One of the best parts of interviewing GW alumni is hearing how passionate they are about their time at the university and the things they are accomplishing today. One of the hardest parts is not being able to include every thought, feeling, anecdote, or insight in the final story.
Earlier this year, former GW Tennis star and recently elected International Tennis Federation (ITF) President David Haggerty, GWSB BBA ’79, took some time to chat with me about the role tennis has played in his life, the future of the sport, and memories from his time at GW. Presented below in Q&A form are highlights from the interview that we were unable to include in the spring 2016 GW Magazine story “The Ball is in his Court.”
—Gray Turner, Editor
Recent years have seen the addition of on-court challenges at major tennis competitions, how do you see the sport continuing to evolve over the next few years?
Most importantly we want to make sure that tennis is an exciting sport to watch, and I think that the Hawk-Eye play review has been a great addition. Players get challenges in case they believe that calls were made improperly, and I think it adds to the excitement. The tie-breaker was added a number of years ago to a number of tournaments. The U.S. Open is currently the only Grand Slam that currently uses it, and just this year, for the first time, the Davis Cup will play a tiebreaker in the fifth set.
Other sports (such as baseball, basketball, and football) often tout the lessons of teamwork provided when playing them—what lessons or benefits do you think tennis offers young athletes?
I can tell you that I practice in business a lot of the principles that I learned from tennis, and I have my whole career. Playing high school tennis and then college tennis, I learned how to compete as an individual but also in the framework of a team, and that’s exactly what business and management and leadership is. I was captain of the team three of my four years at GW, and having to lead that team, that was really a great honor and a great experience to begin to lead at that age. As a captain I had to take on that leadership role, and it helped me learn how to inspire and mentor others. When I was at GW, I studied business administration, and I think what I learned from those classes combined with what I learned on the tennis court—integrity (you have to call your own lines) and composure and focus (you have to manage yourself on the court)— that’s what I try to practice every day at work.
Were there any players you admired or modeled your game after during your days as a player at GW?
Stan Smith and John Newcombe were my idols—from my style of play to my mustache.
Have you kept up with the success of GW’s Tennis teams since you left?
I follow the success the team is achieving and had the opportunity to attend the Atlantic 10 Championships a few years ago. Winning four out of the last five A-10 Championships is an incredible achievement, and it’s just wonderful to see the great talent that GW has. I’m not sure I would make the team anymore [laughs]. Coach Greg Munoz does a great job with the team and I’ve appreciated how he’s kept in touch with me over the years.
[Editor’s note: GW Men’s Tennis won their third consecutive Atlantic 10 crown, their fifth conference title in six years, on April 17.]
What memories from your time at GW stand out to you the most?
There are a lot of fun memories of travelling with my teammates in a van, going down to Florida to play a spring schedule or across town to play Howard or Georgetown. Just laughing and getting ready for the competition, being nervous but helping one another get ready for the match—those memories are priceless. I was lucky enough to be inducted into the GW Athletics Hall of Fame a few years ago, and I was so honored that eight of my teammates came back to campus for the induction. We got together the night before, and it was like we had just left school two weeks before. We looked a little different, maybe put on a little weight or had a little less hair [laughs], but we picked up as if we had been together two weeks before. That’s probably one of my fondest memories, as well.
Have you had many other opportunities to revisit campus?
This year, just after I was elected president of the ITF, I came back to Washington for the ANOC (Association of National Olympic Committees) General Assembly. A GW professor plays a big role in helping to organize that meeting, and a lot of GWSB undergrads and graduates students came back to help with that. Being able to talk with people from all over the world and say, ‘this is where I went to university,’ was a great feeling.
My daughter [Suzanne Haggerty, ESIA BA ’10] is actually a GW graduate, as well. It was really a nice way to come back and reconnect with GW. Michelle Obama was her commencement speaker and being down on the Mall by the monuments and just looking out and seeing the city in its finest was just great. It was also nice to see all the positive improvements to the university and the campus with all the new buildings, but some of the same things that were here when I was in school are still around. I still like to go to the Red Lion when I come back.
Did you have any influence in your daughter’s decision to look at or attend GW?
Suzanne was number three of five, so we had done the college tour thing before, and the first two went to different schools. We were going to do a big visit down here to look at a number of D.C. schools, and I had it all planned out over two days. The whole time I’m doing my best to be an objective father and saying ‘Look where you want to go. No pressure, go where you want to go.’
We did tours of Catholic and American and then came to GW. We walked around and she said, ‘This is where I want to go,’ and I said, ‘No, you can’t, you have to go to Georgetown, you have to look at it, you don’t know what’s going to happen!’ So, there was no pressure from me, and if anything I was going the other way and making sure she looked at all of her options, but GW just felt right for her. She loved it and came back and worked in D.C. for four years after graduation. It’s neat when that happens
Do your children play tennis?
I’ve played a lot of tennis in my life and all my kids play tennis, but not all of them wanted to compete in tennis because their dad was the tennis player. They felt they had to distinguish themselves in another way in other sports, but most of them came back to tennis.
Is that something you enjoy together?
Every summer vacation, the tennis racquets come out. We usually we play doubles now, and it’s funny how the matchups go. We do kind of a round robin so everyone gets to play with everyone.
Can you still beat them pretty handily?
We are a competitive bunch, so they’re always trying to beat dad—it hasn’t happened yet.
Mind doing a couple “rapid fire” questions?
Sure, let’s go.
One- or two-handed backhand?
Serve and volley or baseline?
Serve and volley.
Grass, clay, or hardcourts?
Most satisfying shot to hit?
Crosscourt forehand winner.
Is there a shot you always wish you had mastered?
Absolutely: the topspin backhand. I could hit it, but never mastered it.
Pro player you were most excited to meet?
Stan Smith, who now is a good friend.
Favorite moment as a tennis exec?
There are probably two decisions that the USTA Board made during my tenure that really stand out. The first is putting a roof on Arthur Ashe stadium and totally revitalizing the U.S. Open. The second is building the new home of American tennis with 106 courts in Lake Nonna, Florida, which will open later this year. Those are two fond memories that I’ll have of making some big and bold decisions as a team.
Favorite moment as a player?
Beating William & Mary in both singles and doubles my junior year. W&M was one of the schools I had looked at when I was considering colleges, but when I went down there and met with the coach, he told me, in as nice a way as you can tell a teenager, that I was a good player but ‘you’re never going to fit in here and be able to play on our team,’ and wished me the best of luck.
My junior year I was playing No. 1 singles and doubles when we played William & Mary, and I went out and remembered that meeting with the coach. That gave me a little extra motivation, and I ended up winning my singles match against their No. 1 guy who was a very good, nationally-ranked player and ranked significantly higher than me. It was very one sided, 6-1, 6-Love. I remember walking off the court and going up to the coach and saying ‘you were right, I don’t think it would have worked out for me here.’ He was not happy with me [laughs]. And then we played doubles, and we won our doubles match against their No. 1 pairing. That was a great moment.
Thank you, David!