Ashe began to attract the attention of tennis fans after being awarded a tennis scholarship at UCLA in 1963. That same year, Ashe was the first African American ever selected to the United States's Davis Cup team.
In 1965, Ashe won the individual NCAA championship, and was a chief contributor in UCLA's winning the team NCAA championship in the same year. With this successful college career behind him, Ashe quickly ascended to the upper echelon of tennis players worldwide after turning professional in 1966.
By 1969, Ashe was considered by most as the best American among male tennis players: he had won the inaugural U.S. Open in 1968, and had aided the U.S. Davis Cup team to victory that same year. Concerned that tennis pros were not receiving winnings commensurate with the sport's growing popularity, Ashe was one of the key figures behind the formation of the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP). That year would prove even more momentous for Ashe when he was denied a visa by the South African government, thereby keeping him out of the South African Open. Ashe chose to use this denial to publicize in the media South Africa's apartheid policies, by calling for South Africa to be expelled from the professional tennis circuit. In 1970, he added a second Grand Slam title to his resume by winning the Australian Open.
In 1975, after several years of lower levels of success, Ashe played his best season ever by winning Wimbledon -- unexpectedly defeating Jimmy Connors in the final -- and earning for himself the #1 ranking in the world. (He remains the only black player ever to win the Wimbledon Men's Singles.) Ashe played several more years, but after being slowed by heart surgery in 1979, Ashe retired in 1980.
After his retirement, Ashe took on many new tasks, from writing for Time magazine to commenting for ABC Sports, from founding the National Junior Tennis League to serving as captain of the U.S. Davis Cup team. In 1983, Ashe underwent a second heart surgery. He was, to no one's surprise, elected to the Tennis Hall of Fame in 1985.
The story of Ashe's life turned from success to tragedy in 1988, however, when Ashe discovered he had contracted the HIV virus during the blood transfusions he had received during one of his two heart surgeries. He and his wife kept his illness private until rumors forced him to make a public announcement on April 8, 1992, that he had the disease. In the last year of his life, Arthur Ashe did much to call attention to AIDS sufferers worldwide. Two months before his death, he founded the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health, to help address issues of inadequate health care delivery.
The city of Richmond posthumously honored Ashe's life with a statue on Monument Avenue, a place that was traditionally reserved for statues of key figures of the Confederacy. This decision led to some controversy in a city that was the capital of the Confederate States during the American Civil War.