Martha Gregg living the dream as USTA Pro Circuit supervisor
If you’ve ever attended a USTA Pro Circuit event, you’re familiar with Martha Gregg’s work.
Gregg, an Atlanta native who’s called Hockessin, Del., home for most of her adult life, is one of five full-time supervisors on the USTA Pro Circuit, and currently, the only woman among them.
Each week, you’ll find her behind the scenes—building draws, creating match schedules, serving as the liaison between players, officials and tournament personnel to ensure each event’s success, and occasionally, interpreting rules as situations call for it on-court. It’s a role she describes as a constant challenge, one that’s ever-moving, ever-evolving and always exciting.
But also, it’s one she can talk about for hours.
“My job is 24-7, 365, from the time I get off a plane to the time I jump back on one. My phone is always on,” she says, “but the experiences are just so wonderful. Every day is different, every day is fun … and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. When I think about where I am, I have to pinch myself.”
With a travel schedule that has often exceeded 30 weeks a year, Gregg’s career has taken her from coast-to-coast in the United States and to countries abroad including Paraguay and Chile—all worlds away from Hockessin, a town of just over 13,000 people on the border with Pennsylvania. Her love for tennis began there, though, nearly 30 years ago when she picked it up as a hobby when her two sons were young.
“I got pretty competitive, and to about a 4.5 [NTRP] level [as an adult], but there was a point where it became less of ‘hit-and-giggle’ tennis for me, and that bothered me,” she recalls. “I backed the car in the garage, hung up the racquet—it’s still there on the garage wall—called my doubles partner and said, ‘I'm finished.’
“She said, ‘Well, why don't you be an official? I think you'd be good at it.’ And that's where it all started."
Gregg got her start calling lines at the longtime USTA Pro Circuit stop in Binghamton, N.Y. in 1996, and reached bronze badge status as a chair umpire—she oversaw the US Open girls’ singles final between future professional major-winners Svetlana Kuznetsova and Marion Bartoli in 2001—but turned her sights to refereeing when she felt she’d exhausted all the opportunities she wanted to have on-court.
Seven years ago, she earned a silver badge as a referee through tennis’ Joint Certification Program between the ITF, ATP, WTA and Grand Slams, and in addition to her work on the Pro Circuit, she’s well-known to juniors; notably, she’s worked in the referee’s office at both the Easter Bowl and Orange Bowl, two of the most prestigious events in international junior tennis, and at the junior US Open.
“I don't ever remember that light-bulb moment where I said this was a career for me. … I think that’s what’s so wonderful about tennis—that you might not find the path you want to travel on until later,” she said.
“Very simplistically, I am rules, I am draws and I am schedule, but in all honesty, when I’m on-site, I’m responsible for everything, along with the chief umpire and tournament director. Part of the job is being able to think through things quickly, hearing what the problem is, and making sure that the solution works for everybody. It’s like a well-greased wheel—there’s the officiating, and then there are the other moving parts to get through.
“For example, right now, we’re dealing with the Easter Bowl [held each year in late March] and those parents and players. Those players might someday go on to be Pro Circuit players, or they’ll go to college and then come to us on the Pro Circuit. Even if they go up [onto the ATP and WTA tours], there’s always the chance they’ll come back to us. It goes full-circle. It always comes back to the Pro Circuit.”
‘Full-circle’ is not only a phrase that’s befitting of the path taken by the countless players who Gregg’s seen over the years. It’s also applicable for her road through the sport.
“People have said things to me over the years and they have had no idea how they’ve touched me, how their words were uplifting to me,” she adds. “I hope, in some way, that I am able to do that for people that I work with, players and officials, to help them get through some of the tough times and uplift them when they are going through hard times.”
Gregg credits longtime USTA supervisors Dessie Samuels, Bunny Williams, Missy Malool and the late Billie Lipp, and former US Open chief umpire Phyllis ‘Woodie’ Walker—the first woman to serve in that role—as some of the colleagues who’ve done that for her. And as tennis seeks to get more women in tennis at all levels—including as officials, a profession that a 2018 ITF survey revealed was three times as likely to be pursued by men—she says that she’s grown into the position of mentor herself, also taking inspiration from others elsewhere in the game.
“Each of them gave me something, and I feel like it’s my time to make sure that I give [back] what they gave me—and I can’t really say what ‘it’ is, but there is an ‘it’ factor—to somebody else, whether it’s a player, a line umpire, a chair umpire or to another woman who’s working in tennis,” she said.
“In our business, I think being ‘seen’ is key, in the sense that women are being seen out there more. We know that they’re there, but they have to be in the right place at the right time to show everybody [else]. When women see each other, it’s like, ‘Okay, she can do it, so I can do it.’ It’s about paying it forward, giving back what you took out of it, and making sure that these women specifically who are out there now, feel that.
“Who would’ve thought that a little girl in Delaware who was a housewife would go on to meet all these people? But what I think is so important for people to understand is … that we’re all in this together in some way, promoting tennis, getting people involved and helping it grow. For me, it’s not just about the draws, the schedule and the rules. Everyone that’s promoting tennis allows me to go out on the road every week and do what I do. It’s tireless … but you never know when or how you’ll make a difference for somebody. [This job] does teach you to climb inside yourself and think about how you have to put others before yourself.
“It's about building trust with all these other people, especially the players and the officials, because when everybody is working together, it's really a beautiful thing.”