Former CT Open tournament head Anne Worcester named president of Universal Tennis

Photo of Paul Doyle

After overseeing New Haven’s professional tennis tournament for 21 years, Anne Worcester had an open mind as she considered the next chapter in her career.

There were options in the tennis world, possibilities in other sports and in entertainment, leads in marketing and philanthropy. For a person who once ran the global Women’s Tennis Association and flexed her marketing skills in New Haven, the professional choices were immense.

But when she was presented with an offer to run a burgeoning tennis organization based in the Silicon Valley, Worcester knew she had found her calling — something old and familiar mixed with something new and growing.

On Tuesday, Worcester was named president of Universal Tennis, a Palo Alto, Calif., company that operates a global tennis ranking system for players of all levels and partners with academies, clubs and tennis organization to grow the game at a grassroots level.

Worcester, who lives in New Canaan, will be based in Connecticut and New York as she brings her tennis and marketing background to a company that made a name for itself by bringing technology to the game at all levels. The company’s ranking system enables players of all ages to find amateur or professional tournaments along with playing partners of comparable skills and experience.

“I knew that if I stayed in tennis that I wanted to do something different and something that made a difference,” Worcester said. “The more I learned about (Universal Tennis), the vision to make tennis more affordable, accessible and fun just resonated with me. It’s a fantastic concept. … it creates a larger digital community to support level-based play. It’s all about making it easy to find, connect and play with same-level tennis partners anytime, anywhere, all around the world.”

Worcester embraced her work with New Haven Youth Tennis & Education and her tournament’s urban tennis clinics, so she sees her new job as an extension — exposing tennis to as many people as possible.

“As 21 years of working with inner-city kids in New Haven and Norwalk and Stamford and Bridgeport … this makes it easier to find casual play,” Worcester said. “This is all about growing the game.”

Worcester will remain on the board of New Haven Youth Tennis & Education and will continue to assist Market New Haven. She will transition to the board of the Tennis Foundation of Connecticut. Her role in New Haven tennis remains active as she steers the search for a replacement tournament for the Connecticut Tennis Center at Yale.

She said Tuesday that an announcement on securing a lower-level event could coming within the next few weeks, and it’s possible the tournament could be staged with summer. Worcester will play a volunteer role building the new tournament, she said.

“I’ll stay involved, just from afar,” Worcester said. “I want to make sure it’s successful in Year 1 so that it becomes an annual event.”

Worcester was named WTA CEO in 1992, becoming the first woman to run a professional sports organization. In 1997, she joined Pilot Pen and was at the helm as the tournament became a strictly WTA event in 1999.

In 2005, she brought the men’s event back and her job became increasingly challenging as the tournament lost its title sponsor — and the men’s event — in 2010. Three years later, the sanction was nearly sold and moved to North Carolina before the state stepped in and purchased the event.

Operating the tournament nonprofit, Worcester’s work focused as much on philanthropy and securing non-tennis events as it did staging a WTA tournament. With prize money and the cost of operating the event increasing, Worcester searched for a title sponsor.

The tournament was finally sold earlier this year. Worcester said her diverse job description in New Haven opened her eyes for many career choices the past few months.

“For me, though, this is a brilliant concept … the opportunity to grow the sport I love,” Worcester said. “As much as I didn’t want to jump back into the fire so quickly and I was really excited to have my first summer vacation in 22 years, how could I say no?”

According to a press release from the company, Worcester’s job will focus on “increasing grassroots efforts to connect communities to the sport and fostering diverse partnerships within the tennis ecosystem to build participation on the platform.”

The Universal Tennis Ranking has been used not only at the amateur level but also by professional bodies and media. Tennis has been slow to embrace technology and analytics, Worcester said, so joining a Silicon Valley company that focuses on her sports is refreshing.

“This isn’t the future; this is the present,” Worcester said. “It’s exciting.”; Twitter: @pauldoyle1