Eleanor Adams and the importance of constant reminders

By Jane Voigt

Daniel Island, S.C. — Back in 2001, a 10-year-old Shelby Rogers presented flowers to the 2001 Family Circle Cup champion Jennifer Capriati. Rogers knew then what she wanted to be when she grew up.

“Shelby was a 10-year-old girl who was really too small to be a ball kid, but she was a member of the ball crew,” Eleanor Adams, tournament manager of the Charleston Open, said in an exclusive interview Friday. “I think that our being here for young girls shows the potential that they have to be involved in sports.” Rogers is currently ranked No. 44 on the WTA Tour.

That insight from Adams is a small part of what this 51-year-old tournament, which first was played on Hilton Head Island, S.C., has contributed to tennis. Adams has been in charge for the past 23 years. Being a tournament manager means all sorts of things: dealing with reluctant players and convincing them to participate in the tournament; making sure the yardsticks to measure the net are on court; being mindful of what 10-year-old Shelby Rogers wants to become. It’s not only tennis going on here; it’s the growth of the game and the people who work within it, play it, and simply enjoy it. Especially girls and the women they will become. 

“Not everyone is going to be a world elite athlete for numerous reasons,” she said. “There are only so many spots. However they can become a journalist; they can become a camera person; they can become a physical therapist; they can work in operations. Hopefully we set an example that there is a place for women in sports.”

This is Adams from the inside out, always seeking a way for what she does here to add to the greater good. 

When she first began as an assistant to the tournament director, players arrived with their mother and “maybe a coach,” she said, smiling. She came upon the job by reading the classified ads in the The Post and Courier, a daily local newspaper, which is still in publication. 

“I had been a stay-at-home mom for 13 years,” she said. “I applied and got the job. I had no internet skills and had to ask my kids how to email. I was the oldest one on the job.”

She and her family had made 13 corporate moves because of her husband’s job. “We didn’t want to do that any longer and fell in love with the area. I had the kids and worked while my husband continued to travel. I think it was a great example to our children.”

The tennis facility on Daniel Island belongs to the city of Charleston. “Mr. [Ben] Navarro owns the sanction to the tournament,” she began. “He obviously has a passion for this event; and, the renovation of the stadium is a legacy of his love of the sport. We’re in a unique situation.”

The tennis facility is open daily when the tournament is not scheduled. “Teams play in and out of here. Anyone, we have memberships, but anyone who would like to play here may. They just have to call or walk through the door. The rates are just as they are at other Charleston tennis centers.”

Adams lights up, adding, “What an opportunity, if it’s available, to be able to play on our center court. It’s really cool.”

This enthusiasm and genuine love for the sport and the tournament deeply influence the people Adams has worked with. 

“In my 10-12 years of emceeing this event, there is no one as genuinely caring as Eleanor,” Andrew Krasny, host for Tennis Channel and emcee for the WTA Tour, said. “The first time I met her she picked me up at the airport at 2 a.m.. Anyone else would’ve sent a cab.”

Although her primary responsibility to the tournament is to procure players, her manner of carrying out that responsibility is unique. She is unlike anyone else in this position and has been that way ever since she set foot on the site. What adds to her endearing manner is also a reflection of some hard facts about professional tennis tournaments. 

“We’re not a mandatory event,” she began. “We’re not owned by an IMG of any other agency that represents players who steer their players towards their tournaments.”

Because of that, “We always felt that we had to work a little bit harder than other tournaments.”

To remind players of how much they are wanted at this tournament is a year-round commitment. “I go to other tournaments. I talk with agents. I stay in touch with the players throughout the year. If someone has gotten engaged I’ll send them a little engagement gifts to always try and stay in the forefront of their minds, so that they know they are really wanted here versus other tournaments where they have to play.” 

Adams also oversees hotel arrangements and the food players eat. She helps coordinate their medical care. She oversees the Officials Program, working with the chief officials over the year to make sure that the conditions for them are right, “That they get the very best that they can.” 

Adams want to assure everyone involved, before the first ball is struck, that the tournament is ready for them to hit the ground and do their jobs immediately. “It’s umbrellas for shade shelter. It’s yardsticks to measure the net. It’s old-fashioned sawdust in case their hands get wet and they don’t have that sticky lotion. We have to have ‘spill kits’ on court in case someone gets sick and that has to be cleaned up in a certain way.”

Little things they are, but in total — when combined with those bigger aspects of her job — they make a difference that stands out to players, officials, and the local and international tennis communities.

Since Adams began as tournament director 23 years ago in Charleston, players have changed and the tournament has kept up with those changes. “Players are so much more aware of their health,” she said. “To be aware of their health and in-tune with their body weren’t available 25-30 years ago.” To meet those newer revelations, the tournament has five physiotherapists on site and three massage therapists. “We have a tournament physician and a mental health coordinator. Today’s athlete has access to help for their whole body, their mind, and their soul.” 

Those efforts and changes, over 23 years, have made this tournament memorable, which, in turn, has helped build more sincere relationships and given this tournament a significant level of value. Value to the game, to the players, to sports. This is the legacy of Eleanor Adams, who will soon leave her post and hand the baton to a successor so that she can spend more time with her family. This legacy created by Adams is vast and profound, starting with people such as Tony Callaio, who has been part of this tournament for more than 15 years.

“I met Eleanor in 2007, when I worked as a tournament photographer,” Callaio said. “We hit it off immediately. She’s amazing in everything she does. She’s been dedicated for all the years she’s been here. She worked her way up, which is very admirable. She’s going to be missed.”

Adams and Bob Moran sat down years ago to figure out “who we really wanted” in order to sell tickets. But they have become much more than that. “We’re an event. The player field matters, but there’s so much more going on at the site. So people that aren’t familiar with tennis and aren’t familiar with the player names still turn out. That’s our goal: to have fans that don’t know much fall in love with the sport.”

“I have no doubts about leaving right now,” she said. “We have a beautiful facility and great players. I have fantastic colleagues here and on the WTA Tour, and friendships with people I’ve met whether on social media or in person.” 

Although she has no doubts and looks forward to retirement, tears welled up in her eyes when she added, “It’s time for family. I’m looking forward to it.” 

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