This week, the TENNIS.com Podcast is excited to bring in a special guest, USTA CEO Mike Dowse. Dowse began his role at the USTA in January of last year, just in time for the craziest season in tennis history.
While it was a challenging year for everyone, tennis at the grassroots level—a natural sport in a socially distanced era—saw a boom in participation. Three million new players picked up a racquet in 2020, with a 22 percent overall increase in participation (with a current total of over 21 million players).
"By no means has it been easy and there have been challenges for our industry," Dowse says. "But in the last few months, literally millions of people have discovered our sport and they're out playing tennis for the first time."
As a former college player, Dowse has helped cultivate and support tennis at all levels and has been at the forefront of decisions made to help grow the game.
Dowse with a slew of famous faces in 2014 when he was the president of Wilson. (Getty Images)
He was thrown into the fire during the US Open when the USTA navigated uncharted waters by hosting a Grand Slam in New York City during the pandemic.
"It was truly a team effort by everyone to pull off, which was really the first global sporting event to be held during the pandemic," Dowse says. "And we set three guiding principles. We said, can we do it safely? Is it good for the sport of tennis? And financially, does it make sense for us to host the tournament?"
He shares what went into making the impossible happen in New York, and how he expects the 2021 US Open to look like later this year.
Dowse on Tennis Channel during the 2020 US Open.
"The crystal ball is telling us we're cautiously optimistic," Dowse says. "We're pretty confident we're going to have fans, but it's a big difference financially [if] we have 25 percent fans versus 50 versus 75 versus 100. So that's still unknown, and so we have to be really prudent in the coming months on how we manage that.
"But I think we'd be very happy if we could get to that 75 percent range, and that feels pretty good right now."
While there's so much work left to be done to get professional tennis and the USTA back on track in 2021, Dowse's main objective remains quite simple.
"I just had the opportunity when this job opened to come to the USTA and hopefully give back and get other people playing the sport because I know it was so generous to me," he says. "And it's something that's my purpose now, trying to get people to play tennis."
The views, information, and/or opinions expressed are solely those of the podcast creators and do not necessarily represent those of The Tennis Channel, Inc., its affiliates or subsidiaries.