Former Wimbledon finalist MaliVai Washington, the last African American men's tennis player to reach a Grand Slam final, says he is surprised that more Americans on the men's side have not reached a high level but adds that this may also have something to do with the extraordinary success of the Big Three - Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.
Malivai Washington on the state of American tennis and the success of Federer, Nadal & Djokovic
Speaking to CNN Sport, Washington says, “I’m surprised that we don’t have more Americans, period, on the men’s side, but also more Black men who are succeeding at a high level.
The last American man to reach the final of a major was in 2003, Andy Roddick … That just shows you how difficult it is not just for people of colour, but for people in general to reach the final of a major. A lot of that has to do with someone named Federer and Nadal and Djokovic over the past 15 years”.
The 51-year-old American says young African Americans are more likely to opt for other sports since they can see many successful African Americans in other sports. “A young Black boy can turn on the TV Saturday or Sunday during any college football or pro football season, and he can see a ton of players that look a lot like him.
Guess what? That’s who he wants to be. That’s not the case at all with tennis on the men’s side”. With the Black Lives Matter movement gaining a lot of ground in recent weeks, Washington also recalled facing racism while playing tennis as well as off the courts.
"There were times growing up you’d play played [a] junior tournament of multiple age groups and you just kind of knew you weren’t going to play at that particular club. They didn’t allow Black players at that particular club.
You’ll see a draw and three of the players are Black … at times it was just kind of uncanny how two of the Black players faced each other in the first round, and if you won, you were going to play the third Black person in the second round.
And you’re just thinking … all right, it could have just been the luck of the draw? But when it happens a few times it makes you wonder — OK, are they fixing the draw just to eliminate the Black players from the draw? I would argue that every Black tennis player at some point has seen that”.
Besides reaching the Wimbledon final, MaliVai Washington won four ATP titles and achieved a career-high singles ranking of world No. 11 in October 1992.