Class of 1981
Contributions to Tennis
Those who enact change are called visionaries, and William Ewing “Slew” Hester, Jr. used his keen vision and perhaps fortuitous timing, to see a future for tennis in the United States that no one else did.
In published reports, the history of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center began modestly and became a complex that has few, if any, sporting rivals. The idea for a new complex to house the expanding US Open was germinated in January 1977, when Hester, the then-incoming president of the USTA, saw a snow-covered and underused Singer Bowl/Louis Armstrong Stadium on a flight into New York's LaGuardia Airport. He approached New York City officials with a grandiose idea: “Let me use Louis Armstrong Stadium and the adjoining land to build a new facility to host the US Open.” The initial investment was $10 million and barely met its renovation deadline. But in August 1978, the USTA National Tennis Center debuted, attracting rave reviews and record-setting attendance. Spectators grew from 218,480 in 1977, when the US Open was last played in Forest Hills, to 275,300 in 1978. Within a decade, attendance rose to more than 500,000 and today nears 800,000 spectators.
On August 28, 2006, the National Tennis Center was renamed the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in her honor. In 2014, the USTA launched the beginning stages of a $550 million renovation that will create a retractable roof on Arthur Ashe Stadium and a new, 15,000-seat Louis Armstrong Stadium.
As the first Vice-President of the USTA (1974-76) and President (1977-78), Hester ensured that the US Open would make a smooth transition from the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills to the new, dynamic site in Flushing Meadows. It was appropriately dubbed, “The House that Slew Built.”
A native of tiny Hazlehurst, Mississippi, Hester had his negotiating skills rooted as in politics. He was regularly seen chomping on a cigar and his bulk made him an intimidating presence. He was a solid amateur tennis player who had earned his personal wealth selling participation interests in prospective oil wells.
A 1933 graduate of Millsaps College, Hester played football, basketball, baseball, track, and tennis. He won numerous state, sectional, and national tennis tournaments from 1925-77. Those victories include: nine national senior championships, 17 finalists in national senior championships, and four-time national finalists in father-son doubles competition with his son Bill Hester. He was inducted into the Mississippi Hall of Fame in 1968 and the Southern Tennis Hall of Fame in 1979.
Each year, the USTA presents the Slew Hester Adult Achievement Award to a ranked male and female adult or senior player in the USTA Southern Section in recognition of their outstanding tennis performance.