What the first black woman’s NCAA Division I singles win means for tennis

A University of Michigan tennis player recently became the first black woman to win a NCAA Division I singles title.

In a major upset, Brienne Minor, 19, won her May 29 championship match against Belinda Woolcock of University of Florida.

That victory made Minor, who was unseeded, the first black tennis player — man or woman — to win a Division I singles title since 1965. She also became the first female tennis player from University of Michigan to win a national championship.

Minor didn’t realize the historic nature of her win until a few days later when her sister broke the news.

Minor’s win is a feat in itself, but it’s also noteworthy because few minorities play tennis, a sport that is dominated by white athletes.

While Serena and Venus Williams have become sports superstars in tennis, black female athletes in a Division I sport have only increased one-tenth of a percentage point, reaching 12.6 percent between 2015 to 2016. According to the 2016 NCAA College Sport Racial and Gender Report, black female athletes represented 9.3 percent in all NCAA Division sports in that same time frame, while white females made up 72.6 percent.

During last year’s Rio Olympics, four black women — the Williams sisters, Madison Keys and Sloane Stephens — were on the U.S. tennis team.

Black athletes were banned from playing tennis in the United States Lawn Tennis Association, now known as the USTA, until the 1950’s.

Althea Gibson was the first black tennis player to compete at the U.S. National Championships in 1950. The following year, she broke the color line again at the 1951 Wimbledon. In 1952, Reginald Weir and George Stewart became the first black men to play in a USLTA competition.

According to a Washington Post profile, Minor started playing tennis competitively at age five and said she inherited the passion for the sport from her maternal grandfather.

Her mother encouraged all three of her daughters, including her youngest Brienne, to play the sport. Growing up, Minor said the sisters would joke about who would play against each other — a similar story the Williams’ sisters tell about their own childhood.

Minor said she was always aware that she was playing a sport that lacked minorities, but she did not let it affect her performance.

“And I am pretty young, but I hope one day that I can be a role model just for younger girls, younger players looking up to somebody,” Minor told the Post. “I hope I can send that message that anyone can do it, it doesn’t matter what race you are. It does mean a lot to me.”

Since she is a college champion, there is a possibility Minor could receive a wild card entry for the U.S. Open this August in New York.

“It’s going to be fun, it’s going to be exciting and it’s going to be great to have this opportunity,” Minor told The Undefeated.

Minor is a sophomore studying sports management at the University of Michigan. She says she wants to play professionally when she graduates.

PBS NewsHour reached out to the family as well as Brienne’s representatives. However they were not immediately available for comment.

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