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Flushing Meadows Corona Park

Arthur Ashe Stadium

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

This stadium honors tennis player Arthur Robert Ashe, Jr. (1943-1993). Born in Richmond, Virginia, Ashe began playing tennis at the age of ten. In 1966 he graduated from the University of California at Los Angeles, where he won the United States Intercollegiate Singles Championship and led his team to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) championship. At the 1968 U.S. Open, Ashe defeated several competitors to win the men’s singles title. By 1975, he was ranked the number-one tennis player in the U.S. After this string of athletic successes, Ashe began suffering heart problems. Retiring from the game, he underwent heart surgery in 1979 and again in 1983.

During one of his hospital stays, Ashe was likely given an HIV-tainted blood transfusion and he soon contracted AIDS. Despite his illness, he remained involved in public life. His participation in many youth activities, such as the National Junior Tennis League and the ABC Cities Tennis Program, and his role in protests against South African apartheid earned Ashe recognition as 1992 Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year, long after his athletic career had ended. He died of pneumonia in New York at age 49.

As part of a successful bid to keep the United States Open in New York, Mayor David N. Dinkins agreed to the construction of an expensive new tennis stadium for the United States Tennis Association in 1992. Controversy later erupted when the mayor, an avid tennis fan, ordered the rerouting of all airborne traffic from nearby LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy airports so as not to disturb that year’s U.S. Open. Dinkins, receiving heated remarks from the airports, the press and many local residents, maintained his immediate stance, but curtailed his no-fly zone policy during future U.S. Open tournaments.

Constructed and opened in 1997, this stadium at the northern end of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, replaced Louis Armstrong Stadium as the main tennis facility in the park and became the headquarters of the National Tennis Center. Built for $254 million, the 23,000-seat stadium functions as the main arena for the U.S. Open. During the remainder of the year, the indoor and outdoor courts of the stadium are open to the public. Other annual events held at the center include the Eastern Wheelchair Tennis Championships and the Mayor’s Cup high school tennis championships. Today, ten percent of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park is devoted to the sport of tennis.

Ashe is memorialized in the stadium with a bronze statue sculpted by Eric Fischl. Soul in Flight was sponsored largely by the United States Tennis Association and was dedicated on August 28, 2000. Standing tall, his left arm pointing upwards, the bronze representation symbolizes Ashe’s two loves: the books he carries represent knowledge, and the racket he holds represents tennis. The statue is inscribed with a quote attributed to Ashe. “From what we get, we can make a living; what we give, however, makes a life.”

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