Katrina Adams's first tennis victory came at age 6: Despite being told she was too young to play, she persuaded the coaches in her older brothers' tennis program at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boys Club in Chicago that she deserved to be on the court. "I'd been watching them for two weeks," says Adams, now 46, "and I kept saying, 'I can do that! I'm better than them!'" By the program's end, Adams was named most improved player. Her siblings? "I don't think they picked up a racquet again."

That steely persistence helped Adams turn pro at 19—and rack up 20 Women's Tennis Association doubles titles over her 12-year playing career, during which she saw players like Martina Hingis and the Williams sisters transform the game with youth, athleticism, and power. "It was an evolutionary time to be playing," says Adams, who retired the year Serena Williams won her first Grand Slam singles title. "I was able to be part of a shift—which sometimes meant getting beaten!"

Now Adams is witnessing another evolution, this time as the United States Tennis Association's newest—and first African American—president. "Seventy years ago, people of color couldn't even play in U.S. national tournaments," she says. "We've come a long way, but I would love for tennis to look more like America. Our focus is embracing players of all backgrounds and encouraging them to enjoy the sport for a lifetime."

This month the USTA will kick off its biggest annual event, the U.S. Open, which drew 713,642 spectators last year and millions of TV viewers (4.5 million tuned in to watch the women's finals match). "It's a long two weeks," says Adams, "but this is what we build toward each year." Still, while all eyes are glued to the action in New York's Flushing Meadows, Adams will remain focused on the future. "The Open supports our entire mission," she says. "That money goes all the way back to grassroots and community programs across the country, like the ones in Chicago where I first played. Because everyone starts somewhere."


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