It was an international experience, as tennis players came from far and near to play in the historic American Tennis Association’s 102nd annual national tennis championships last month. Some were from our own back yard and some hailed from as far away as Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Kenya.
The oldest African-American sports organization in the United States, the ATA was organized in 1916, and its slogan simply reads, “Where culture comes to play.”
With so many matches to be played, the ATA had to spread the culture between two locations: the Lauderdale Tennis Club for the adults and the Jimmy Evert Tennis Center for the juniors, both in the Fort Lauderdale area.
The adult tournaments covered men’s and women’s singles, doubles, and mixed doubles. The junior’s tournaments had boy’s and girl’s singles and doubles.
One of the more heartwarming storylines of the tournament was about a set of male twins, Amon and Robert Zuki. They currently reside in South Florida for training, though they hail from Kenya. Their dream was to one day play in the ATA’s historic and culture-rich tournament.
Ever since they were 3 years old, all they wanted to do was play tennis.
“It has always been our dream to play at the ATA,” said Amon.
They came. They played. And, they won.
They were crowned the Men’s Open Doubles champs. The exceeded their wildest dreams of merely playing in the tournament.
Tennis, like most Caucasian-dominated sports, requires more than the sacrifice of an athlete’s time. It requires money.
For the Zuki brothers, fondly called the “twins” as chanted by the crowd who cheered them on to victory, the journey to their first American Tennis Association Open was not an easy one.
“We had to give up a lot of stuff, said Amon, the talkative of the two. “So much sacrifice.”
“Yes, so much sacrifice,” echoed Robert. It took them two years to get to the ATA.
But the sacrifice was not only theirs. A mother had to sacrifice everything for her children – risking her life for theirs.
In their native country Kenya, twins are taboo. And the custom is that one must die. The deciding factor on who gets to live or die is they must kill a lion. Well, they both killed one. So rather than face the decision of who gets to survive, the twins’ mother snuck them off to a neighboring village to save their both lives.
Now some 16 years later and with the help of some sponsors, they’ve conquered their dreams. A mild feat compared to killing a lion.
Regarding the tournament and the whole experience, Amon speaks on behalf of himself and his brother, “We thank God for the opportunity. It was really a good experience. We played some really tough matches and out of all we did our best.”
Going home as the ATA Men’s Open Doubles Champions is not bad for their first tournament.
The American Tennis Association tournament is preserving the heritage of African-American tennis. And it is also propelling the next generation of tennis super stars.
“It is a neutral environment to groom you and get you to that starting point … that next level,” said Roscoe Warner, president of the southern section of the ATA.
The talent pool who has graced the ATA’s tournaments speaks to the association’s record of success.
Past USTA president Katrina Adams, tennis royalty and three-time Grand Slam winner, Arthur Ashe, pioneer Althea Gibson, the first African-American to win a major tournament and the darling of this year’s Wimbledon, Coco Gauff —all have competed and/or trained with the ATA.
“The ATA brings a lot of good tennis from a lot of good African-American players,” said Catherine Williams, ladies doubles participant. They come from all over… from all walks of life. It really brings Black tennis together. The competition and meeting new people are always a plus. One thing about the ATA is it is all levels and all age,” she said.
The great thing about a tennis open-level event is that anyone can play in the tournament if you qualify. So, in order to stay and to continue to play, you have to win your matches.
When asked about recent Wimbledon phenom Coco, Williams said, “You get so excited. You get so excited that someone from your hometown is on the rise. And you just try to be connected to them. Saying, I hit a ball with her. I saw it. I picked up a ball. I gave her a ball. I’m on the same planet with her.”
The ATA currently rotates locations, with plans to be back here in Florida for 2020. Then they are off to the west coast in 2021. Its long-term goal is to develop a permanent home and training facility in the city of Miramar in conjunction with the America Tennis and Education Foundation.
What better way to sum up what the American Tennis Association is doing for our people and our community, than another one of their catch-phrases – “Housing our history.”