Kent Kinnear is the director of ID and player development for the United States Tennis Association.
As the title implies, he’s in charge of identifying and cultivating the nation’s top young players, kids who might well go on to enjoy professional careers — just like he did.
A 1984 graduate of Greenwood Community High School and former star at Clemson University, Kinnear played for 11 years on the ATP Tour. He enjoyed a successful career that began in 1988 and ended in 1999.
During that span, Kinnear traveled the globe, playing in events from Singapore to South America to Europe to downtown Indianapolis. He competed in all four Grand Slam events (Wimbledon, U.S. Open, French Open and Australian Open) and twice advanced to the third round of Wimbledon, once in doubles and once in mixed doubles; and competed in singles matches against some of the sport’s biggest start, including Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras.
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Although he played singles and doubles, Kinnear had his greatest success in doubles. He and his partners reached 19 finals and won four championships, winning titles in Brasilia, Brazil (with Roger Smith in 1991); Beijing, China (with Tommy Ho in 1994); Los Angeles, California (with Brent Haygarth in 1995); and Bournamouth, England (with Aleksander Kitinov in 1997).
In 1992, Kinnear was ranked No. 24 in the world in doubles, his highest-ever ATP ranking.
After retiring, Kinnear had a number of coaching jobs before joining the USTA in 2007. He was a national coach with the USTA before becoming its director of player ID and development four years ago.
Married with three children, Kinnear, 49, and his family live in Delray Beach, Florida. But he said he retains close ties to Greenwood. His mother, Betty, and sister, Kathy Kinnear, still live in Greenwood. His father, Herbert, died five years ago.
What follows is a Q&A interview with Kinnear, one of a small handful of Johnson County natives who have enjoyed major professional sports careers.
Q: In your position as director, what is your responsibility with the USTA?
A: We’re focused on the 8- to 14-year-olds across the country. We coordinate Team USA camps at the sectional level and the regional level and the national level.
It’s really about building relationships with those young players, their coaches and their parents and trying to get out the latest information, trying to provide training opportunities for some of the top prospects, and really trying to build a base of young American players that are coming up.
Our charge in player development is to try go get players into the top 100 in the world, and hopefully (produce) U.S. Open and Grand Slam champions. We are charged with developing world class players.”
Q: Do you enjoy what you’re doing?
A: I do. I love it. It’s a big animal. It’s a lot of work. There’s always a lot of different things going on, but I really enjoy the relationships. I enjoy the collaboration with other coaches, and I like the competitiveness of trying to compete against other countries.
Q: Was playing professional tennis always an ambition?
A: I grew up playing tennis, baseball and basketball, and then when I got into my high school years I think I really had dreams of being a professional tennis player. But I also loved basketball so much. Both of my brothers played college basketball, and so some of my greatest memories are of playing high school basketball at Greenwood. I just loved it.
Then I went to Clemson University for four years, which was a great program that produced a number of professional players. I had a great work ethic and a great coach by the name of Chuck Kriese, who actually is originally from Indianapolis. I had a great time, and it really helped me out as a player. I turned pro in 1988 and played 11 years on the tour and had an absolute great time.
I traveled a lot. I traveled probably 40 weeks a year. I played in close to 50 countries. It was just a lot of fun with a lot great experiences.
Q: Eleven years is a long time to play any sport professionally. Did you ever envision that you would get to play tennis that long?
A: That’s a good question. I think when I first started out I definitely wanted to go after it and try it for a few years, and then had some decent success, and it just kind of kept building for awhile and it opened more opportunities.
So I might not have guessed that I would have played 11 years on the tour, but looking back it was a lot of fun. I don’t have any regrets. It was a fun career. But when I did retire, I felt like I was ready to move on.
Q: What was it like to play in the Grand Slam events?
A: The Grand Slams, each one of them is really special with the tradition it has. They go back so far, and even today there is still so much tradition involved with those events. Those were always really special and really unique in each of their own ways. Those were obviously a lot of fun to participate in.
And then also when Indianapolis had such a great ATP event (the former U.S. Hardcourts), Indianapolis did a really great job putting on that event. That was always a real highlight, too, being able to play really close to where I had grown up and have a lot of friends in the area. That was always a real highlight, as well.
Q: Is there a particularly memorable match or particularly memorable moments that stand out in your mind?
A: I had the opportunities of playing (Andre) Agassi and (Pete) Sampras on stadium court at Indianapolis, which were great memories. Unfortunately, I lost both the matches, but it’s really fun to look back at those. I lost in the finals one year down there. We had a good run there, so that was fun. As far as Indianapolis, those were definitely some matches I look back at with really fond memories.
I won some singles titles at the Challenger level. That was a lot of fun. We won four doubles titles, one was in Beijng, one was in Los Angeles, one was in England and one was in Brazil. I think when you win the titles, those were always really special, and I have great memories of those.
I lost in a number finals. Those were good weeks, but not quite as fun as winning them. It was a lot of great weeks, a lot of tough weeks. Traveling that much and working through adversity, the whole experience was very rich in a lot of different ways, and I’m just really thankful I had those years to experience those things.
Q: You retired in 1999. Does it seem that long ago?
A: It’s strange to think about it. I’m turning 50 this year. Whenever we reach new decades it’s always hard to believe in our own minds that we’re hitting those milestones. It does and doesn’t seem like a long time ago. Since then I’ve gotten married, I have three kids, and it’s just been great.
It’s a different chapter in my life, for sure. But time, as we all know, it just keeps moving. It’s hard to believe sometimes, but it is what it is.
Name: Kent Kinnear
Occupation: Director of Player ID and Development for United States Tennis Association in Boca Raton, Florida
Residence: Delray Beach, Florida
High school: Greenwood (1984)
College: Clemson (1988)
Pro career: Turned professional in 1988 and played 11 years on the ATP Tour; retired in 1999.
Career prize money: $771,749
Highest doubles ranking: No. 24 in 1992
Highest singles ranking: No. 163 in 1992
Career highlights: Played in 19 doubles finals and won four championships: 1991, Brasilia, Brazil with partner Roger Smith; 1994 in Beijing, China with partner Tommy Ho; 1995 in Los Angeles, California with partner Brent Haygarth; 1997 in Bournemouth, England with partner Aleksander Kitinoz; reached the third round of doubles in 1992 at Wimbledon; reached the third round of mixed doubles in 1997 at Wimbledon; finished runner-up in doubles with partner Sven Salumaa at the 1991 U.S. Hardcourt Championships in Indianapolis.
Career doubles record: 176-210
Career singles record: 9-22
Family: Wife is Happy Kinnear; couple has three children, daughter Anika, 11, and sons Etienne, 8, and Inali, 4; mother, Betty Kinnear and sister Kathy Kinnear live in Greenwood.