NEW YORK (FOX 5 NY) - You may not recognize Robert Ryland, but he has played a major role in professional tennis. At 99 years old, he is still in the game he loves, training young tennis players at local tennis courts.
"I teach in Harlem and different places," Ryland said.
Ryland grew up in Mobile, Alabama during segregation and Jim Crow.
"My father was white and my mother was black," Ryland said. "He wanted to marry her, so they wanted to hang him."
Ryland says that's when his parents moved to Chicago.
As a young tennis star, Ryland was barred from competing in a whites-only professional league. So, he made a name for himself in an African-American tennis league. But in 1959 at 38 years old, he was recruited to play in the whites-only pro league, becoming the first black man to play professional tennis.
Ryland says he doesn't have any bitterness because "what good is bitterness for?"
Although Ryland did not have the pro career he could and should have had, he has helped inspire generations of talented black players. He trained Arthur Ashe and Serena and Venus Williams as young athletes, and even taught celebrities like Eartha Kitt, Barbara Streisand and Tony Bennett.
His recently released memoir, "My Story: Robert Ryland, First Black Professional Male Tennis Player" chronicles his illustrious career as a trailblazer.
When asked what he would like to be remembered for, Ryland says he would like to be remembered as a man who played tennis well and "opened doors for the kids".