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Arthur Ashe was an inspiration, a goodwill ambassador of tennis and a missionary of Black American sports. The tennis world tried to set aside its grief yesterday over the death of Ashe, the better to remember him as a man who brought so much joy.
"I ask that we stop for a moment of silence here to remember an extraordinary human being who transcended his sport, his race, religion and nationality and in his own way helped to change the world," Martina Navratilova said as she offered a prayer after winning a tournament in Yokohama, Japan. "We will always remember you, Arthur."
Tributes to the only Black male to win Wimbledon and the U.S. Open came from all over the world and from all walks of life.
"I am deeply saddened by the death last night of Arthur Ashe," President Bill Clinton said. "The embodiment of true sportsmanship, Arthur rose from the segregated courts of Richmond, Va., to the championship at Wimbledon displaying grace, strength and courage every step of the way.
"Arthur Ashe never rested with fame. He used the strength of his voice and the power of his example to open the doors of opportunity for other African Americans, fighting discrimination in America and around the world," Clinton said in a statement issued by the White House.
"In the last years of his life he continued his tenacious battle for others in the face of a disease he could not beat. He was a true American hero and a great example to all of us."
Ashe died Saturday in New York from pneumonia related to the AIDS virus, which he contracted from an unscreened blood transfusion during heart surgery in 1983.
"He didn't take it lying down, did he? He was out there doing things, taking care of business to the end," said Jimmy Connors, who lost to Ashe in the 1975 Wimbledon final.
"If anybody would say to go ahead and play and go give them a show, it would be him," Connors said. "That's what he did, he never sat still. He had a style and a form all his own. He didn't copy anyone's game. He made his mark not just in tennis, but in world events."
Black tennis players credited Ashe with opening the doors for them professionally.
"It was thanks to him that I could have a career in tennis," Frenchman Yannick Noah said. "It was him who, when I was young, gave me the dream."
Noah, a former French Open champion, played doubles with Ashe at Wimbledon.
"I remember I fell into his arms as though we had just won the final," Noah said. "Six years earlier he had autographed a poster for me saying, 'I hope some day we'll see each other at Wimbledon. He was a missionary for Black American sports," Noah said. "Just appearing on a tennis court was a challenge."
Zina Garrison and Lori McNeil remembered Ashe as a friend and a mentor who transcended the issues of race, sports and AIDS.
"The man was bigger than just one race and one group of people," Garrison said from Atlanta, where she was appearing at a tennis-equipment exhibition. "He was loved by us all, and I think he will be remembered as a loving and caring person.
"Tennis was only a small part of it. More than anything, I remember him being the person he is--a very caring person and a loving person. His heart is the biggest I've ever seen."
McNeil, also at the Yokohama tournament, said she met Ashe in 1975 at a clinic at Houston's MacGregor Park. They last spoke at an AIDS benefit in November.
"As a black player, I admired him a lot and looked up to him," she said. "Like any other Black player, he gave us a dream and made it a reality. He was definitely a forerunner for all of us."
In Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, play in a tournament was held up for a moment of silence in Ashe's honor.
In Sweden, former Davis Cup player Ove Bengtson, now a TV commentator, said, "Arthur was unique, but not only as a player...Arthur was the first gentleman in modern tennis that I got to know. He was one of the finest representatives in international tennis. In politics, he always went his own way during a time when there were a lot of militants."
In Philadelphia, U.S. Indoor tournament chairman Tom Gowen, Ashe's ball boy at the 1963 tournament, remembered Ashe not only as a great player, but "he was such a gentleman, on and off the court. Never threw his racket, never argued a call. He handled himself with quiet dignity."
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