A Lifetime Sport

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Before I was president of the USTA, I was a player. And as much as I was a player, I was a fan.

I remember Zina Garrison beating Chris Evert at the U.S. Open in 1989. There was the sadness of it being Chrissie’s last match, but then also the amazing experience of seeing Zina, my doubles partner at the time, break through. I remember the first primetime Women’s Open Final, between the Williams sisters in 2001. How all eyes were on them, and what an occasion that was for women’s tennis. Even just a few years ago, I remember Serena’s instant classic against Victoria Azarenka — 7-5 in the third, and you didn’t want it to end. The level that both of them were playing at was just so phenomenal.

As a fan, I love when players bring out something great in each other. Those are the matches you can watch again and again, and I think you see those matches at the U.S. Open every year. It’s what makes it such a unique event.

As this year’s Open rounds the corner into its second week, I feel a great deal of excitement about many things.

I think the state of women’s tennis right now is the strongest it’s been in quite some time.

The Players Tribune Women in Sports

Of course, anytime your leader is an athlete like Serena Williams, your sport is in great shape. Serena will go down as one of the greatest tennis players of all time. One of the greatest athletes of all time. And it’s great for women’s athletics to be able to look at what Serena has accomplished — and continues to accomplish — and say, “This is the standard.” There is no better standard possible.

And for as much attention as Serena gets, people still don’t seem to realize how much she’s been through off the court — how much adversity she’s had to deal with, throughout her life. She’s always been able to rise above those challenges. That’s what separates Serena from some of the other great players, and even some of the other great champions. No one really knows what goes on in these athletes’ personal lives, behind closed doors. People speculate, and they think they know. But no one really knows.

With all of the success Serena has had, people tend to forget that it hasn’t always been easy. They don’t recognize and applaud her for being able to rise above some of the extraordinary challenges she has faced. They only see what’s in front of them. And so they tease and criticize her for every little thing … forgetting the scope of what she’s been through and accomplished to get here. They forget that she’s a human being.

I think the state of women’s tennis right now is the strongest it’s been in quite some time.

The women’s final sold out before the tournament even started. That’s a source of immense pride for us. And whether Serena plays in it or not, going for the calendar Grand Slam or not, it’s a testament to the excitement that she has brought to the event and to the sport. The whole world is watching Serena, and the light shining on her is also shining a light on women’s tennis in general. People are seeing what I have known for a long time to be true: Women’s tennis is one of the greatest sports in the world.

The men’s side is in great shape as well, with a depth of talent that is astonishing to me. You have Novak and Roger, both transcendent champions, at Nos. 1 and 2 — and yet I don’t think there is a clear-cut favorite. You saw that last year with Cilic. There are just so many great players right now. That’s exciting to me.

What Roger has done is incredible: over his long career, of course — and then more recently, with the adjustments he has undergone. If you look closely, you can see the subtle changes Roger has made to both his game and his approach. To be at the height of your sport historically and to have your mindset be, Okay, how can I improve? How can I get better? — that’s special.

Roger Federer, of Switzerland, reacts after winning his fourth round match against John Isner, 7-6, 7-6, 7-5, at the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York, Monday, Sept. 7, 2015. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

And that’s part of why Roger is such a global player. In a sport that loves its underdogs, here you have arguably the greatest player of all time … and he’s a fan favorite wherever he goes. People just connect with Roger’s love of the game — his endless curiosity for it, and for what makes his own greatness tick. It’s cool to watch, and fun to root for.

I always come back to love of the game. My passion for tennis, and my desire to truly make a difference — to leave the sport in a better place than when I found it — are the things that drive me, as president. Our ultimate goal at the USTA is simple: to promote the growth and development of tennis in America. And I think we are doing just that.

People just connect with Roger’s love of the game — his endless curiosity for it, and for what makes his own greatness tick.

One of my major focuses right now is trying to build a stronger Hispanic base of players. It’s the largest-growing population in the U.S., but we don’t have a corresponding population of players, either at the junior or adult levels. We want to make sure that we’re inviting and bringing in all demographics of people to our sport. For us, tennis is a sport of a lifetime. It’s a healthy sport. It’s a sport that can help you build a future. And it’s a sport that can help you learn a lot about yourself — about your self-esteem and your character. We want to do our best to convey that.

For me, as president, all of this is personal. When I look at my overall tennis career, I’m not just looking at it from a professional standpoint. I played junior tennis. I played high school tennis. I played collegiate tennis. I played professional tennis. And I still play tennis. These are all levels we support within the USTA — that we prioritize, and promote, and contribute to. So I know that when we create these initiatives, I am not speculating. My experience and my perspective come firsthand.

But like I said, I’m also a fan. We’re in the middle of one of the most exciting times in tennis history — and the most exciting two weeks on the tennis calendar. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

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