Leading the USTA as Volunteer and Executive
The pinnacle of Gordon Smith’s leadership at the top of the USTA national staff may be the complete transformation of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, including two roofed stadiums. As USTA Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director, Smith also oversaw the construction of 100 courts and the nation’s largest and most advanced tennis facility at the USTA National Campus in Orlando, Fla. However, the many building blocks that led him on an outstanding career in tennis were in place decades earlier.
A native of Brevard, N.C., Smith grew up in Rome, Ga., honing his game by playing on some courts that didn’t have fences. By the time he attended Darlington School, he was on the path to be state high school champion and the top ranked junior in the State in singles and doubles.
His next step to tennis glory led to the University of Georgia, where he played under legendary coach and 1981 Southern Tennis Hall of Fame inductee Dan Magill. During Smith’s four years at UGA, from 1972-75, the Bulldogs were four-time SEC champions. He served as captain and was a two-time All-SEC selection. As a senior, he also captured the conference #1 doubles title with current UGA coach Manny Diaz.
Smith stayed at the University and earned his Juris Doctorate with honors from the Georgia Law School. His accomplishments at, and beyond, UGA were showcased in 2014 when he received the Bill Hartman Award, which recognizes former University of Georgia student-athletes who have demonstrated excellence in their profession and/or in service to others for 20 or more years of superior performance after graduation.
While working as an attorney in Atlanta, Smith rose to senior partner of King & Spalding, which was cited as one of the top 50 law firms in the world. Former USTA Southern President Mike McNulty noted in his nomination of Smith that he was a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers, recognized in multiple editions of “The Best Lawyers in America,” and named in a variety of listings including Who’s Who Legal, Chambers and Partners, and Georgia Super Lawyers, among others.
Smith kept his hand in the game and volunteered at USTA Southern for two decades, receiving the Jacobs Bowl as the Southern Section’s outstanding volunteer in 1995. He served as USTA Southern’s counsel for many years and served on multiple committees before rising through positions on the Board of Directors. In 2003, Smith was elected President of the Southern Section. He also served multiple terms as a Trustee of the Southern Tennis Foundation.
Smith’s recognition soon ranged far beyond the South as he volunteered on USTA committees, including the Budget, Compensation, Public Affairs and Strategic Planning Committees. He served as Chair of the Constitution and Rules Committee and as Vice Chair of the Grievance Committee. He became a Director at Large on the USTA Board of Directors and served three years as Vice President. He also served on the USTA Tennis and Education Foundation.
He was inducted into the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Hall of Fame in 2010, the Georgia Tennis Hall of Fame in 2012, the Rome -Floyd (Ga.) County Sports Hall of Fame and was named a Darlington School Distinguished Alumnus in 2011.
In November 2007, Smith dove into full-time service to tennis when he accepted the post of USTA Executive Director and COO. His title of COO was elevated to CEO in early 2018.
McNulty wrote, “He has overseen the introduction and roll out of the USTA’s historic Net Generation and 10 and Under Tennis initiatives and has been at the helm for the unprecedented growth of the US Open, which has posted increasing annual attendance and revenue.” McNulty also cited the building of the USTA National Campus and the establishment of two ATP tournaments in Southern states (the BB&T Atlanta Open and the Winston-Salem Open) as extraordinary achievements.
Recent improvements to the fan-friendly atmosphere of the US Open have been roundly lauded by visitors and the media. Most notable among these USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center improvements were adding a retractable roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium and a second retractable cover over the newly rebuilt Louis Armstrong Stadium. Among the other instant favorites are the new Grandstand, Court 17, expanded walkways and improved dining choices.
Not all of Smith’s leadership has been about tennis courts. During his continuing tenure, the USTA has worked tirelessly to promote diversity on and off the court. Also, in an effort to expand the reach of the sport, there has been an increased focus on programs that attract juniors and young adults.
USTA Southern Executive Director John Callen noted that Smith touched so many aspects of greatness, he was an excellent player, tireless talented volunteer, outstanding lawyer, thoughtful leader, and a great family man.
In her support letter for Smith’s nomination, 2017 Southern Tennis Hall of Fame inductee Pat Devoto wrote, “In his life as a community volunteer, no one has served in more varied posts or with more distinction than Gordon.”
There are many throughout the South who couldn’t agree more.
Gordon A. Smith, Georgia, 2019
- Accepted the post of USTA Executive Director and COO (which was later elevated to CEO)
- Led the transformation of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, including two roofed stadiums
- Oversaw the construction of the nation’s largest tennis facility at the USTA National Campus in Orlando, Fla.
- Served as USTA Director at Large on the USTA Board of Directors and three years as Vice President
- Four-time SEC champion while playing for the University of Georgia, from 1972-75, served as captain and was a two-time All-SEC selection
- Awarded the Jacobs Bowl as the USTA Southern outstanding volunteer and elected USTA Southern President & CEO in 2003
- Inducted into the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Hall of Fame in 2010, the Georgia Tennis Hall of Fame in 2012 and the Rome -Floyd (Ga.) County Sports Hall of Fame