A week in Ashe's life earns lasting respect

April 09, 1992|By Bill Free | Bill Free,Staff Writer

Arthur Ashe was a skinny 14-year-old with a flashy serve-and-volley game when he came to town to spend a week with Dick and Lavada Hobson on Warwick Avenue in northwest Baltimore.

The Hobsons opened their home to Ashe because there was no money for the players to spend on hotels in 1958. Ashe was competing in a Baltimore Tennis Club-sponsored tournament at Druid Hill Park, and he beat up on players who were much older than he was to win the tournament.

From that one week Ashe spent with the Hobsons, a lifelong bond developed.

In 1978, Ashe even went so far as to keep a promise that he would get the Hobsons tickets to every day of action at Wimbledon. And Ashe and his wife, Jeanne, exchange Christmas cards every year with the Hobsons.

"I'm very, very sorry this happened," said Lavada Hobson, 68, after hearing the news that Ashe has AIDS. "It seems as if all bad things happen to good people. Whatever your status in life or whatever you've accomplished, something like this can happen."

Dick Hobson, 69, agreed to be host to Ashe for a week as a favor for Dr. "Whirlwind" Johnson, who dedicated himself to promoting young blacks through the American Tennis Association.

"A guy like Arthur is known all over the world, but he never changed in the way he treated us," Dick Hobson said. "He would always stop and talk to us at the National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadow.

"It's a very unfortunate thing to happen in Arthur's life," hesaid. "He made such a great contribution in his life to tennis.

"He was a promoter of young black kids in tennis after making it big in the most privileged sport around," Hobson said. "No. 1, he was a smart fellow who always hit the books and became a very cultured person. I'm just happy that I was able to be around and help Arthur Ashe on the way up, because he never forgot me on the way up or when he got to the top."

Jim Cummings, a longtime Baltimore tennis official, called Ashe the "Jackie Robinson of tennis."

Zina Garrison, ranked No. 16 among women players, is one of the many black athletes inspired by Ashe's pioneering success.

"He has been a great influence in my life both on and off the court," said Garrison, a Wimbledon finalist in 1990. "He is a great ambassador for the sport of tennis, and many of his contributions to the sport will go unmatched. He is a very close friend.

"When I was first told of Arthur's announcement, I was just overwhelmed. I have been aware of AIDS, but I never knew anyone so close to me with it. This is just another example why everyone should take the disease seriously and face the reality that AIDS has no boundaries."

"It's a crime. It's a shame," said Lutherville's Pam Shriver, another veteran of the women's tour. "Every Arthur Ashe who's well-known gives us an idea of how common this must be. The medical community is probably used to this, but the tennis community is shocked because this is someone in our family. It's such a crime, because it didn't need to be."

"Arthur is one of the great human beings ever to play the game of tennis," Chris Evert said. "It just seems so unfair that, in his young life, he has had a heart attack, open-heart surgery and now has to be stricken with this virus . . . . I'm praying for him."

Cummings, who was a linesman for six matches that Ashe played at the U.S. Open, said: "AIDS is the scourge of our society. But Arthur has class. He'll handle this the way he has everything else."

One of Ashe's contemporaries, Roscoe Tanner, said: "For me, it's very hard to believe it all. When I first turned pro, he did so many things to help me. And he didn't have to -- he was No. 1.

When I won the Australian Open in 1977, he even coached me.

"Now, I'm dumbfounded. It even kind of makes me mad. It's like, 'Come on, let's find a cure for it.' "

And a tennis champion who long preceded Ashe was equally saddened by the news.

"It's a damn shame," 1938 Grand Slam winner Don Budge said. "There hasn't been a higher-class guy in tennis."

Ashe's Open-era career

! GRAND SLAM EVENTS

Australian Open (16-3)

Champion, 1970

Runner-up, 1971

Semifinalist, 1978

Quarterfinalist, 1977

Doubles champion, 1977 (with Tony Roche)

` French Open (25-8)

Quarterfinalist, 1971

Fourth round, 1969-70, 1973-74, 1976, 1978

Third round, 1979

Doubles champion, 1971 (with Marty Riessen)

Doubles runner-up, 1970 (with Charlie Pasarell)

Wimbledon (27-8)

Champion, 1975

Semifinalist, 1968-69

Fourth round, 1970, 1976

Third round, 1971, 1974

First round, 1978-79

Doubles runner-up, 1971 (with Dennis Ralston)

U.S. Open (38-9)

Champion, 1968

Runner-up, 1972

Semifinalist, 1969, 1971

Quarterfinalist, 1970, 1974

Fourth round, 1975, 1978

Third round, 1973

Second round, 1976

Doubles runner-up, 1968 (with Andres Gimeno)

$ TOURNAMENT WINS (33)

1968 -- U.S. Open

xTC 1970 -- Australian Open, Puerto Rico, Denver, Berkeley, Paris Indoor

1971 -- WCT-Stockholm, Charlotte

1972 -- WCT-Louisville, WCT-Montreal, WCT-Rotterdam, WCT-Winter Final

1973 -- WCT-Chicago, Washington

1974 -- WCT-Bologna, WCT-Barcelona, Stockholm

1975 -- WCT-Barcelona, WCT-Rotterdam, WCT-Munich, WCT-Stockholm, WCT Finals-Dallas, Wimbledon, Los Angeles, San Francisco

1976 -- WCT-Columbus, WCT-Indianapolis, WCT-Richmond, WCT-Rome, WCT-Rotterdam

1978 -- San Jose, Columbus, Los Angeles

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