Katrina Adams, who fell short of her dream of becoming tennis’ top woman player, nevertheless established herself as a major player in the tennis world earlier this week by becoming the first African American and former pro to be nominated president and CEO of the United States Tennis Association (USTA). The Chicago native begins a two-year term as the nation’s top tennis executive in January.
“The USTA president doesn’t have the power that he or she used to have in earlier years,” said Willis Thomas, the director of tennis at the Washington (D.C.) Education and Tennis Foundation. “It has become more of a symbolic position. But I think it will help my juniors to see that the person now in charge of the organization is someone who they’ve met, someone they know.”
Thomas coached former pro Zina Garrison, a Wimbledon finalist, for most of her career. He also coached Adams soon after she turned pro. “Katrina and Zina became doubles partners and since Katrina was on tour by herself, Zina sought of took her under her wing and allowed me to coach her, too.”
Adams, who reached a career high No. 67 in 1989 and No. 8 in doubles, began her quest for tennis greatness at age six in a public parks and recreation program on Chicago’s West Side. An outstanding competitor at Whitney Young High School, Adams captured the Illinois state singles titles in 1983-84. A two-time All-American at Northwestern, Adams was named the ITCA Rookie-of-the-year in 1985. In 1987 she teamed with Diane Donnell to capture the NCAA doubles title. She turned pro in 1988 and ended her 12-year career in 1990 with 20 WTA doubles titles, winning seven of them with Garrison.
Adams played one of the best matches of her career during her rookie year. With her aggressive serve-and-volley style, she won the first set, 7-5, against Chris Evert in the fourth round of the 1988 Wimbledon championships, but Evert, a.k.a., the Ice Maiden, regained her composure and found her game, rallying to defeat Adams 6-3, 6-0 in the final two sets.
“I had two players to reach the round of 16 at Wimbledon that year,” Thomas said. “Zina also got to the fourth round.”Adams served as a player representative on the Women’s Tennis Association’s board of directors for four years before retiring as a player in 2000. Adams, who balances an affable personality with a laser-like fire to succeed, continued to develop her skills as a tennis administrator with the USTA, serving on its Board of Directors for 10 years. She completes a two-year term as First Vice President in December. She also is a member of the Grand Slam Board, the ITF Davis Cup Committee, a contributor on CBS Sports Network’s first all-female sports show, “We Need to Talk,” a Tennis Channel analyst and the executive director of the Harlem Junior Tennis and Education Program in New York City.