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The little girl wanted to play, especially because she felt she could master the tennis skills she saw being taught better than the older kids flailing away with their rackets.Adams begged to get on the court in a way she is certain wore down everyone's resistance."I don't take no for an answer," she said. Open), until 1950, when it allowed Althea Gibson to compete.

Adams was talking between hurried bites of a sandwich at a midtown Manhattan hotel a day before she took part in an Aspen Institute symposium on youth sports in Washington. The following week, she would go from the Black Enterprise Magazine Women of Power Summit in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to a Davis Cup match in Scotland. Danny Davis, D-Ill., Introspect Youth Services, the Martin Luther King Boys Cub and the Chicago Park District.Her pleas got the attention of Kim Williams, a summer instructor about to begin medical school at the University of Chicago. It wasn't long before Adams, who calls herself a visual learner, was better than some of the 12-year-old boys in the program."She rises to the top of whatever she approaches," said Williams, now chief of cardiology at Rush University Medical Center. So it is, when Adams returned Friday to the place where this all began, it was for an event at the Garfield Park Conservatory called "A Salute to Katrina Adams." As everyone celebrates her history-making ascent, Adams will be thinking of how she can use her time at the top to help build a new talent base for a sport that struggles to command attention in this country.Earlier this year, Adams became the first African-American and first former pro player to be president and CEO of the USTA, a 134-year-old organization that had barred black athletes from its premier event, the U. At 46, Adams is the youngest of the 53 people (among them just four women) who have been the USTA leader, an unpaid, volunteer position."That is what I liked about her."Off the court, Adams was likeable, garrulous and about to follow a leadership path staked out by King.King's contributions to the advancement of women athletes would define her life's work even more than her impressive 12 Grand Slam singles titles."Billie Jean King always was there for me as a role model," Adams said.Soon after, she would be good enough to practice and play at many clubs where black faces were few."For some reason, the luck of the draw would be the African-American kids would play each other or the No.

1 seed in the first round," said Tony Fox, one of Adams' first coaches, letting it go without saying the No.

1 seed was white."They would ask me why they always ended up drawing the No.

1 seed, and I would tell them, 'The only way to eliminate that is to become the No.

She was left to watch the kids playing tennis in Garfield Park, near her family's West Side home.

That perspective had the unintended consequence of allowing Adams to see she belonged among the insiders in a sport that has helped define her life.

"She knew what she wanted."It wasn't long before she was playing seven days a week, winter and summer, shuttled around the city and suburbs by her father, James, now 81, who taught at what was then called Crown Elementary School.