You don’t need Forbes to tell you that Stacey Allaster is a powerful woman (though the magazine has named her one of the “Most Powerful Women in Sports”).
You can see this in the way she looks directly into your eyes when you meet. You can feel it in her firm handshake. You can hear it in her strong voice and choice of words.
“(Tennis) has given me everything,” says Allaster, chief executive of professional tennis at the United States Tennis Association. “I’m highly passionate about giving back to the sport.”
That means in particular inspiring girls and women in tennis and in leadership positions. Recently, she was honored by Girls Inc., a White Plains-based nonprofit that seeks to empower underserved girls through a holistic approach to education and mentorships. As she listened to the stories of those who’ve been encouraged by Girls Inc., she realized, “I was one of those girls. I could’ve used an organization like this.”
You’d never know it from her surroundings, including a large front office on the second floor of the USTA’s sleek White Plains headquarters. Horseshoes and a beanbag-toss game accent the spacious common area. Near the elevator are large color photographs of Naomi Osaka and Novak Djokovic, winners of last year’s US Open singles championships — a reminder that the tournament is the engine of the USTA’s numerous programs benefitting everyone from children to seniors. In her role as chief executive of professional tennis — a position that was created in 2016 — Allaster is charged with setting the strategic vision for the USTA’s pro tennis division, with oversight that includes the US Open, the US Open Series and the Western & Southern Open, among other tournaments. It’s a demanding job that finds her dividing her time among the White Plains headquarters; the USTA National Campus in Lake Nona, Florida, home to USTA Player Development and USTA Pro Circuit staff; and her own home in St. Petersburg. Still, it’s a position in which she is determined to mentor young women. On this day, Rachana Bhat sits in for the interview. A recent master’s graduate in sports administration and former college player, Bhat will ultimately move to Lake Nona, where she’ll join the USTA’s Player Development team full time.
It’s the kind of opportunity that’s increasingly open to women. But while they have made significant strides in recent years, they still lack parity with men in everything from pay to the C-suites, Allaster says. Society and the media’s sexualizing of them does not help, she adds. Would a male player, she wonders, be asked to twirl on the court the way commentator Ian Cohen asked Eugenie Bouchard to do at the 2015 Australian Open?
Allaster acknowledges, however, that women have played a part in keeping themselves down — expecting to be all things to all people and viewing other women as competition rather than as allies.
“Women need to help women,” she says. “We need men in leadership, but we need women in leadership positions, too.”
The former Women’s Tennis Association chairman and CEO, Allaster says she was blessed to have tennis legend Billie Jean King as a mentor, a woman who has fought for equality for all but especially for equal opportunities and pay for female players, which she helped achieve at the 1973 US Open.
“We stand on her shoulders and on the shoulders of those who do not have that recognition,” Allaster says.
She herself has come a long way from Welland, a city in Ontario, Canada, a half-hour drive from Niagara Falls, where she was raised by her single mother, a nurse. When her mother was injured, there was little money. Yet Allaster not only survived but thrived, thanks in part to her own initiative. She had not one but three paper routes, delivering 150 flyers. Then fate gave her a helping hand.
When she was in eighth grade at St. Kevin Catholic Elementary School, the Ontario Tennis Association had a recruitment program across the province to provide boys and girls in her grade with an introduction to the sport. One girl and one boy were chosen from St. Kevin, based on academics and all-around athletic ability. Allaster was the girl. She received a racket, six weeks of lessons and a membership to the Welland Tennis Club, where she also helped clean the clay courts. “That was the beginning,” she says.
Rising through the ranks — and earning a law degree from the University of Western Ontario along the way — Allaster eventually became the tournament director of the Canadian Open in Toronto, now the Rogers Cup. In 2006, she became WTA president, followed by chairman and CEO three years later, generating $1 billion for the organization and expanding its reach in Asia.
Now the Canadian-American is overseeing the US Open. “I pinch myself to this day,” she says.
Allaster continues to share her good fortune. She and husband, John Milkovich, a special education teacher who’s now in residential real estate, adopted two Siberian children — Jack, now 16, and Alexandra, 14. Theirs is the quintessential modern family, with Milkovich being the stay-at-home parent.
“We say dad works in the home and mom out of it.”
Allaster wants to inspire her children as well as others through the USTA Foundation, the National Junior Tennis League, educating kids on court and in the classroom; Net Generation, motivating teachers and coaches in turn to motivate their charges; and, now, Girls Inc., with which she’s collaborating on a day for its youngsters at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, the Open’s Flushing home.
Allaster says, “I want to help educate, inspire and build confidence so that they believe they can achieve any dream.”
For more, visit usta.com, usopen.org and girlsinc.org.