All different types of folks become president of the USTA – oilmen, car manufacturers, insurance execs and lawyers. More recently a great doubles player – Katrina Adams, who reached the Wimbledon doubles semis – headed the group for four years.
Now another doubles whiz, Patrick Galbraith, will be president on January 1. In fact, the Washington state resident is the finest player to lead the federation since seven-time US National champ Richard Sears headed the group over 130 years ago.
Galbraith’s resume sizzles. At UCLA he captured the 1988 NCAA doubles championship. He twice won the US Open mixed doubles. And three times he reached the semis of the men’s doubles at Slams. And, yes, he was No. 1 doubles player in the world – that works. His doubles partners included the likes of Jim Courier, Wayne Ferreira and Rick Leach, and he played singles against some lads you may have heard of – Laver, Sampras and Chang.
After his 11-year pro career, Galbraith became a financier. And, as a longtime USTA board member, that was a dandy skillset to have. The USTA just went through a five-year period when it totally revamped the US Open site, built two new stadiums and created a daring national campus in Florida. Gallbraith’s skills were put to good use. Now he beams about the USTA’s accomplishments, including making the US Open a far more user-friendly domain. It’s is a far more roomy place – you can breathe.
In an interview with Inside Tennis, Galbraith downplayed the impact of his fiscal skills. ”It didn’t hurt [my being there]. If the projects hadn’t gone well we wouldn’t be talking today. But I’m not the one who got this all done – we had an incredible team…I’m not the financial guru, I was there at the right time and I was helpful.”
Galbraith is candid about Lake Nona, the $63-million, 64-acre, 250-employee, spare-little-expense project (for which they imported 450 tons of Italian clay).
On the one hand, he notes that “the Nirvana with nets” was proposed at a bad time. Just then USTA was sinking huge monies into the US Open upgrade. But Florida developers and communities presented offers that were just too good to refuse. It was now or never.
But, Galbraith notes, “Now that we have all those infrastructures in place, we can look at our real mission – to develop and promote the growth of tennis. Maybe we took our eye off the ball slightly during this time, but it’s hard not to when you’re doing [big] projects. Going forward our board will be very focused on our mission.”
For the first time USTA leadership will no longer be about a single president coming in and having a specific project they focus on – a trophy initiative if you will. Patrick explained, “Instead of a president coming out with their own initiative, for the first time, we’ve assigned the strategic planning committee with the task of putting together a six- to eight-year plan. The goal is that each new board and president will…keep pushing out what we are going to do and what we focus on. We’ve gotten to be too big of an organization for a president to come in with their own agendas, pass them to the sections, that then pass it onto the grassroots – so that every two years we work on three new things. It’s completely inefficient. We’re at a point that we’re too big – we can’t do that. If you were running a business, every two years you wouldn’t [shift and] focus on three different things…This way, when I’m finished there will be no question about where the USTA is headed, because they’ll look at the strategic plan. That’s a big shift.”
Galbraith says, “The greatest strength of the USTA is its people, both the staff and the volunteers. The stories you hear at annual and semiannual meetings bring tears to your eyes – you hear how passionate people are about the game.”
Patrick is passionate about tennis, too. To him, both Lake Nona, which gathers so many elements of tennis to the national campus, and Net Gen, which will “really activate” this year and will long be the USTA’s pathway for getting kids into the game,” are just in their early phases. There’s much more to come – stay tuned.
A dedicated student of the game, Patrick’s favorite moment in tennis was twice playing on the ’96 Davis Cup team when he teamed with another Patrick – a fellow named McEnroe. “Putting on the Davis Cup outfit and hearing your anthem,” he recalls. “That’s special.”
It was also special to face the Bryan brothers early in their careers at the US Open. Bob and Mike were just skinny wannabes, 140 pounds dripping wet and hitting their serves at just 90 or 95 mph. “They weren’t ready for primetime,” quipped Galbraith.
One guy who knew a thing or two about primetime was Jimmy Connors. When we asked Patrick what the most important thing he learned from any of his considerable opponents was, he explained that practicing with Connors, even if it was just an hour-long session, was just so incredibly intense. It changed the whole way he thought about practicing.
Reared in Washington, Galbraith was anxious to prove himself and wanted to play in a big pond. Going to tinseltown and UCLA, with its history of great players (think Connors, Ashe, Pasarell, Teltscher), was a natural for the Tacoma kid.
So it was hardly shocking that last July, on a sunny Monday afternoon out on a Wimbledon back court, we spotted him in a blue Bruin cap rooting for Mackie McDonald during the UCLA grad’s surge to the second week at the All-England Club. Similarly, it’s no surprise that if Galbraith could change one thing in tennis, it would be to “get more people playing the game.”
But Galbraith is a realist. He readily admits that getting kids into tennis these days is “a higher mountain than it was 15 years ago.”
Then again, as a player, Galbraith climbed many a mountain. And now, for the next couple of years, US tennis will be led by a president who has the best on-court record of any USTA leader in 131 years. And that sounds pretty good to us.
As part of Inside Tennis’ conversation with Galbraith, we had a lightning round exchange with the USTA’s new leader.
Great player – great artist on the court.
Unbelievable champion – will go down as the greatest tennis player of all time.
Former USTA President Katrina Adams
Ambassador – we’ve never had a president that has been such a good public figure for the USTA.
USTA Executive Director Gordon Smith
One of the best leaders our organization has ever had
The Bryan Brothers
No other team put doubles on the map more than the Bryans. They really elevated doubles.
The Woodies [the Aussie doubles duo]
Tough to beat and probably the best team I played against.
Fighter – he’s the guy that works harder than anybody and deserves every result he gets.
UCLA coach Billy Martin
Brings passion and excitement – and in college tennis that’s a big key.
Former USC coach Dick Leach
Great doubles coach.
Georgia coach Manny Diaz
I’ve been on the losing side way too many times.
The rowdy college stadium in Athens, Georgia
Former Stanford coach Dick Gould
A winner – knows how to get his players to play at their peak.