BOB RYLAND - June 16, 1920 – August 2, 2020
Even at 100 years old, Robert “Bob” Ryland, the first Black man to crack the racial barrier on the mainstream professional tennis tour, maintained a thirst for the game. Quenching that thirst in recent weeks often saw Ryland at home with his hearing aid, intently listening to programming on the Tennis Channel.
“(His wife) would play audio for him and he’d either listen to tennis or music,” said Leslie Allen, a former top 20 tennis player who was coached by Ryland from childhood and often FaceTimed him. “If it was tennis, he would always ask to have his Adidas warm-up pants put on him. He stayed true to what he was.”
Ryland was also the first Black person to compete in the NCAA national championships and the teacher of professional tennis players and celebrities, including Allen, the Williams sisters, Barbra Streisand, Eartha Kitt, Bill Cosby and Tony Bennett. Ryland — the Jackie Robinson of his sport — died at home on Sunday after spending time recently at a rehabilitation center.
Ryland had celebrated his 100th birthday in June and was the oldest tennis permit holder in New York City.
Born in Chicago in 1920, Ryland took up tennis when he was 10 and won both the Illinois state and junior American Tennis Association (ATA) singles titles in 1939 while attending Tilden Tech High School. He received a scholarship to play tennis at Xavier University in New Orleans, but had to leave school after a year to serve a stint in the Army during World War II.
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