For our sixth annual Heroes Issue, we’ve selected passages from the last 50 years of Tennis Magazine and TENNIS.com—starting in 1969 and ending in 2018—to highlight 50 worthy heroes. Each passage acknowledges the person as they were then; each subsequent story catches up with the person, or highlights their impact, as they are now. It is best summed up with a quote from the great Arthur Ashe, that was featured on the cover of the November/December issue of this magazine in 2015: “True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.”
WTA CEO Stacey Allaster tells the New York Times that she went to the school of hard knocks while growing up in Canada to reach the top of her profession.
“I wasn’t the kid who had one paper route,” said Allaster, who was also once a teaching pro. “I had three paper routes. We needed money and I wanted to play sports and my mom provided everything for me, but there was a limit, so she said I had to earn some money to be able to play sports. So there I was in the middle of a Canadian winter, schlepping around to 1,500 houses every week. In the winter months I used the sled, and in the summer months I used the wagon.
“I can remember achieving a lot in sports just with the sheer tenacity that I will win and I’ll overcome it. I’m on the smaller side, so people said to me, ‘You can’t play tennis.’ Anybody can say that to me, but I’ll just prove them wrong.” – Kamakshi Tandon / July 2011
She may not have played professional tennis, but Stacey Allaster is one of the fiercest competitors in the tennis world.
Her focus and ambition helped her rise from humble beginnings in Ontario, Canada, to a position as one of the most powerful, influential and well-paid women in sports. In the process, she has grown the game on an international level and paved the way for women who want to follow in her footsteps.
Born in 1963, Allaster got her first her first job in tennis at 12 years old, earning 25 cents—or a soda “pop”—from her coach for sweeping her local red clay courts. By 16, she was teaching tennis to pay for her own lessons, eventually competing at the University of Western Ontario.
“If someone told me back then where my career would lead, I would have told them they were dreaming,” she says. “I was a little kid from a little town. I had few resources and no connection to the Canadian tennis establishment. I’m proud to say that anything is possible with a positive mindset, hard work and great support.”
After being passed over three times for positions at Tennis Canada, Allaster finally got her foot in the door in 1991 as a special projects coordinator and never looked back. She was the tournament director of the Toronto Rogers Cup by 2002, and she accepted the role as WTA president four years later. She was promoted to chairman and CEO in 2009 at age 46.
In nearly a decade with the WTA, Allaster spearheaded the organization’s much-lauded expansion into Asia and helped bring in $1 billion in contracted revenue. But she cites helping WTA players get equal prize money at Roland Garros and Wimbledon, as well as the tour’s four Premier Mandatory events, as her proudest achievement.
“It was an incredible campaign and an incredible team effort,” she says. “It was my greatest joy in tennis to see the modern-day Billie Jean King and Venus Williams go into the All England Club meeting and have their part in convincing them. It was quite moving.”
After stepping down from her jet-setting role as head of the WTA in 2015 to spend more time with her husband and two children, Allaster moved into a position as the Chief Executive of Professional Tennis at the USTA. She immediately mobilized a team and launched a transformational program aimed at making the US Open a more player-friendly event. The tournament rolled out several improvements in 2018, including expanding players-only areas and gym space to ease overcrowding due to the large entourages that often accompany athletes to the Big Apple.
When she’s not helping to streamline one of the biggest sporting events in the world, Allaster mentors the next generation of sports leaders.
“You want to build a supportive team to help you, but ultimately, you are the one who has to execute and deliver, just like you’ll be the one to win a tennis match,” she tells aspiring sports executives. “What’s going to be your competitive advantage?”