Lets Go to Guadalajara — Interview: Universal Tennis’ Mary Closs — Must-click women’s tennis links

The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, November 9, 2021

Happy Tuesday, everyone! The final week of the WTA season is here with the 2021 AKRON WTA Finals Guadalajara!

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Late last night, the players gathered for the draw ceremony and the singles groups are:

Group Chichén Itzá

1. Aryna Sabalenka
4. Maria Sakkari
5. Iga Swiatek
7. Paula Badosa

This group clearly brings the talent, but I’m really curious on how it unfolds in the high altitude in Guadalajara. Aryna Sabalenka may be the top seed, but she hasn’t played too much tennis as of late and her sheer power could send balls flying into the back of the court. I also think Paula Badosa, coming off of her Indian Wells run, could send some shockwaves into the group. Maria Sakkari and Iga Swiatek are the two wildcards, though. They’re not towards the top of many people’s radars, which I find a little shocking.

Looking at group head-to-heads, Sabalenka tops them all with a 5-2 record, so though she may be a little “rusty,” she enters the group with the most confidence. Badosa holds a 2-0 record, while Swiatek is 0-2 against the others, but I wouldn’t read too much into that stat. Swiatek is more than capable of beating anyone on any day and Badosa is still new to the scene as well. If anything, her Indian Wells run put a massive target on her back entering Guadalajara. Maria Sakkari may have a losing record, but she’s 3-4, with her 1-4 record against Sabalenka sticking out like a sore thumb.

If I had to guess on how this group will unfold, I think Sabalenka qualifies with ease, but the second semifinalist is up in the air. For me, my eyes will be tuning in to the Swiatek-Sakkari encounter and I honestly wouldn’t expect anything less than a three-set dogfight to see who comes out on top. I’m really looking forward to that match.

1. Aryna Sabalenka
2. Iga Swiatek
3. Maria Sakkari
4. Paula Badosa

Group Teotihuacán

2. Barbora Krejcikova
3. Karolina Pliskova
6. Garbiñe Muguruza
8. Anett Kontaveit

Like the first group, I’m really curious how the tennis will unfold in the altitude. These players all bring a lot of aggression to their game and these matchups really are a game of millimeters. The hottest player on tour is Anett Kontaveit, who had to win back-to-back tournaments to secure the final berth, so I’m curious how the quick turnaround on a completely different continent will affect the Estonian. Barbora Krejcikova is no stranger to the WTA Finals, but this is her first time playing the singles tournament, so I’m curious if the occasion may get to her, especially after she finished the BJK Cup injured. Someone I expect to really bring some surprises this week is Garbine Muguruza, who always performs well in Mexico and seems to be really relaxed entering the event, which is always precedes her doing some damage. Lastly, Karolina Pliskova is a player you can nearly always bank on being consistent and finding herself deep in tournaments. I honestly don’t expect anything else and truly wouldn’t be surprised to see her escape with the trophy in her hands.

When looking at the head-to-heads in this group, put all of your money and then some on Pliskova. She holds an incredible 13-2 record against her three counterparts and that only helps the mental battle when you’re playing the world’s best. Both Krejcikova and Kontaveit hold 2-3 records, while Muguruza is a surprising 5-12 but eight of those losses are to Pliskova.

This group will be the one that won’t hold to it’s seedings and though I hate saying it, I wouldn’t be surprised if Krejcikova goes winless here. Pliskova is too deep and playing her fifth consecutive WTA Finals and has made the semifinals the last three. Expect a fourth here. I think Muguruza will emerge as the second semifinalist, rallying the local Mexican fans who have embraced her plenty in Monterrey.

1. Karolina Pliskova
2. Garbine Muguruza
3. Anett Kontaveit
4. Barbora Krejcikova

Lets also quickly talk doubles! The groups are as follows:

Group Tenochtitlán

2. Shuko Aoyama & Ena Shibahara
4. Nicole Melichar-Martinez & Demi Schuurs
5. Samantha Stosur & Zhang Shuai
7. Darija Jurak & Andreja Klepac

Group El Tajín

1. Barbora Krejcikova & Katerina Siniakova
3. Hsieh Su-Wei & Elise Mertens
6. Alexa Guarachi & Desirae Krawczyk
8. Sharon Fichman & Giuliana Olmos

The team to beat here is Hsieh Su-Wei and Elise Mertens, but a team I think can cause some damage is Samantha Stosur and Zhang Shuai. The Australian-Chinese duo pretty much only know winning in 2021 and they’re in Guadalajara with Five at The IX alum Rennae Stubbs, who is in my opinion one of the best coaches in tennis. Darija Jurak and Andreja Klepac don’t have enough firepower to overtake a spot in the Top 2, but I’ve clearly been wrong in the past. I see Stosur and Shuai emerging as the winners of Group Tenochtitlan, with the winner of Nicole Melichar-Martinez/Demi Schuurs and Shuko Aoyama/Ena Shibahara as the second semifinalist. If a betting man, pencil in the Japanese duo.

For Group El Tajin, on paper, you’d be a fool to put anyone else over Su-Wei/Mertens and Krejcikova/Siniakova, but if there could be an upset, it’s the Czech duo. They’re both coming from a disappointing finish in Prague and Krejcikova is the lone player playing both singles and doubles, which on top of carrying an injury, could be too much. I’m really excited to see how the all-NCAA duo of Alexa Guarachi/Desirae Krawczyk compete. I know the WTA Finals was a massive goal of theirs and hope to rise to the occasion. Lastly, Five at The IX alum Giuliana Olmos is representing Mexico in Guadalajara and will get an incredible amount of support. The downside is the shoulder of partner Sharon Fichman is a massive asterisk entering the event. They can compete with the top teams, but I don’t know if the fan support will be enough to push them out of a 4th place group spot. Look for Su-Wei/Mertens to win out the group with the winner of Siniakova/Krejcikova vs. Guarachi/Krawczyk to take second place — my money leans towards the Czechs.

For some final reading, check out wtatennis’ By The Numbers for Finals — fun fact, it’s the 50th staging of the WTA’s crown jewel. Also be sure to check out WTA Finals Ambassadors Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert preview the field with their own predictions of how things will unfold.

Now, lets PLAY BALL!

This Week in Women’s Tennis

My predictions for the Billie Jean King Cup weren’t terribly off, but the big upset was Switzerland knocking out the Czech Republic. It’s not the most intense upset on paper, but the Swiss team made it to the finals before losing to the Liudmila Samsonova-leading Russian Tennis Federation. I hope more of the top players make it to the 2022 event, along with possibly extending the event so the ties are 5 matches instead of 3. The event is fantastic in theory, but it seemed a bit rushed in terms of matches.

Americans dominated the Dow Tennis Classic in Midland, Michigan. All four semifinalists came from the United States, with Madison Brengle winning her second WTA 125 title over Robin Anderson. The doubles title went to first-time duo Asia Muhammad and Harriet Dart. Normally held as a $100,000 ITF in February, the tournament went 631 days before the tournament saw action again. Some local press also highlight Caty McNally, who is not only taking online classes through the University of Cincinnati, but using Nuero Peak to maximize her brain performance.

At the Argentina Open in Buenos Aries, Anna Bondar captured the biggest title of her career. She won the WTA 125k event by defeating Diane Parry in straight sets. The doubles crown went to Irina Bara and Ekaterine Gorgodze, who are undefeated in all three WTA-level tournaments they’ve played in together this year.

The WTA announced a partnership with WHOOP, a wearable fitness device. It’s a great step in getting more analytics for players. Until now, players weren’t allowed to wear any fitness trackers because of the chance they could be contacted by coaches via the device.

Congratulations to Robin Anderson, who will make her Grand Slam main draw debut in Australia after clinching the USTA’s reciprocal wildcard:

Alex Macpherson of wtatennis.com had a great chat with Wang Xiyu as the Chinese star is on the verge of cracking the Top 100.

Speaking of Chinese tennis, former Doubles No. 1 Peng Shuai announced she was a victim of China’s #MeToo movement, accusing a high-ranking politician of sexual assault. Her post and name/social medias were then scrubbed across China’s internet, but the story can intensify as Shuai hasn’t been seen or made a public statement since.

The WTA continues to highlight different player entrepreneurs and the most recent profile honors Agnieszka Radwanska, who has entered the world of luxury hotel ownership in retirement.

Emma Raducanu, now an invitee to the All-England Club, is heading into 2022 as the new darling of tennis with loads of endorsements at her disposal, but the US Open champion says to not be worried about them affecting her on-court performance.

Simona Halep and Iga Swiatek/Bethanie Mattek-Sands were named the winners of the September WTA Shots of the Month, voted by fans on wtatennis.com

Ajla Tomljanovic gives a glimpse of life behind the scenes of the Billie Jean King Cup in the latest episode of tennis.com’s My Tennis Life.

Tweet of the Week

I just love Ons Jabeur embracing just missing out on Guadalajara.

Five at The IX: Mary Closs

Mary Closs is a former collegiate star at the University of Notre Dame who then played professionally on the ITF Pro Circuit. She achieved a WTA singles ranking of No. 1105 and a WTA doubles ranking of No. 812, where she captured one ITF title. In college, she captured 70 singles victories and another 56 in doubles. Now, she works for Universal Tennis as an Account Manager and talks to us about her role as well as her tennis journey. You can follow her on Instagram or connect with her on LinkedIn.

Joey:  You played collegiately, then professionally before pursuing a corporate job. Can you explain your tennis journey and how it led you to your current role?
Mary: I had an amazing experience and great teammates playing for the University of Notre Dame. Upon graduating, I was deciding between pursuing tennis and taking a job offer. I didn’t want to have any regrets about tennis so I took a shot at it! It was an unbelievable ride and I was lucky to compete in countries all over the world. The combination of covid shutting down the tour and a stress fracture in my foot initiated my job search. Universal Tennis was always on my radar as it is headquartered in my hometown. Transitioning to the corporate world in the industry I had been a part of my whole life seemed like the natural progression. It is also rewarding to give back to the sport that gave so much to me! 

Joey: Can you take us through a normal day in your role at Universal Tennis?
Mary: I am currently an Account Manager for the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic. I work with clubs and organizers in those regions who use our software and technology to create more play and increase participation and revenue at their facilities. I also try to grow the presence of UT in those areas. My day consists of onboarding new clients, assisting current clients, and making connections with prospective clients. We are remote, so lots of zoom calls but I still feel like I know my team and the people at the company well. It is a great crew that I’m fortunate to be a part of!

Joey: How has your experience as a player impacted your role at Universal Tennis? 
Mary: I made so many connections while playing – with coaches, academies/clubs, and players and that has been instrumental in networking within my role! Tennis is such a small world. Almost every time I get on a call there will be some mutual connection, which makes it pretty fun. I am also always talking to tennis directors and coaches, so having tennis knowledge and the player perspective is extremely helpful. I also studied IT in college so I’ve always had an interest in technology – which is what we provide to our customers. 

Joey: The Pro Tennis Tour is something a lot of pros have been utilizing to help make a living while there are a lot less ITFs. How do you see not only the PTT expanding in a post-COVID world, but Universal Tennis overall?
Mary: Universal Tennis is focusing on connecting players at the same level through innovation which increases their enjoyment of the sport. I think there is huge potential with the adult recreational player to use the UTR Rating and our solutions to help improve their tennis experience. In terms of the PTT, I do believe the unique format is invaluable to players as it guarantees a number of matches and good prize money. I wish they had been around when I was competing! The events are resonating with players and we know we will continue to expand and hold more and more events around the world. 

Joey: What was the best piece of advice you’ve ever received and who gave it? If you could go back in time, what would you tell 18-year-old Mary?
Mary: One of my favorite pieces of advice: “Don’t be a moaner and a groaner, be a doer with a smile.” My grandma always said this and it resonates well. Have a positive attitude and make things happen! I would’ve told myself to call my grandparents more often! I was always close with them but a phone call a week is something so simple that can brighten their day and keep the connection close even when across the country. Life goes quickly so it’s important to foster every relationship you have!

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By: Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon, Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal, The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By: Addie Parker, @addie_parker, The IX
Fridays: Hockey
By: @TheIceGarden, The Ice Garden
Saturdays: Gymnastics
By: Lela Moore, @runlelarun, Freelance Writer

Written by Joey Dillon