For our sixth annual Heroes Issue, we’ve selected passages from the last 50 years of Tennis Magazine and TENNIS.com—starting in 1969 and ending in 2018—to highlight 50 worthy heroes. Each passage acknowledges the person as they were then; each subsequent story catches up with the person, or highlights their impact, as they are now. It is best summed up with a quote from the great Arthur Ashe, that was featured on the cover of the November/December issue of this magazine in 2015: “True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.”
As the men’s doubles’ trophy ceremony wound down on Friday, Tom Rinaldi of ESPN seemed to be finished with his interview with one of the winners, Jean-Julien Rojer of the Netherlands. But Rinaldi, glancing at Rojer’s outfit, had to ask: Why was he wearing a shirt with the Statue of Liberty plastered across the front? – Stephen Tignor / September 2017
"I have Lady Liberty on the front, and on my jackets I have a peace symbol on the back,” Jean-Julien Rojer said, after teaming with Horia Tecau to win the 2017 US Open. “The idea came after the tragic incident in Charlottesville, and we came up with this line promoting peace and freedom and liberty.”
Rojer, a 37-year-old native of Curaçao, says he’s grateful to the United States for allowing him to come here to train as a junior. He went on to play at UCLA, where he was inspired by the legacy of the school’s most famous tennis-playing graduate, Arthur Ashe.
“I’ve been here since I was 12 years old. It’s a great country, and I’m happy they let me in, and I’ve [been able] to do my job here,” Rojer said to loud applause.
When it came to race relations, though, Rojer had felt the difference between the U.S. and Curaçao immediately.
“The first time I noticed color was when I came to the U.S., because we don’t grow up with that back home,” Rojer said later. “In the Caribbean, we see a black father, and a white mother.”
As world travelers in a multi-cultural, multi-lingual sport, Rojer and Tecau—who moved to the United States from his native Romania at 14—see it as their duty to speak about the benefits of tolerance to their adopted countrymen.
It’s a platform Rojer believes is underused.
“I don’t know how much the tennis world gets into it,” he said after winning the Open, “but I just wanted to get the conversation going and promoting freedom and justice, liberty for everybody on gender issues, on racial issues, which we deal a lot with in this country.”
Judging by the ovations that Rojer received for his words, his play and his shirt, it’s a message that a lot of Americans have been longing to hear.