Muhammad Ali and Tennis


I am a Louisville native, but even if I were not I would want to write something about Muhammad Ali’s passing.  He is probably the greatest and most globally recognizable ambassador the world of sports has ever produced.  Tennis and boxing have the element of one-on-one competition in common.  I will look at some of Ali’s analogs within the world of tennis.  Of course, he had a relationship with the recently deceased Bud Collins who covered many of Ali’s fights.

Tennis Analogs to Muhammad Ali

Social Analogs

Billie Jean King and Arthur Ashe are two of the first names anyone would consider when weighing athletes who  addressed social issues in a similar manner to Muhammad Ali. Roberto Clemente, Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, Jim Brown, and Pat Summitt  certainly would also be in that conversation.

Comedic Analog

Novak Djokovic’s  forays into comedy have at times rubbed people the wrong way, but who is a bigger showman in tennis?  Ali’s interviews also rubbed a few people the wrong way, but like Ali, Nole is largely accepted for his personality.

Global Ambassador Analog

In 2011, Roger Federer was ranked as the second most trusted and respected public figure in the world.   Roger seems to be well loved everywhere he goes, but I am not sure anyone was quite as accepted as Ali when traveling.

Appearance Analog

Jo-Wilfied Tsonga does look quite a bit like Muhammad Ali did in his younger years.

Athletic Analogs

Ali, especially before his banishment from boxing, was a graceful and powerful athlete who moved with ease.  Andy Roddick once said Roger Federer just makes sense with a tennis racquet.  I’ve seen similar ease of movement while playing tennis from Steffi Graf, Stefan Edberg, Martina NavratilovaPete Sampras, Marat Safin, and Novak Djokovic. Other players might move well, but it is apparent how much energy they are exerting.  Ali and the tennis players I listed seem to exert themselves effortlessly.


The mayor of Louisville said that Muhammad Ali belongs to the world, but he only has one hometown.  I think that is also true of sports in general and boxing in particular.  Boxing made Ali world famous, but Ali was bigger than boxing and transcended all of sports.  It is nice in tennis to see the number of players with foundations and making an impact globally through events such as the Hit for Haiti.  Serena and Venus Williams have broken barriers.  Novak Djokovic lived through a civil war.  Andy Murray survived an act of disturbing violence.  Impacting the world beyond the playing field is something all professional athletes can aim toward.  RIP Champ


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