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Tribute to Gibson tonight

August 27, 2007|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- Nineteen barrier breakers, two charismatic tennis stars and one legendary pioneer.

It is shaping up to be a special, and fitting, tribute at the U.S. Open tonight to Althea Gibson, who 50 years ago became the first African American to win the U.S. national championship.

Not only are reigning Wimbledon champion Venus Williams and her younger sister Serena, winner of the Australian Open this year, scheduled to play in back-to-back night matches to honor the anniversary, the U.S. Tennis Assn. has invited 19 prominent African American women to take part in an on-court tribute to the late Gibson.

They include singer Aretha Franklin, Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersee, and Carol Moseley Braun, who was the first African American female to become a U.S. senator.

Venus, seeded 12th, will face qualifier Kira Nagy of Hungary, followed by No. 8 Serena against Angelique Kerber of Germany. The sisters could meet in the semifinals, but Serena would have to get past top-seeded Justine Henin in the quarterfinals. Defending champion Maria Sharapova is in the other half of the draw.

Serena spoke about the tribute, and said she had read books about Gibson's struggles against discrimination.

"I've always dreamed of being on the same level as her, to have an opportunity to play tennis," Williams said Saturday. "For her to be the pioneer to all of tennis, not just female tennis, but all of tennis. It's just amazing for me to be honored to even mention her name."

lisa.dillman@latimes.com

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