In the main draw of this year’s tournament, he singled out Wild Card entrant Andy Roddick, 17, among others, as getting preferential treatment. He said these players’ highest recent rankings were lower than more deserving African-American players.
But a written analysis Washington handed out, which compared rankings and wild card entrances to recent tournaments, did not entirely bear out his contention.
Roddick, who scored a series of upsets two weeks ago to reach the quarterfinals of the Legg Mason tournament in Washington, D.C., ranked 646 on the ATP list, according to Washington. But Roddick’s invitation to the U.S. Open main draw was made only after he upset three seeded players at the Legg Mason, including Karol Kucera, the Slovakian who holds victories this year over Agassi, and Gustavo Kuerten of Brazil.
Washington’s son, Mashiska, was ranked 300 places higher on the list than Roddick but did not receive a wild card invitation into the main draw. Mashiska, who received a wild card into the qualifying tournament, was eliminated in the first round on Tuesday, losing to Jeff Coetzee of South Africa, 3-6, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (6).
Inside the tennis center, some fans echoed William Washington’s complaints.
An African-American woman who led a youth group, the Pyramid Tennis Association of Harlem, applauded Washington’s protest. “He has a legitimate complaint,” she said, declining to give her name.
“If you examine the wild cards, you often wonder: ‘How in the hell did he get in there,’” she said, referring to unspecified white players who she believed were less accomplished than blacks. “It’s getting worse every year.”
Others said the lack of opportunity goes deeper than just for wild cards, that money wasn’t being spent to promote the sport. Three years ago, the USTA announced it would spend more than $31 million over five years in about 20 communities to encourage youngsters and adults to join, and stay with, the sport.
“Whatever the powers may be, I don’t feel access has been provided to the children of minorities,” said Anthony Jules, 35, of Jersey City, N.J., a computer programmer for a financial firm. “If we had access, we would flourish in this sport.”
Jules, who attended the Ashe celebration with his wife, Charlene, and 18-month-old daughter, Erica, said success for blacks in tennis is at least “a generation away.”
Dressed in his tennis whites, Mashiska Washington held his protest placard aloft as fans passed by, occasionally glancing at him. He was asked why, with the success he and his brother had achieved, he didn’t work through the sport’s establishment.
“How can I work through the establishment?” he asked. “The establishment doesn’t work for people of color.”
And what of the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, also African-Americans, each of whom has won a Grand Slam singles tournament in the past year?
“The system had nothing to do with them,” Mashiska Washington said.
The tournament directors “threw wild cards at them because they wanted to see them fail,” said William Washington, insisting that tennis authorities were angry at the Williams sisters’ father, Richard, who kept his daughters out of tournament competition for several years.
“Thank goodness they were strong enough to win,” he said.
When the Open starts here on Monday, Venus Williams, the Wimbledon champion, will begin play as the third seed. Her sister Serena, the defending U.S. Open champion, is seeded fifth.