Katrina Adams_Tennis.com Podcast

Growing the game of tennis is the focus of so many individuals and federations. More people from different backgrounds and with unique perspectives getting involved will only elevate the sport as a whole. Look no further than Katrina Adams—a prime example of how growing the game enabled tennis to uncover a true talent that uplifted the entire ecosphere.

Adams was a kid from the West Side of Chicago who found enjoyment in the form of a racquet. Her playing career took her through school to the global stage, uplifting her life and her network. Yet it was when she put down the racquet and dedicated her life to the business of tennis that Adams became a vessel for changing the sport.

She sat down with Kamau Murray—a fellow Chicagoan with much admiration for his "Big Sis"—to recount how she forged her own path from the outside of her favorite sport:


The story of Adams' rise to power begins with her playing career, which was much stronger than people realize. A two-time state champion in Illinois, her college destination of Northwestern was not the initial plan but rather the only large school that recruited her due to confusion about her age.

"I was 16 as a senior, so people thought I was a junior," Adams recalled. It was a missed opportunity for many D1 powerhouses, and added a large chip on the player's shoulder during her two exceptional college seasons. "It was kind of motivation for me that when I got to play these schools that didn't recruit me, it was extra motivation to kick their you know what's."

Adams turned after her sophomore season, and leaned heavily on Zina Garrison and Lori McNeill as mentors at the pro level. Training with those two Top 10 players gave her the confidence that she could make the transition, and she saw firsthand what it would take physically and mentally to survive on the WTA Tour. But in the age before sponsorship advances, it was a financial burden starting out as a professional.

"My dad sacrificed every week. Every day, every week, him and my mom sacrificed and made it work for me," Adams remembers. And Garrison looked out for her as well: She played doubles with the young player, offered her own coach—the knowledgeable Willis Thomas—at a discounted rate, and even shared hotel rooms to offset the costs facing a financially strapped up-and-coming pro.

Adams is forever grateful for these gestures, and was able to carve out a career that saw her crack the Top 70 in singles and win 20 doubles titles. Not bad for a girl from the Midwest.

Which brings us to her post-playing career. How did Adams transition from competing on the court to becoming the first African American and first former player to lead the USTA?

"It stems back to first being that professional tennis player and learning how to network and build relationships. But also, (you) learn (to get) respect from others and show that you are accountable and responsible in your actions," Adams stated. She was on the board as a competitor, which gave her an understanding of the inner workings of the business of tennis.

After being nominated to the USTA board, Adams discovered the true beauty in what the the organization and its programs can do for the game domestically. That piqued her interests, and started Adams on a path towards becoming a pioneer and a groundbreaking leader. "It was really about having my eyes wide open at all times, having my ears open at all times, and having my feet to the ground at all times. Because you never knew what was coming your way."

Adams was also the youngest CEO in history, and completed two successful terms in office. No one individual deserves sole credit for the recent growth and boom of tennis in the States, but Adams has certainly been one of the main catalysts for increased participation in all corners of the country.

Since departing from the USTA, Adams went on to write a highly acclaimed leadership book. "Own the Arena: Getting Ahead, Making a Difference, and Succeeding as the Only One" is Adams' story in her own words, and offers lessons that can applied to all avenues of life. It's no secret why she's received offers to speak to businesses, and why her voice continues to hold enormous weight in the tennis community.

Adams is a trendsetter, a trailblazer, and somebody who fights for inclusion over exclusion. Her contributions to the game cannot be understated, and they certainly are not on this podcast.