Get to Know: Bill Oakes

June 2, 2011 08:51 AM
Bill Oakes, Touranment Director
Bill Oakes could have been content working the rest of his career as the tournament director of the Atlanta Tennis Championships.
Oakes had a job he loved, one he had prepared for since childhood when he grew up with tennis in his blood. His wife and two daughters enjoyed living in Atlanta. He had a radio show, a television show, and widespread recognition as "The Tennis Commish."
Then the folks from Winston-Salem Professional Tennis came calling in 2011, offering Oakes the job as tournament director of the Winston-Salem Open and associate athletic director at Wake Forest University. 

It was an opportunity Oakes couldn’t pass up.

And not just for one or two reasons, either.

"The opportunity here was appealing on so many levels," Oakes said. "First, the people who brought the tournament here, I had respect for for a long time. There were great sponsors already involved with the tournament. There was the opportunity to work in college athletics and broaden my skill set while working within the Wake Forest athletic department.
"The opportunity to come in and build something from the ground floor was very appealing to me. And then you throw in the fact that Winston-Salem is just a great community. It’s a wonderful place to raise a family.
"Put all that together and it was just an opportunity I couldn’t pass up."
It’s a massive job, make no mistake.
When Oakes took over the Winston-Salem Open in early 2011, the site where the tournament is currently held was a parking lot. He supervised the rapid construction of the 13-court Wake Forest Tennis complex that was completed in time for the 2011 WSO and then proceeded to put on what was, according to players, one of the best first-year tournaments on the ATP World Tour.

His dedication to hosting a terrific tournament paid off in the second year, as a tremendous field that included three Top 10 players came to Winston-Salem. The final matched local favorite John Isner against Czech Tomas Berdych, making the WSO the only ATP World Tour 250 level tournament that year to have two Top 10 players face off for its trophy.
Oakes' love affair with tennis goes all the way back to his youth.
When he was just five, his mother started taking him to the Washington Star International Tennis Championship in Washington. He loved the atmosphere, loved the competition, and started playing shortly after.
"I just had such a good time going to the tournament," he said. "I started playing after that. It was just one of those things, going to a pro tournament really inspired me to play."
At age 11, Oakes became old enough to be a ball boy at the tournament. As the years went on, he was given other responsibilities.
"When I got old enough to ball boy when I was 11, I signed up immediately and had a great time doing it," he said.
"The next year, I was not only a ball boy, I helped take out the trash. The year after that, it was ball boy, taking out the trash, and I would help them set up courts. Sweep the lines. Anything they would let me do during the tournament, I would do."
That spirit has served him well in the years since, and that’s what he continues to bring to the Winston-Salem Open.
His background is impressive.
While at Georgia Tech, he took on a part-time job with Donald Dell’s ProServ, tennis’ premier sports management company at the time. Then upon graduating, he joined ProServ on a full-time basis and helped manage tournaments in Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Scottsdale, Az., and on Long Island, N.Y. He also worked on various pro beach volleyball and golf projects.
He went from there to the USTA Southern Section, based in Atlanta, as director of sales and marketing. Then when Atlanta secured an ATP World Tour event last year, Oakes was the easy choice as tournament director.
There’s one other job on the resume.
Oakes actually started in tennis management at age 12.
He was spending the summer at the Wintergreen Resort, a ski resort in the mountains of Central Virginia, when an opportunity arose.
"The girl who was working the tennis courts decided to quit," Oakes said. "They needed somebody to run the tennis courts, and I asked if I could do it. They had to check because I was only 12 years old. I had to go see the judge every now and then because of the child labor laws. So at 12, I was working tennis courts, managing operations, checking people in to go play.
"I got to play every day. It was so much fun. I felt like I was the luckiest kid in the world."

With an opportunity he couldn’t turn down in Winston-Salem, he still has that same feeling.

"When I first got into the business, it was a job," Oakes said. "But now I know I’m the luckiest guy that I know. I have a job that I love, that I really enjoy. And at least I think I’ve been able to do a pretty good job at it. So I’m really blessed in that way."