By Dylan Butler
As she stood in a corridor by Gate 23 in the upper echelon of Arthur Ashe Stadium Saturday night, 9-year-old Brittany Raglan struggled to put it into words, but she understood the magnitude.
As did her father Bennett Raglan. While he admits to not being a true tennis fan, Bennett knew it was imperative to bring his daughters to the women’s final of the U.S. Open to watch another pair of black siblings, Venus and Serena Williams, battle in the first all-sister final in Open history and the first sibling Grand Slam final in 117 years.
“It’s important for my two daughters, especially Brittany, to see two women — especially women of color — do some great things,” said Bennett Raglan from Nyack, N.Y.
Bennett Raglan felt strongly enough that he drove down from Nyack and purchased grounds passes, which do not guarantee entry to the stadium. He managed to get his daughters into the upper reaches of the stadium, where they watched as much of the first-ever prime-time U.S. Open women’s final as they could.
“I think it’s cool,” Brittany Raglan said. “I think it’s weird to watch two sisters play each other, but it makes me proud.”
There was a tremendous sense of pride throughout the mammoth stadium Saturday. Finally the women’s final had a stage of its own after being sandwiched between the men's semifinals for so many years. It was a moment Rosa Sample, a black woman from Bridgeport, Conn., thought might never come.
“Not on a Saturday, not on prime-time television,” she said. “It’s good for the country and the world to see such a beautiful facility and such talented young women holding their own. Serena and Venus Williams are the epitome of women’s tennis.”
Where the great Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe left off, the Williams sisters continued, paving a path for black tennis players everywhere in a sport historically predominantly white.
“It’s been a long-time struggle, especially for black women,” said Betty Smith from Little Ferry, N.J. “I wish Arthur Ashe was alive to see this. I hope his heart is jumping up right now.”
Smith said she just had to be here for the historic match, as did Annette Carra and Kellie Aycock, who made the trek from Birmingham, Al.
“This is long overdue,” Carra said. “[The women's final] should be on its own. It’s just as big [as the men’s final].”
“This is real exciting,” added Aycock. “This is something I’m going to tell my kids about.”
The United States Tennis Association pulled out all the stops for the first-ever women’s final under the lights. A star-studded crowd, which included the likes of rapper Sean “P Diddy” Combs, actress Helen Hunt, former Olympic track star Carl Lewis, acclaimed director Spike Lee and actor Bruce Willis, watched Diana Ross sing, “God Bless America” as an American flag was draped across the court.
A brief fireworks show by Grucci followed as both Williams sisters watched bright-eyed at the spectacle. Billie Jean-King, who herself broke down barriers in women’s sports by defeating Bobby Riggs in the famous Battle of the Sexes match in 1973, received a rousing ovation as she walked towards center court for the traditional pre-match coin toss.
“This is another step forward,” she said before the match. “When I played Bobby Riggs in 1973, women couldn’t even get a credit card. Can you imagine Venus and Serena without a credit card?”
An hour and nine minutes after it started, the momentous match was over, as Venus Williams smashed a winner past her sister to win her second consecutive U.S. Open crown. And after an hour and nine minutes of being enemies on the court, Venus and Serena were back to being the closest of sisters, hugging at the net.
“If I were playing a different opponent I’d probably be a lot more joyful,” Venus Williams said after the match. “But I’m happy I won the U.S. Open. There’s nothing like winning a Grand Slam.”
While Venus’ 6-2, 6-4 win was fresh on the sisters’ minds Saturday night, for most of the 23,023 fans leaving Arthur Ashe Stadium, it was of little importance. As they descended down the stadium’s stairs, a DJ, set up next to a statue of Ashe, blasted Naughty by Nature’s rap anthem “Hip Hop Hooray.” The song is a celebration of rap music, but on this night it was also a salute to the accomplishments of two young black women. And somewhere in that throng of people was little Brittany Raglan, surely smiling.
Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 143.