Controversy erupts over tennis great's US Open statue

The US Open honoured trailblazing tennis star Althea Gibson with a statue at Flushing Meadows on Day One of the tournament, but not everyone was impressed.

Gibson was a groundbreaking athlete who broke colour barriers to become the first African American to compete in the US National, which was the precursor to the US Open.

'PRETTY AWFUL’: Ash Barty overcomes 'appalling' drama at US Open

She then became the first black player to win the French Open in 1956, followed by Wimbledon and the US Nationals the next year.

She finished with an incredible seven Grand Slams and died in 2003.

A statue of Althea Gibson as unveiled at the US Open. (Image: @WTA)

The US Open acknowledged her importance to the sport this year after unveiling a granite statue outside outside Arthur Ashe Stadium at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre.

England's Angela Buxton, 85, was Gibson's women's doubles partner in 1956 French and Wimbledon title runs but gave a sobering assessment of the artwork.

"You want an honest opinion? Well, it doesn't resemble her at all," Buxton said. "Sorry to say that. I would have passed her any day and not know who it was.

"But the main thing is not the statue. It's what I learned from her and what I enjoyed with her. That's the main thing."

King and Williams praise Gibson

At a time when racism was widespread, Gibson persevered on and off the court, winning the 1957 and 1958 Wimbledon and US Open singles titles.

"What people have to understand is how she persevered and what she means not just to our sport, to all society, to everyone," US tennis legend Billie Jean King said Monday.

Althea Gibson with the Wimbledon trophy after her straight sets victory over Angela Mortimer. (Photo by Barratts/PA Images via Getty Images)

Gibson paved the way for such African-American stars as Arthur Ashe and Serena and Venus Williams.

"It wasn't easy to be African American in the '50s. It was impossible to do that and she did it and was a champion. I can't even imagine what she went through," Venus Williams said.

"She went through it so I didn't have to. What she achieved, that statue is the beginning of what we should be doing for Althea."

With Reuters