Bob Ryland encapsulates all that NYJTL hopes to teach our kids. He was a man of dedication, perseverance, and compassion, with a fervent love for tennis.
Ryland broke down racial barriers in the white-dominated sport when he became the first Black professional tennis player, which paved the way for many players of color today.
He started playing the sport at ten years old, and by the end of high school he had singles titles in the Illinois State tournament and the junior American Tennis Association. His talent and promise got him a scholarship to Xavier University, and then Wayne State University, after taking a hiatus from his college career to serve in the Army during WWII.
Persevering through discrimination, Ryland became the first Black man to compete in the NCAA championships, having reached the quarterfinals in 1945, and advancing to the third round in 1946. He was ultimately inducted into the Wayne State Hall of Fame in 1991.
In 1959 Ryland was invited to play on the World Pro Tour, which had been previously whites-only, when he was 39 years old.
He was an advocate for other Black players such as Althea Gibson, which he speaks to in his book, Robert Ryland, First Black Professional Male Tennis Player.
He gained the admiration of many, from those he coached such as his wife Leslie Allen, the Williams sisters, and our founder, Arthur Ashe, to millions of tennis fans.
Ryland never once lost his enthusiasm for the game – at 100 years old he was the oldest tennis permit holder in NYC and spent a great deal of his time listening to the Tennis Channel.
We remember and celebrate the long life of Bob Ryland and how he changed the sport of tennis forever.