe Stadium, rallying to win, 1-6, 6-3, 6-2. The first set was one big unforced error for her. She made 19 of them.

“Happy the way we were able to fight through that and find a way after a pretty awful start,” said Barty, who tends to speak in the plural when referring to herself. “I think I just didn’t give myself a chance in that first set. Sort of appalling, probably made a set’s worth of errors.”

Also advancing was 10th-seeded Madison Keys, who beat Japan's Misaki Doi, 7-5, 6-0.

Serves & volleys

Reilly Opelka, the New York Open champion, upset No. 11 seed Fabio Fognini, 6-3, 6-4, 6-7 (6), 6-3. This was Opelka’s first U.S. Open main draw appearance . . . Talk about rising from the ashes. Kristina Mladenovic found herself on her stomach during the second set of her match against Angelique Kerber on the Grandstand. A trainer worked on her sore back, but it didn’t seem to help immediately. She had won the first set 7-5, but would now lose the second, 6-0 She fought back to defeat Kerber, the 2016 Open champion, 6-4. in the third.

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