2020 USTA Eastern Woman of the Year Recipient: Adrienne Alteri
Clinician and current Western Region Council member Adrienne Alteri (above, left) has been named USTA Eastern’s 2020 Tennis Woman of the Year for her tireless efforts to grow the game in Watertown, N.Y.
Alteri discovered tennis as a junior in high school and credits her long-lasting love of the game to the original coach who taught her how to play. “There’s always that first person [who introduces you to the sport], and they either make it or break it,” Alteri says. “She made it for me, you could say.”
Since then, Alteri has made it her mission to be that first person for so many others—or at the least, provide the opportunities to keep players interested and loving the sport in an area that really only sees three to four months of warm weather a year.
“The options are boundless, because it’s all new,” Alteri says of the work she has done over the last ten years to build a tennis community. “Nobody here had ever branched out into trying to teach tennis for fun or bring kids into it and grow it. The only indoor facility around [that has since closed] was kind of old-school. Anybody who could afford their memberships could play and that was it, and unfortunately, I think that was part of their demise.”
Much of her work to grow the game has been through the North Country Tennis Association (NCTA), an organization that Alteri and other local tennis enthusiasts formed after that aforementioned tennis club shut its doors in 2011. With the closest indoor courts now about an hour’s drive away (and likely even longer in the frequently snowy conditions of western New York), the NCTA endeavored to create a new facility closer to home. In 2013, the organization ended up converting a space in an unoccupied welding building owned by a volunteer’s family. The NCTA paid a dollar in rent for the location, and Alteri herself organized both the online court reservation system and league play, and oversaw the proceedings to ensure players followed the rules. It was a hit, but it was never built to last; the entire building was leased out four years later, and the NCTA refocused its efforts on finding something a little more permanent.
To that end, the NCTA met with the local Watertown Family YMCA to see if they might be interested in installing courts within their facilities. The two organizations had previously discussed a potential partnership early on in the NCTA’s existence, but YMCA leadership at the time didn’t see tennis as a worthy investment. “The only indoor facility in the area had just shut down [when we first approached them],” Alteri explains. “And so they were asking: ‘How are you going to make it work if they couldn’t?’ There wasn’t the proof of interest.”
Of course, Alteri and the NCTA gathered plenty of proof in the intervening years. Alteri went to the YMCA meeting and spoke at length about the importance of having year-round options for tennis players. She presented “names and numbers and emails” she had collected over time to its newly-installed CEO and board. After this meeting, in September 2020, the Watertown Family YMCA publicly announced plans to expand and transform a downtown Watertown building into an aquatic and community center. This expansion, they said, would include two indoor tennis courts.
Importantly, many of the names and numbers and emails that ended up making the difference didn’t just come from the NCTA’s welding building operation. Alteri has additionally developed and hosted a wide range of programs in the area, and a robust tennis community has blossomed in Watertown as a result. During the warmer months, Alteri organizes adult match play multiple days a week on the courts at Watertown High School. Show up to those courts at the designated day and time and she’ll find you a match and a partner, free of charge. The first year she began offering this program, she estimates she attracted about eight players. But whenever she saw someone independently hitting on the Watertown courts, she’d encourage that person to join, collect his or her email address and politely follow up. Now, close to 90 people come out over the course of the summer. Alteri will regularly utilize up to seven courts each session. And currently, with the YMCA expansion not scheduled to be completed until 2022, Alteri is running an indoor POP tennis program on the YMCA basketball courts to keep up enthusiasm for the sport during the colder months. (POP tennis is a version of the game that is played on a smaller court and with modified racquets.) The initiative has become so incredibly popular that it expanded to two nights and now has a waiting list.
Alteri has also dedicated much of her time to teaching juniors and introducing the sport to the 10-and-under set. She obtained her teaching professional certification with the United States Professional Tennis Association (USPTA) in 2015 and is part of the USTA Eastern clinician team. An avid supporter of the USTA’s Net Generation program, she has been instrumental in creating after school programs in the area. She teaches her own youth classes at the YMCA’s basketball courts.
Of all her many roles in the sport, teaching, for Alteri, is where she finds the most joy. She knows firsthand the impact a teacher can make and is intent on maximizing that potential; after all, she discovered her own love of the game through the efforts of one extraordinary instructor (and someone, by the way, with whom she still occasionally plays doubles). “It’s a thinking game, and I love to teach that to players,” she says. “Most people pick up a racquet and they think, ‘Oh, I just hit the ball over the net.’ But there’s strategy involved! Where are you hitting it? I love getting those players who really want to learn, and you see them apply it. I have a student right now and she smiles from the minute she gets on the court until the minute she leaves. And I’ll say ‘Good job’ and she’ll say ‘It’s all because of you.’ That’s the ultimate feeling right there— when someone else gets the bug.”
Read more about our 2020 award recipients:
Lifetime Achievement Award: Ingrid Rehwinkel
Tennis Man of the Year: Daniel Burgess
Tennis Organization of the Year: Empire Tennis Academy
Tennis Family of the Year: The Perry Family
Junior Courage Award: Gavin Vander Schaaf
Adult Courage Award: Mary-Margaret Sohns