Success just didn’t happen upon Katrina Adams. She earned it the good old-fashioned way —through hard work, perseverance, and a passion for her profession.
In 2015, after a successful career on the tennis courts and a decade-long climb up the United States Tennis Association (USTA) ladder, Adams became the first African-American and first former professional tennis player to serve as the association’s chairman of the board, CEO, and president. The USTA oversees the US Open in Queens, NY, the highest-attended sporting event in the country each year.
Her prowess on the courts began while attending Northwestern University, where she majored in communications. While there, she helped the Wildcats win Big Ten championships in 1986 and 1987. She was named the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Rookie (ITA) of the Year in 1986 and an NCAA All-American in 1986 and 1987. Also in 1987, she became the first African-American to win the NCAA doubles title.
Adams played on the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) tour and was ranked as high as No. 67 in singles and No. 8 in doubles. She captured 20 career doubles titles and reached the quarterfinals or better in doubles at all four Grand Slam events. Her best Grand Slam singles result was reaching the fourth round at Wimbledon in 1988.
While an active pro, Adams served on the board of directors of the WTA as a player representative for four one-year terms and on the WTA’s Players Association for five two-year terms. After leaving the tour, Adams was a USTA National Tennis Coach from 1999 to 2002. She joined the USTA’s board of directors in 2005, serving as a director at large and as the association’s vice president and first vice president.
What was it like playing on the tour? It was fantastic, a great experience. I got to travel the world and played against people who were heroes of mine growing up.
What were your most memorable matches? Six weeks into the tour, I won my first doubles title, which was really exciting. Also, playing against the famed doubles team of Martina Navratilova and Pam Shriver, and playing singles against Chris Evert at Wimbledon was great. There was camaraderie on the tour back then. Zina Garrison became a close friend and mentor.
What led you to the USTA? After my career ended I worked as a National Coach for the USTA for four years. I then wanted to give back to the sport as a volunteer and was asked to be on the board of the USTA. That’s where I began to understand what the USTA was all about.
What was your biggest initial challenge at the USTA? There have been several challenges since I arrived. The inclusion of the Hispanic community in the country has been one of our main goals. Also, only a small percentage of the 350,000 high school tennis players are playing junior USTA matches after their season ends. We want to increase that by creating options for these players to still compete in a recreational format year-round. Another challenge has been to increase the integrity of the game among young people by teaching them the importance of sportsmanship.
How can you grow the sport? Has the USTA made any special accommodations to assist young ones with learning how to play the game at their level? The creation of the shorter court and lower net helps kids learn the game more easily and has been extremely successful at clubs across the country. Also, our player development program at the USTA has been doing a great job of developing highly skilled young players. We currently have a number of young men and women who are ranked in the Top 100 in the world.
What does the US Open mean to NYC? It means everything to New York. There’s a real excitement and buzz created throughout the city. Hotels and restaurants are packed with people from around the world.
Describe the Harlem Junior Tennis and Education Program. I’ve been involved with this program for 10 years, which helps support young people in underserved communities. Our goal is to assist these kids and help them reach their highest potential through tennis, character building, and education. Some eventually earn college scholarships.
What do you like about NYC? What’s not to like about New York? Everything happens here with its diverse cultures. I enjoy going to the theater. Also, the USTA is based in White Plains, so I have the best of both worlds.
What are your future plans? I always want to make a difference, so I’ll continue my relationship with Harlem Junior Tennis and Education Program, and I might get back into doing some commentating for television, which I enjoy.
Tidbit: The U.S. Open begins on August 29 and run through September 11. Find out more at USOpen.org.
Sidebar/box: Among her many accolades, Adams was inducted into the Northwestern Hall of Fame in 1998, the USTA Midwest Section Hall of Fame in 2005, the Chicago District Tennis Hall of Fame in 2008, the Black Tennis Hall of Fame in 2012, the ITA Women’s Tennis Hall of Fame in 2014, and the USTA Eastern Section Tennis Hall of Fame in 2015. Also in 2015, she was named one of the “25 Influential Black Women in Business” by The Network Journal and as one of Sports Business Daily’s “Game Changers.”
Photo Credit: Susan Mullane