tv Talk to Al Jazeera Al Jazeera September 12, 2015 6:00pm-6:31pm EDT
>> this week on talk to al jazeera, katrina adams, she sits atop u.s. tennis as chairman of the board, ceo, and president of the united states tennis association. >> it's been 133 years since we were founded, so it is an honor to be the first... i don't think i have to fight for it, uh...i was just being me. >> adams' climb to the top took a decade, and now the first african american and former professional player to lead the national governing body, is busy setting the agenda for her two-year term.
>> accountability, behavior, and communication. >> as the youngest person to hold the post, adams wants to use tennis to transform lives. >> it's about providing kids an opportunity to be better individuals, not just better tennis players, but better citizens. >> she is also hard at work trying to expand the game. >> part of my goals, are making sure that we grow our hispanic base here in the u.s. the fastest-growing population. >> katrina, who grew up on the west side of chicago, reflects on her introduction to tennis, and first playing in the nationals. >> i was such a cocky little kid, not saying that much is changed, but it was fun. >> and of course, we played the name game. >> johnny mac... >> wild, a...talented, witty.... >> i spoke to katrina adams recently at the usta, where she showed me she's the boss on the court.
>> so let me just say this to you: you're not supposed to be the president of the united states tennis association. >> why? >>you're an african american woman. this is one of the most elite sports ever in the history of organized sports. and, yet, here you are. how did this happen, katrina? >> you know what, tony, it's-- look. it's been 133 years since we were founded. so it is an honor to be the first. but i look at it as being someone who's been successful in the game, cares about the game, who has always given back to the game. and, with my involvement in the sport from that, being a non-profit-- organization, the harlem junior tennis and education program, working with grassroots, as i've worked my way up through the system of the usta, i've been on the board for ten years, in my 11th year now. why not me? >> what have you found? have you found it a difficult rise? have there been challenges?
did you have to push on the door? or was the door kind of ajar and you were able just to sort of nudge it? what do you think? >> i don't think i had to fight for it. i was just being me. and being me is, you know, being a good listener. always understanding what needs to be done to evolve. and i've always been about evolution. 'cause a lot of people don't know who we are. they see the u.s. open; they see tournaments; they see leagues, and says, "oh, well, you know, to be a usta member, that's what it's about." but it's not. i mean, we're about growing the game, putting people on the court, getting racquets in children's hands all the way up to super seniors, and keeping them in the game. and it's about providing opportunities for inner-city youth who are in jtl programs. and about diversity. it's about inclusion. and, once you really understand that and understand that our sections and our states and our districts are really responsible for getting people in the game and keeping them involved,
then you get a better feeling. and that's what i got from being on the board of usta. and i wanted to have an opportunity to go all the way to the top. >> what do you see as your core mission? what would you like for folks to say about your tenure when you're done in two years? >> the main message that i'm giving to our members and our volunteers, it's about getting back to the a, b, c's so that we can accomplish the x, y, z's that starts with accountability, behavior, and communication. being accountable for what we're putting out there, and for what our goals are, and trying to accomplish our mission. making sure that our behavior is engaging, and that it's inclusive, and that we're inviting. and communicating who we are and what we do. and not just with potential members, but with our volunteers, with our business partners, with our viewers.
and with our fans, especially when it comes to the u.s. open. and, in order to do that, we have to start at the top to make sure that we're laying out proper goals for ourselves, to make sure that we can accomplish them. and then, part of my goals are making sure that we grow our hispanic base here, in the u.s., the fastest growing population-- >> absolutely. >> in america. and we've barely tapped into these communities to get the kids involved, get the parents involved, get the grandparents involved. it's about really being inclusive of the entire family and embracing them. but going out and making sure we're sending the right messengers out delivering the right message so that they want to be involved in the sport and understand the value of what tennis can do for them. i also am focusing on our high school kids. we have almost 400,000 high school players. we have a no-cut policy within the u.s. we have teams that have-- >> if you want to play, you get to play. >> if you want to play if your best friend's on the
team and you want to be on the team, come on out. right? but then, we only have those kids that are there for six, eight weeks through the high school season. i want to make sure that they're following up with tennis after that and they have a place to go and truly learn the sport and become more engaged, and, hopefully, stay in the sport for a lifetime. >> the hispanic outreach, boy, that could be huge for tennis in america. >> well, i've put together a hispanic engagement advisory group, which is-- which involves a lot of our leaders here, in the u.s., some board members, some section leaders, some staff members, et cetera, around the country, who are really coming up with a plan. it's a group effort. it takes a village. >> it takes a- >> and, hopefully, we have the right village to really go out and be successful. >> katrina, you are the obama of tennis in america. that's so over-the-top, isn't it? yes, you are the president of the united states tennis association. so president obama, every year,
gives the state of the union address. and, at some point, he says, "the state of the union is strong." what's the state of tennis in america? >> the state right now is that it's positive. we're growing. and, if i can be as impactful as i think i'm being right now, you know, sky's the limit for what we can do in growing tennis in america. >> how were you introduced to the game? >> i got lucky. i stumbled on it. i'm where i am today because of my parents. and because of that summer my parents were teaching summer school, and i was a tag-along little sister with my two brothers that were in a program that was sponsored by the martin luther king boys club in chicago. every summer, they had a different activity. that summer happened to be tennis. and happened to be four blocks-- >> really? >> --away from home, where we walked. i was six; they were-- i don't know, 12 and 14.
they hated tennis. i was the ultimate tomboy, because my oldest brother used to always, you know, beat up on me and wrestle and make sure i was engaged in sports, because i was his excuse to be able to go hang out with his friends. >> gotcha. >> so, you know, i could throw a ball. i could hit a ball. i could do all those things. so, when it came to tennis, i had to sit outside the fence for two weeks watching all of these kids between the ages of nine and 18 have fun, and, in my opinion, not know what they were doing out there. and i'm a visual learner. so, after watching them and begging for two weeks, when i walked on the court, i literally started playing tennis. and the coaches were amazed. my brothers were in shock. because i could actually put the ball over the net in the court without it going "bing bing bing--" >> with some stroke development. >> yeah. >> because you had been watching? >> i'd been watching. i could alway-- i already could play softball. >> so hand-eye was-- >> hand-eye was great-- >> great, okay. >> i could already throw a ball. i was throwing a spiral football at six. so that's a service motion.
and so, at the end of that summer, i was the most improved player from the camp that summer. i got a little trophy, which was-- i still have in my possession. i've taken it everywhere that i've lived. and one of the coaches, tony fox, was like, "hey, i'd love to be able to work with her, you know, during the school year." so we started playing one day a week-- really, on the weekends, at an indoor facility, washington park field house it wasn't an indoor facility; it was a basketball court that had basketball lines, volleyball lines, tennis lines. >> you were playing tennis-- >> tennis. >> on a basketball court? >> absolutely. so you're talking about lightning fast. >> yes. >> it was a group lesson. and-- you know, i started there. and then, one day a week, we went to another boys club-- on the west side. then the old town boys club, where they had a net set up. and so, i developed a fast court game at a very early age. i was a serve and volleyer for a reason. you didn't really want the ball to
bounce so much-- >> that's right. >> on a basketball court, right-- >> and skid and shoot through, right-- 'cause they-- >> yeah, yeah. >> played my first tournament, which was the ata nationals, in new orleans. so, mind ya, i'd been playing tennis for a year. my first tournament is in new orleans. so we get in the car, and we drive down to new orleans. and i'm playing in the ata nationals with-- you know, a thousand other people when it came from ages-- boys and girls ten to 18, all the way up to men-- >> you had to have been intimidated. >> you know what? no. because i was that cocky. >> (laughter) >> i was such a cocky little kid. not saying that much has changed. >> (laughter) >> but-- but it was fun. i mean, to be able to be around so many other kids and really say, "wow, this is exciting." and, when you get there-- for me, it was all about the trophy. so you get there, and you see this table full of all these trophies. and i was like, "wow. you get trophies?" and from, really, that moment on, it was about trophies for me. >> so it-- it's interesting. the friends and family network that coordinate all of this, they make huge sacrifices,
don't they to help you enjoy and-- and move on in the game, right? >> let me tell you. my parents have been (sigh) unbelievable. obviously, without them, i wouldn't be where i am-- >> all their names. >> james and yvonne. they were teachers. you know, we were considered middle class-- growing up on the west side of chicago. and they didn't know tennis. they never played tennis. to this day, they still haven't played tennis. >> wow. >> but they wanted to support me and my brothers, whatever it is that we wanted to do, and they found a way. we made a lot of sacrifices. when you're a kid, you have no idea what that means. as you get older and you realize the amount of money that it takes or that it took based on what they made, i truly understood the sacrifices that they made. but it was also the relationship that they built. you know, the relationships that they built with my coaches, with clubs, with other organizations, people that were supporting me that i had no idea were supporting me that may have been chipping in on some of the travel expenses.
so they did an amazing job. but that's also where i give-- get my sense of giving back. they are from mississippi. right? both of them are mississippi. they went to school in mississippi, graduated, came to chicago. >> great. in and around jackson? or another-- >> my mother's from carthage, which is-- >> yeah, yeah, yeah. >> the jackson area. my dad is from a little town called etta, which is oxford. >> gotcha. >> so understanding where they came from, moving to chicago to start a family and to raise us and to provide the opportunities that we had was just really astounding and-- and amazing in itself. >> what was the moment where you said, "i really want to go for this, and i think i can be successful." was there a moment? >> that's a very good question. i would say, as a junior, i was just about getting to the next tournament. you didn't see tennis the way you see it now. every day, looking on television, you're watching the pros and you can aspire to be that and
knowing that it's a possibility. >> when i was growing up, i never knew that that was really a possibility. 'cause the environment that i grew up in was not a tennis environment, >> right >> so i didn't understand what being a professional was. i had a goal at 12 to be a professional, but i still didn't know what that meant and how to do it. and i was a young i was a young senior. i graduated at 16. and so, that was not a goal of mine. i knew i was going to college. my parents were teachers; you think i had a choice? but went to northwestern. i had a focus on communication. i knew i wanted to go into tv at some point. and so, that was my path. so, even when i was in school, after my freshman year, my coach thought i was gonna turn pro. i was like, "turn pro? what are you talking about?" i'm like-- right-- >> "i got a whole different path laid out here, yeah, yeah. >> i would say, early in sophomore year, when i really realized that i was constantly progressing,
and i said, "wow. you know what? this is truly an opportunity." because what happens is, in the summer of your collegiate years or even after my high school years, i was starting to play what they call challengers. >> which is a satellite or introductory tournaments to become a professional and get some points. and so, each summer, i was earning points, earning points. and i was earning a ranking. and i started moving up in the rankings. during my sophomore year, i says, "wow. and, you know, i've really progressed. and had a-- had a talk with my coach and the athletic director of northwestern. and i said, "you know what? i think i want to take the fall quarter off, continue to play in the fall as an amateur, and see how i do. i'm used to playing every week in the summer but not every week throughout the year - or most weeks throughout the year. let's see how i do. if i'm doing well, and i-- and i can handle it, then i'll turn pro in that january, the following january. if not, i'm coming back to school and
we'll never have this conversation again." >> you thought it out? >> absolutely. i had a very productive summer, a very productive fall. i was a direct entry into the australian open. and i said, "bye-bye." and so, that was the beginning of my professional-- >> no wild card? >> no. >> direct entry? >> right. i was 100 in the world. and for me, that was the time to go pro. because now i know i'm direct entry into tournaments. >> no qualifiers? >> i'm not playing qualifying every week. >> yeah. >> and that was the decision that i made. and it was a-- it was a great decision. >> what do you consider the high point of your professional career? >> you know, there's-- every year was something different. i think your first year is always the most special. because then you start to play all the majors, and you play in all the tournaments, and traveling the world, and everything is new and exciting. i will say, in that first year, at wimbledon, you know,
when you walk through the hallowed grounds of the all england lawn & tennis club, and you're like, "wow, this is what you've been seeing. and the first summer that i picked up a racquet was the first time i saw arthur ashe on television, the summer of 1975, winning wimbledon. >> this is talk to al jazeera still ahead on the program, katrina adams talks about improving the lives of young people through tennis. >> al jazeera america primetime. get the real news you've been looking for. at 7:00, a thorough wrap-up of the day's events. then at 8:00, john seigenthaler digs deeper into the stories of the day. and at 9:00, get a global perspective. weeknights, on al jazeera america.
and then, i want to get to the work you're doing in harlem. coupla names. zina garrison. what comes to mind? >> she was a mentor for me on tour. top ten in the world. took me under her wing when i first came on. became best friends-- and a big sister. >> lori mcneil. >> very talented. extremely funny. really, the funniest person that i know. we played doubles a few times, as well, won a couple tournaments. and just very witty. chris evert? just the ultimate champion. ultimate professional. you know, it was an honor to be able to play her in 1988, 'cause she retired in 1989. and now, a friend. >> martina navratilova? >> probably one of the best ever. the most athletic. really changed the game physically-- for everyone. elevated the physical fitness of it. made people realize they needed to be stronger, fitter.
she was a serve and volleyer, so somebody that i emulated. and-- and a great friend. >> johnny mac? (laugh) >> wild. talented. witty. you know, just-- high-strung when it comes to the way he played-- how he commentates. you know, one of the smartest guys in the game. >> billie jean king? >> the greatest ever. i mean, the most amazing individual-- >> without pause? >> oh, she-- >> you just said, "the greatest ever." >> yeah. she's the greatest ever, because she encompasses everything. she's a motivator, an innovator. she's a leader. the godmother of tennis, in my opinion. what she's done for women in general-- not just in tennis-- and she founded the wta tour. but what she has done and continues to do for little girls in the world-- it's not just about america-- but to empower women overall,
to make them realize that they can be whoever they want to be and be the best at it, it's just amazing. >> arthur ashe? >> humble. humanitarian. a leader. amazing athlete. and missed. >> tell me about the program you run in harlem and how important that is to you. >> you know, the harlem junior tennis and education program is how i got to new york. and-- you know, i'm-- i'm in my tenth year there now, it's about providing kids an opportunity to be better individuals. not just better tennis players, but better citizens. and so, we're not only creating champions on the court, but off the court. it's about tutoring, mentoring, life skills-- being big brothers, big sisters, aunts, uncles. whatever it is that we need to be for the kids in that program is amazing. >> those of us who
really love the game talk about the fact that it's a game for a lifetime. we can play it when we're creaking around, and that sort of thing. but i want to know why why you love the game >> i'm a competitor in everything that i do. i love to compete. and there's no other sport that can really provide the level of competition with yourself. it's not just against someone else, but challenging yourself to be the best, to be able to focus, to be able to deal with adversity, to be able to build your self-esteem and your self-confidence, to be fit, to run around, to really show your true personality on the court. >> talk to us about the players coming along and the health of american tennis, men's tennis in america and women's tennis in america. >> any child and every child has the opportunity to excel in a sport if they put the work in, if they really believe in it, and they have the talent. and you're looking at serena and venus,
both, who had it all. we have 16 or 17 ladies in the top 100 right now. a year ago, two years ago, we had maybe five or six. so the health is-- we're healthy. a lotta youth that are coming up. taylor townsend, who's one of the youngest players that-- have emerged in the last year. and then, on the men's side, it's growing. you know? not at the fast rate that we would like. but it's there. and-- and what people have to realize, when you go back to the '70s and the '80s, the world hadn't opened up yet. there was a lot of talent that had not come out from behind the iron curtain. and now, you know, sky's the limit for everyone. there's so much talent that's out there. and the opportunities are enormous for everyone. and so, a lot of these players have surpassed the hunger that we had or w-- that we had then. i'm not saying that we're not hungry now. 'cause we are; we've got a lot of young players coming up. i'd say, in the next five years,
we'll have the same numbers in the top 100 on the men's side as we do on the women's. >> still ahead in the program, i get my clock cleaned on the court, and love every minute of it. >> tonight we spotlight those inspiring stories. >> we given' a family a chance because some of the houses are being rebuilt. >> if the city is down, i'd like to help it get better.
talk to al jazeera we're speaking this week with the woman at the top of the us tennis association, katrina adams. >> tell me about this experience at the national tennis center-- billie jean king national tennis center. you're going through a lot of renovations right now. >> we are. >> talk me through some of the changes coming to the national tennis center, and what the experience is going to be like not only this year, but-- got how many years to come here? >> (laugh) we are so excited about what's going on here. we're putting a roof, finally, on arthur ashe stadium. you know, this has been in the making for us for about ten years, when we first started talking about it. but-- you know, when, ten years, f-- five years ago, even, we couldn't afford it. it's a big project. the size of arthur ashe stadium is huge, the open-- the open part. and, to put a roof on that, the weight of it would have been too much. so we finally found a developer and an architect that built something that's on the
outside. it's more like a canopy. we are in phase two. last year, we put all the pilings in-- in the ground, you know, 100-- as much as 180 feet deep, to-- be able to support the beams going up. this year, we'll have the super structure finished by the u.s. open. and then, next year, we'll put the retractable roof part on. and-- it's gonna be amazing. so that's one of the-- that's the first thing at hand. we're also building a new grandstand-- stadium. >> are you excited about your first u.s. open as the president of the united states tennis association? i-- why am i asking that question? i know you are. >> you know what? it's very interesting. i am. i'm very excited. but it's-- you know, i played the u.s. open for 12 years. but the position is different. the responsibilities are greater-- a chairman of the u.s. open. and so-- i'm excited to really be in that position for this year and next year. my friends are more excited to see
me walk out on the court on saturday and sunday and present the-- the finals tro-- champion with the trophy. but-- yeah, i'm looking-- really looking forward to it. >> and you'll get the box. and you'll get to invite your friends. >> is that a hint? >> and, you know, tony harris'll be there. and ted robinson. and the-- and the guys we're trying to figure out-- who -- who's that guy with-- i mean, we don't know. moving on. >> it's my boy, tony. >> oh, yeah. yeah, yeah. what is it that you want folks to say about your time in this position-- when you're done? >> people say, "what do you want your legacy to be?" and-- i'm just about making a difference. i want to change sportsmanship in america. i think the sportsmanship and the behavior of our kids and our parents, in particular, has just gone awol from what our
sport is about. and, if any of those three can be accomplished, then i've done my job and set out and accomplished the goals that i've set forth. but it's really about changing the face of tennis. and making people realize that they too are welcome. >> uhh... that's right that was probably... >> ah you're not ganna finnish on that one... uhhhh. >> rip it! >> uhhh... >> that was awsome! >> business man bill browder. >> if my grandfather was the biggest communist in america, i'm gonna go become the biggest capitalist in eastern europe. >> from communist origins to capitalist tycoon. see why he's now set on taking down vladimir putin. >> the russian government remains determined to ruin me in any way they can, including killing me if they can get away with it.
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