As a kid , Winston-Salem Open tournament director Jeff Ryan never imagined one day he ’ d travel the world , managing some of the biggest tennis events in the sport , rubbing elbows with iconic players such as John McEnroe , Bjorn Borg , Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova . But after a high school job at a tennis tournament facility in Boston led to a series of college internships with sports management company IMG , Jeff began to see a career in tennis more clearly . His brother Bill ( an agent at IMG for 25 years ) had originally encouraged him to take a shot , and the rest is history .
While fun , the job also put Jeff in a high-pressure environment , as event managers often have to work on truncated schedules to make sure matches run smoothly .
“ It was a complicated business model , and I feel like I contributed to the success because I was not put off by the extreme scheduling challenges that you face when you run those events ,” he says . “ A lot of times , you find out about these events as few as four or five weeks before .”
The more than 100 events Jeff oversaw during his time with the USTA took him all over the U . S . and around the globe , from California to Zimbabwe .
After graduating from college , IMG offered Jeff a full-time job and he went to New Orleans to work on a tennis tournament the company was managing .
“ I ’ m very fortunate ,” he says . “ I had supportive family — you can ’ t do these internships without a supportive mom and dad , and frankly , grandparents . And after that , it just becomes your own responsibility to do a good job — I feel like I did because I was asked to come back and ended up working full-time for IMG for 10 years .”
The New Orleans gig was one of nine events Jeff worked on that year , traveling around the country to help set up , operate and break down each tournament . At the same time , his brother began to break into the sports agent field for tennis , affording Jeff additional connections to players . During those years , he saw some of the greatest players in the sport take the court .
“ The players that I remember the most are Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova ,” he says . “ That was a lot of fun . I think back on that and how lucky I was to be there at some of their classic rival matches .”
In 1997 , Jeff took a job with the United States Tennis Association ( USTA ), the governing body for the sport in the U . S . That position led to a 24-year career with the USTA during which Jeff worked on iconic events including the U . S . Open , the Fed Cup and the Davis Cup .
“ I was doing what I enjoyed — organizing and promoting tennis events , but now I was in charge ,” he says . “ I was the generalist who oversaw all the things that I had learned , including ticket sales , marketing , operations and so on .”
“ I was doing what I enjoyed – organizing and promoting tennis events , but now I was in charge ,” Jeff says .
“ I did the first outdoor open air baseball stadium event in left field of Petco Park in San Diego ,” he says . “ We used the existing outfield stadium , but built a clay court and built another 6,000 , 7,000 seats . We built a stadium at the foot of Mount Mansfield in Stowe , Vermont . We sold out 4,000 seats there for a U . S . Fed Cup tie , the United States versus Russia .”
In his role with the association , Jeff also helped organize six trips to the Olympics for the U . S . tennis contingent . Part of that work included making advance trips to host cities including Sydney and Tokyo to ensure that facilities , transportation and other components were up to the standards expected for the U . S . team .
“ When you come off that field of play , you ’ re in the midst of a different feel from a media setup , from a transportation setup , and security ’ s going to feel different ,” he says . “ That ’ s where an organization like the USTA really deserves a lot of credit , because where there were potential interruptions to what would be a traditional experience for a tennis player , the USTA could step in and provide .”
During his years with the USTA , Jeff helped organize a Davis Cup event in Winston-Salem in 2001 and 2007 . That experience made him a fan of the city , and also introduced him to local businessman and philanthropist Don Flow .
Don is a major proponent not only of the Winston- Salem community , but also the sport of tennis as a longtime sponsor of the Flow Motors Invitational Tournament . So when Jeff heard a USTA-sanctioned event was leaving New Haven , Connecticut , he knew just the place for it to go .
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