LAKE NONA, Fla. – The United States Professional Tennis Association (USPTA) is proud to present the Tim Heckler USPTA Hall of Fame Award to the late Bob Ryland, the first African-American man to play professional tennis in the United States and a 62-year USPTA member.
“We are so proud to call Mr. Ryland one of our own,” USPTA CEO John Embree said. “He was an excellent player, an outstanding teacher and an incredible human being. His impact on our game will be felt for generations to come."
Ryland became the first African-American man to play professional tennis in 1959 at the age of 39. To that point, Ryland was already one of the most recognized professionals of the American Tennis Association, the oldest African-American sports organization in the U.S., having won the 1954 and 1955 ATA singles titles. His championship in 1954 earned him an invitation to the 1955 U.S. National Championships, today’s U.S. Open.
As a coach, Ryland taught some of the greatest players ever to play, including Arthur Ashe, Leslie Allen and Harold Solomon, among others. Later, he taught Venus and Serena Williams as teenagers. Ashe once famously said he wanted “to be good enough to beat Bob Ryland.”
Throughout his life, Ryland battled against segregation and discrimination. His perseverance against racism eventually paved the way for many of the game’s greatest players, several of whom he coached.
Ryland passed away on Aug. 2, 2020, at the age of 100.
About the USPTA: Founded in 1927, the USPTA is the global leader in tennis-teacher certification and professional development. With more than 14,000 members worldwide and 17 divisions nationwide, the Association’s mission is to raise the standards of tennis-teaching professionals and coaches and to promote a greater awareness of the sport.