Living Life with a Passion for Tennis
Feb. 6, 2009
Find something you love and you will never have to work a day in your life. Katrina Adams took this old saying to heart. Her outstanding talent, passion for the sport of tennis, and "never give" up mentality led her to an NCAA Championship title, All-American accolades, and a career on the professional circuit.
Adams came upon the sport of tennis at the age of six when she tagged along with her two brothers as they attended a tennis program at the Martin Luther King Boys Club in Chicago. One day, out of curiosity and boredom she asked about participating.
"The instructor at first said I was too young," said Adams to the New York Times in 1986. "Eventually they gave in and by the end of the summer I was beating my brothers and everybody else at the park."
With a true passion building for tennis, Adams practiced everyday. At the age of seven, her father bought her first tennis racket. Adams grew up in a part of the city where tennis facilities took a back seat to basketball courts. However, she didn't care, Adams just wanted to play and she found opportunities whenever she could.
Adams soon caught the eye of the Northwestern coaches when as a student at Whitney Young High School (Chicago), she won the Illinois State High School Championship in singles as a junior and senior.
"I actually was not recruited by anyone other than Northwestern, but that was because I was a 16-year-old senior," said Adams. "It was not until I actually signed my letter-of-intent with NU that all the schools realized that I was a senior."
Even though no other schools during the recruiting process had noticed her - other than Northwestern - Adams knew she made the right choice.
Adams immediately made an impact in Evanston, helping to establish the successful foundation of the women's tennis program. She set the school doubles record for wins in a season with 26 victories in 1986 and was named Freshman of the Year by the Big Ten and Intercollegiate Tennis Association.
The following year, Adams (along with Donnelly) established the record for 28 consecutive sets won, 21 consecutive matches won, best winning percentage and fewest sets lost. She also helped the Wildcats claim back-to-back Big Ten Championships. In addition, the successful duo of Adams and Donnelly captured the 1987 NCAA Championships doubles title, where Adams became the first African-American doubles champion.
"It is one of my fondest memories at Northwestern, because Diane (Donnelly) and I went out and won the NCAA title," said Adams. "And we won (the national doubles title) at UCLA in Los Angeles. It was just a great accomplishment for us."
In 1988, Adams turned pro and began competing at the highest level of the sport, including Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. During her time on the professional circuit, she captured 20 Women's Tennis Association doubles titles, including seven with partner Zina Garrison. In the national rankings, Adams also reached as high as No. 8 in doubles and No. 67 in singles.
Adams attributed her ability to compete on the pro level to her strong career at Northwestern.
"My collegiate success prepared me for my professional career in tennis by competing with my teammates against other schools and learning to thrive in tense situations, especially if it came down to a clutch match," said Adams. "My goal was to be a professional athlete once I started to succeed through college. It was those times when I could hear my teammates cheering for me and pulling for me that helped me thrive initially in my professional career."
After 12 successful years on the professional circuit, Adams retired but did not completely walk away from the sport of tennis. She soon began a career in broadcasting and coaching. Her television career began as a commentator for Black Entertainment Television's coverage of the United Negro College Fund Celebrity Golf and Tennis Challenge from 1998-2001. In addition, Adams was a national coach for the United States Tennis Association (USTA) "Tennis High Performance" program, where she helped to develop some of the nation's top players.
Today, Adams is in her third two-year term on the USTA's Board of Directors as the Director at Large. As part of the USTA, she is heavily involved in all facets of the organization including overseeing the budget and grassroots programs. In addition, Adams currently works as a television analyst for the Tennis Channel and serves as Executive Director of the Harlem Junior Tennis and Education Program in New York.
"I have been very lucky, because I have been able to play and work in the sport that I absolutely love," said Adams. "I definitely enjoy working for the USTA, while also being very heavily involved in the grassroots efforts through the Harlem Junior Tennis Program."
While Adams left Northwestern over 20 years ago, she has not forgotten her Wildcat roots. Just last month, Adams visited with the NU tennis team, which is currently No. 1 in the ITA team rankings.
"It has been great to see the success continue at Northwestern," said Adams. "Coach Claire Pollard has done a phenomenal job. When I started at NU, we had a 6-7 team record. Now, they are currently No. 1 and have the No. 1 singles player in the nation. I am so proud to be a Wildcat. It is nice to know that we were part of building a successful program so many years ago."