Creating our image
One of this year’s inductees to the International Tennis Hall of Fame in July, alongside legend Pete Sampras and Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, will be longtime tennis photographer Russ Adams. The 76-year-old Adams, known as the “dean” of tennis photography, has spent more than 50 years visually documenting tennis. As the Hall of Fame said in announcing Adams’s induction, “His work has illuminated the greatest moments and stories in the sport.”
Now, you may be wondering what this has to do with your business. In fact, this has everything to do with it, and with the sport of tennis. While it’s impossible to measure, I have no doubt that over the years, Adams’s photographs have inspired many people to pick up a racquet and head to the courts, or to become fans of the pro game.
We’ve all seen his shots: Arthur Ashe with his father after Ashe won the US Open in 1968, Rod Laver jumping the net in 1969 after winning his second Grand Slam, Jimmy Connors during his electrifying 1991 US Open run, Billie Jean King, Chris Evert, Tracy Austin. The list is virtually endless.
Adams, who took spy photos for the Air Force during the Cold War, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1955 for a photo he shot at the Boston Marathon. His first tennis assignment, for the old Boston Herald newspaper, was a girls’ tournament in 1952. But that got him hooked. When he left the paper, he decided he wanted to freelance, concentrating on tennis.
Before the sport went “open,” only about a dozen photographers took the time to shoot the U.S. Championships. But suddenly, in 1968, requests started to pour in for the first US Open. The USTA asked Adams what to do, and he told them to let the photographers shoot from alongside the court. It was the first time photographers were allowed on court, and it changed how the world views the sport. To this day, Adams continues to serve as director/liaison for the hundreds of photographers at the US Open every year.
Chances are you never knew who that person was behind the lens, giving exposure to the sport for so long, helping people to see the intricacies of tennis and be fascinated by the players, the personalities, the sport itself. But for those who have worked closely with Adams over the years, his induction into the Hall of Fame is a fitting tribute to all he’s done — and has been willing to do — for tennis.
And the impact of his photographs will continue to echo for tennis for a long, long time.
See all articles by Peter Francesconi
About the Author
Peter Francesconi is editorial director of RSI magazine.