Stan Smith is tennis’ ultimate Renaissance man—and living proof that tennis is the sport of a lifetime.
A former world No. 1, Wimbledon champion and US Open champion, Smith was enshrined into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1987. In 2011, he became its president.
Smith’s love for the game started early, even if he didn’t make the cut to become a ball boy for Davis Cup. He persevered, and when he got on the court, he went on to excel in college, becoming a three-time All-American at the University of Southern California.
Smith turned pro in 1969 and, more than 30 years after his final pro match in 1985, he remains one of the most prominent figures in the world of tennis. The 70-year-old’s mission is to show that players don’t need to be an all-world talent for the sport to be a hallmark of life, from childhood to adulthood.
“I always say that you can play from six to 96,” Smith says. “You’ve got shorter courts, smaller racquets and bigger balls to make it more fun for young kids to start playing the game. Then, you have older folks playing different forms of tennis—paddle tennis and pickleball. You play at a level that’s best for your own movement.”
In addition to his responsibilities at the Hall of Fame, Smith runs the Smith Stearns Tennis Academy in Hilton Head Island, S.C., where he resides. After all these years, Smith is still working to improve his communication as an instructor with beginners. He experiments with new grips and adapts his teachings as equipment and technique continue to evolve.
Both on the court and off, Smith’s education never ends.
At the Hall of Fame, Smith’s focus is to expand the reach of the sport, broadening its appeal and reputability around the world for both fans and players.
“That’s been our strongest emphasis the last few years,” Smith says. “Hopefully, one of the ambitions of international players will be to make the International Tennis Hall of Fame. It won’t be just to win.”
Whether someone is a future Hall of Famer, a league player or just a player who likes to casually hit on Sundays, tennis is a sport for everyone. And Smith is making sure that people of all ages—and from all parts of the world—get closer to it.
For generations, and for generations to come, tennis has positively impacted the young and old, on and off the court, in countless ways. In this year’s Heroes special, we’ve selected 30 such stories, including a 10-year-old amputee’s life-changing moment with Roger Federer, the rebuilding of a college program after Hurricane Katrina, a former prodigy’s important message as an adult, and a 78-year-old coach’s enduring influence on the pros. Taken together, these 30 stories illustrate how people grow up, grow as individuals and grow old with tennis—the sport of a lifetime. Click here for more Heroes stories.